By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
Recent electoral judgments by the Supreme Court of Nigeria have raised serious issues about the consistency and objectivity of the court. The Supreme Court of Nigeria is an institution seen as final arbiter in legal and constitutional matters. The highest court in the land is supposed to be the last recourse for justice and equity, but many Nigerians are worried that the highest court that is supposed to be hinged on impartiality seems now hamstrung by the powers- that- be in its discharge of its legal and constitutional duty.
This perception of the apex court getting political and partial in the minds of many Nigerians, has found resonance with its recent decision on the governorship appeal case in Imo State.
Disturbed by the January 14 judgment of the Supreme Court nullifying the election of Emeka Ihedioha as governor of Imo State, many legal minds have expressed concern over the recent trajectory the apex court seems to be treading. Many civil society organisations (CSOs) have also joined the fray, calling on Nigerians to rise up and defend the country’s democracy, as they plan to protest against the ruling.
The apex court, had in a unanimous judgment last Tuesday, replaced Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who finished fourth in the March 9, 2019 governorship election.
The International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), Democracy and Good Governance, and the Civil Liberties and Rule of Law have declared the sack Ihedioha as a tragedy, and the apex court’s decision a conspiracy. Also Human Right, Liberty Access and Peace Defenders’ Foundation (HURIDE) advised Nigerians to prepare for a massive protest in the coming weeks in Owerri, Imo State, against the judgment.
Chairman of HURIDE, Uzor A. Uzor, told newsmen last Thursday in Awka, Anambra State, that the judges showed that they could not be trusted by Nigerians as “the last hope of the common man”.
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of Intersociety, Emeka Umeagbalasi; head of Democracy and Good Governance, Chinwe Umeche; and head of Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Obianuju Igboeli, declared that the judgment moved from “hawkish plots to satanic prophesy; ending with judicial execution.”
In a statement in Awka last week, they said the apex court ended up enthroning a new governor in Imo through the window, using strange, erroneous and politically-motivated “Judico-Mathematical Salami Technique”. But the Youth Wing of Ohanaeze Ndigbo urged residents of Imo, especially youths, to remain calm over the ruling.
The leader, Chief Arthur Obiora, while speaking with newsmen in Enugu, insisted that no matter what happened, all political gladiators in the state must pursue the people’s interest and embrace peace. Also, the National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Edozie Njoku, last Thursday enjoined the citizenry to exercise restraint on the Supreme Court verdict.
One of the most incisive criticism came from Olusegun Adeniyi, ThisDay columnist and former presidential spokesperson. Adeniyi said: “There is a famous scene in Tunde Kelani’s movie, ‘Ti oluwa Ni ile’, which speaks to a time like this in our country. At his meeting with the two young men who were trying to co-opt him into the deal to sell a piece of sacred land which belongs to the entire community, Oloye Otun (the inimitable Kareem Adepoju aka Baba Wande) felt he was being short-changed.”
” He had been offered N50,000 out of the N200,000 he was told the land would be sold for. In assuring him that each would take N50,000 while the remaining N50,000 was reserved for a lawyer, it became very clear that the whole transaction was centred on the use of court process to legitimise what was not only fraudulent but also against tradition. And the community title holder who ordinarily should be a custodian of that tradition was central to the plot.
We can easily draw parallel between that scene and the judgment delivered on Tuesday by the Supreme Court on the Imo State gubernatorial contest. The man allegedly at the centre of the unprecedented judicial assault is a deputy police commissioner who authenticated ‘results’ dismissed as spurious by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials and were considered strange to all the other candidates except Senator Hope Uzodinma who conjured it. Yet at the end of the day, that was what the Supreme Court relied upon to hand the governorship of Imo State to a man who came fourth in the election.
“We must recall that gubernatorial elections were held across the country on 9th March 2019. According to the results declared by INEC for Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha polled 273,404 votes followed by Uche Nwosu who garnered 190,364 votes and then Ifeanyi Araraume who secured 114,676 votes. Hope Uzodinma came fourth with 96,458 votes. But with the addition by the Supreme Court of contentious votes from 388 polling units, Uzodinma’s tally now reached 309,753 while the votes by others remain unchanged.
But the absurdity of that judicial arithmetic was brought to light yesterday on Twitter by @dondekojo: “Just ran the numbers again. According to @inecnigeria website. This is the total results for Imo State. With 823,743 accredited voters and 714,362 votes. With the new number from the Supreme Court, the votes go up to 948,000 which is accredited voters. More votes than accredited voters.”
“If the Supreme Court based its judgment on a tally of votes higher than the total number of accredited voters, then the Justices stand accused of mimicking the vices they are meant to correct in the society. Even the drama surrounding the composition of the panel that sat on the case is a compelling story on its own.
