OWERRI (NEW TELEGRAPH)--After series of street protests and visits to embassies, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) finally approached the Supreme Court, seeking a reversal of the judgement that sacked Emeka Ihedioha as Imo State governor, ONYEKACHI EZE reports...
The National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, was careful in his choice of words, when he addressed party members and supporters during a rally in Abuja on January 20, following the Supreme Court judgement that sacked Emeka Ihedioha as governor of Imo State.
The PDP national chairman had earlier disclosed the party’s intention to seek a review of the judgement. And he was careful not to offend the jurists when the party eventually files its petition for a review. That was why he told party supporters during the rally that PDP was only against the error observed in the judgement, but not the justices.
His words: “We’re not against you (Supreme Court justices), we’re against the error and by the special grace of God, I know you will revisit the error. All we are saying is that for you to review this error because the figures are not adding up.
“We, therefore, call on the leadership of the judiciary to please revisit and reverse the Imo State judgement because we believe that the figures are not adding up. That’s why we’re here, so that the world will hear us. We are a democratic nation, and therefore, all democratic nations of the world are hearing us – United States, United Kingdom, even the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS.
“We believe that people at the highest court of the land will hear our cry and revisit, review, and if possible, reverse, the judgement. This is time to show courage.”
The error in the judgement, according to the party was that the apex court inadvertently increased the number of votes in the March 9, 2019 governorship election, by 127,209 votes.
The number of accredited voters was 823,743, out of which, 739,485 was votes cast while 25,130 was cancelled votes, leaving 714,355 as valid votes. But with the addition of 127,209 to Uzodinma’s 96,458 votes (whom the Independent National Electoral Commission, said came fourth in the election), the total number of votes in the election increased to 950,952.
PDP said it “is highly irrational, unfounded, a provocative product of executive manipulation and a recipe for crisis, which should not be allowed to stand.”
The party added: “With the verdict, the Supreme Court executed a coup against the PDP and the people of Imo State as well as other Nigerians, and such must not be allowed to have a place in our democracy.”
On the heels of the judgement, PDP supporters had embarked on street protests. From Owerri, the Imo State capital, to Taraba, Anambra, Sokoto and others, the party mobilised its members and sympathisers to march against the judgement.
The party’s leadership, apart from staging the Abuja rally, also went to the embassies of the United States and France as well as the British High Commission, to submit a petition. It was equally at the United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) headquarters in Nigeria for the same purpose.
But on February 5, the party and its candidate (Ihedioha) formally filed an appeal at the Supreme Court, asking it to review the January 14 judgement.
Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), Nigeria’s former Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, who filed the appeal on their behalf, prayed the court to declare as “nullity the judgement delivered by this Honourable Court on the 14th of January 2020, in Appeal No. SC.1462/2019 and Cross Appeal No. SC.1470/2019.”
Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, is the first appellant/respondent, while the All Progressives Congress (APC) and INEC are the second and third appeallants/respondents, respectively. Ihedioha and PDP are respondents/applicants.
Governor Uzodinma has as well, filed a cross appeal, asking the court to dismiss the PDP petition on the ground that it is status barred. He argued that the window allowed by law for election petition has elapsed.
PDP and Ihedioha, in their motion on notice, argued that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to declare Uzodinma as elected in “an election petition which was based on two inconsistent and mutually exclusive grounds, to wit, (i) that the 1st Applicant was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election, the implication of which is that the majority of votes cast at the election were valid; and, (ii) that the election was invalid for noncompliance with the Electoral Act, the implication of which is that the election be annulled.”
They further argued that the apex court “did not have the jurisdiction to declare the 1st Appellant/Respondent as elected in the absence of any proof that the votes ascribed to him met the mandatory geographical spread stipulated in section 179 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).”
Further, the applicants contended that the Supreme Court “did not have the jurisdiction to declare that the 1st Appellant/Respondent met the constitutional geographical spread without providing in its judgement the reason(s) for that conclusion.