On Monday, following his announcement that one of the Justices (who turned out to be Justice John Inyang Okoro), was ill, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Mohammed suspended sitting until the next day. Meanwhile, on the panel was Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta who has been having a running battle with the State Security Service (SSS) and would be sitting on such a panel for the first time since his travails begun.
And then there was Justice Aminu Sanusi who is due for retirement in the next couple of weeks. Instructively, it was on the basis of his imminent retirement that Justice Sanusi was believed to have been recused from another election panel on 17th December last year. But he was allowed to sit on the Imo panel! At the end, it didn’t matter that Uzodinma’s All Progressives Congress (APC) did not even win a single seat in the Imo State House of Assembly, despite the fact the election was held on the same day.
Olorunleke Job, a Kaduna- based Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, told Business Hallmark in a telephone chat that ” it is a tragedy of highest proportion that the Supreme Court could descend to this abyss to satisfy the god of the justices. History will be harsh on them. This position was taken up with a more acerbic tone by Niran Adedoyin, another SAN, who bared his mind to this newspaper calling the judgment, “A judicial coup de’ tat against all known common and legal sense, a premeditated murder of justice and equity.”
” Look at how they messed up in Atiku’s case. What we have witnessed under the current Chief Justice is judgment of force against all known common sense in law.”
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have resolved to stage a protest across the streets of Abuja over the recent verdict of the Supreme Court that sacked one of its governors, Emeka Ihedioha.
The party’s national chairman, Uche Secondus, stated this last Friday during the party’s emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting at the party’s secretariat in Abuja. Mr. Secondus stated that the aim of the protest was to impress it on Nigerians that injustice has been done to the party. No date has been fixed for the protest.
According to him, the declaration of Hope Uzodinma of the ruling party, APC, as the Imo State governor is a miscarriage of justice. He said although justice comes only from God, the aggrieved PDP leaders must speak out against injustice as their silence could be taken to mean consent to the injustice.
The 87th NEC meeting was attended by several party bigwigs including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Governors of Sokoto, Zamfara and Adamawa states.
Many had also earlier dressed down the apex court for its verdict on Atiku vs Buhari presidential election case.
According to the court, Atiku failed to prove his claim that Buhari’s victory in the 2019 presidential election is INEC server-based. But many had said the apex court refused to admit important pieces of evidence. A seven-man panel of the Supreme Court had ruled that President Muhammadu Buhari was eminently qualified to run for the office of President of Nigeria.
While explaining why Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 presidential election lost his petition against Buhari, the apex court held that Buhari possessed the required educational qualification to contest the election, and that he did not submit false documents to the electoral body.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, on Friday, November 15, 2019 said the constitution does not require anyone to possess a secondary school certificate to be qualified to run for president.
According to the CJN who was represented at the Friday court proceedings by Justice John Okoro, the constitution allows a candidate who possesses a primary school certificate and has worked in the public or private service for a period not less than 10 years, and can read, write and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of INEC, to contest the election.
The apex court also held that Atiku and his party failed to prove their claim that they won the Saturday, February 23, presidential election on the basis of the results allegedly transmitted electronically to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) server.
“Therefore, all the data, analysis and conclusions based on the content of the alleged server are of no merit,” Justice Muhammad said.
A foremost constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze had then criticised the Supreme Court judgment on Atiku’s petition, picking many holes in the verdict, among other eminent legal minds.
Many who spoke to BusinessHallmark are of the view that based on the Supreme Court strange logic, the governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje has no business being in government house . However, the Supreme Court last Tuesday fixed January 20 for judgment on the Kano State governorship dispute following the March 9, 2019 election in the state.
A seven-man panel of the apex court led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, fixed the date for judgment after hearing the appeal by the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the keenly contested poll, Kabir Abba-Yusuf, challenging the victory of the All Progressives Congress’ candidate, Abdullahi Ganduje at the poll.
Both the Kano State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal had dismissed the PDP’s case and ruled in favour of the APC and the Kano State governor.
Arguing the PDP’s appeal, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), said the State Returning Officer, illegally cancelled election results from 207 polling units in the state, declared the election inconclusive and went ahead to fix March 23, 2019, for a supplementary poll.
But the counsel for the Independent National Electoral Commission, Ahmed Raji (SAN), in urging the court to dismiss the appeal, said the results from the 207 polling units were not cancelled by the State Returning Officers.Governor Ganduje’s lawyer, Chief M.N Duru, also urged the apex court to dismiss the appeal.
The Supreme Court may need to reinvent itself as its credibility is becoming soiled in public perception.