“The fraudulent nature of the additional votes was demonstrated by the fact that total votes cast as shown in the first appellant/respondent’s computation was more than the total number of voters accredited for the election and in some polling units more than the total number of registered voters.
“The fraud was also demonstrated by the fact that the result computed by the first appellant/respondent showed only the votes of the first applicant and the first appellant/respondent without specifying the votes scored by the other 68 candidates who participated in the election.”
To this effect, the applicants urged the court to hold that the judgement of the Court of Appeal, which dismissed Uzodinma’s petition as incompetent, continues to subsist as the appeal against that decision was not considered by the apex court.
The appeal was slated for hearing on February 18, but was later shifted to March 2, to allow both the respondents and applicants file their responses and replies.
The applicants are contesting the results from 388 polling units, which the Supreme Court relied on to declare Uzodinma winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election. This amounted to 213,495 votes, which APC and Uzodinma believed, were unlawfully excluded from their votes during the election.
But PDP argued that exhibits 63RD1 to 63RD19 (which is INEC Forms EC40G) showed that there were no valid elections in the 388 polling units. INEC had told the court that the result from the 388 polling units did not originate from it.
The party’s argument on spread was that even if Uzodinma’s votes were allowed to stand, he did not get the spread in the required number of local government areas in Imo State.
To be declared governor of a state, section 179 (2) of the constitution stipulates that in addition to winning the highest number of valid votes cast in an election, the candidate must also secure 25 per cent of votes in two-third of the local government areas in the state.
Imo State has 27 local government areas. Two-third therefore is 18. PDP’s argument is that Uzodinma has spread in only two local governments, and could not be declared winner because he lacks the required spread.
But some advocacy groups argued that the court should rather order a rerun between the two political parties that have the highest number of votes (PDP and APC) since neither Uzodinma nor Ihedioha met the required spread. While Uzodinma has spread in only two, Ihedioha met the spread in 14 local government areas.
This is not the first time the Supreme Court is being asked to review its judgement. As a matter of fact, the apex court was approached on a number of occasions, asking it to review its earlier judgements. One of the most celebrated is the Johnson v Lawanson of 1970s. This was a case involving Kobina Johnson vs Irene Lawanson and others.
The Supreme Court, upon a request for review, regretted its earlier position that for a deed to be relied on by section 129 of the Evidence Act, it must be 20 years old at the date of proceedings. This was reversed to be 20 years old at the date of the contract.
Justice Coker who delivered the judgement, held that “when the court is faced with the alternative of perpetuating what it is satisfied is an erroneous decision which was reached per incuriam and will, if followed, inflict hardship and injustice upon the generations in the future or of causing temporary disturbances of rights acquired under such decision, I do not think we shall hesitate to declare the law as we find it.”
Consequently, the Supreme Court ordered that the appeal be re-heard by another panel of the justices of the Supreme Court.
PDP’s lawyer, in his final submission, reminded the jurists that “never in the history of this court have your lordships delivered a judgement which evoked the protest of the public. This one has. Therefore, we urge you, we appeal to you to take a second look at it.
“There is no doubting the fact that your lordships, being human, will from time to time fall into error. Prove to the world that when that happens, you will not lack the courage to correct yourselves. That is the unique opportunity that this case offers you.”
He further cited the case of Adegoke Motors v. Adesanya, where the Supreme Court stated that “it is far better to admit an error than to preserve an error.”
PDP is asking the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mohammed Tanko and six other justices, who delivered the January 14 judgement, to recuse themselves from the panel that would review the judgement.
The party said its demand was based on Section 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which guarantees fair hearing to every citizen or entity in the determination of his rights or obligations.
“Furthermore, the time honoured and tested principles of natural justice, particularly that no man shall be a judge in his own cause is particularly relevant to this solemn request.
“Allegation of bias or likelihood of bias goes to the root of fair hearing. Denial of right to fair hearing is a logical consequence of bias in any proceeding before a court or a tribunal,” PDP argued.