Abuja — The Supreme Court, yesterday, sacked Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State and declared Senator Hope Uzodinma of All Progressives Congress, APC, valid winner of the governorship election that held in the state on March 9, 2019.
The apex court, in a unanimous judgment by a seven-man panel of justices led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, held that Ihedioha who contested on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes.
The Supreme Court, therefore, ordered the immediate withdrawal of the Certificate of Return that was issued Ihedioha by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and a fresh one issued Uzodinma, adding that he should be sworn in immediately as the governor of Imo State.
The lead judgment was delivered by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, while other members of the panel concurred.
The apex court said it was satisfied that the lower tribunal wrongly evaluated Uzodinma's case, when it failed to countenance a proof of evidence that was brought before it by a police officer that testified before it as the PW-54.
It held that records before it proved that election results from 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded from the overall collated results.
When Vanguard called Imo State Publicity Secretary of PDP, Damian Opara, he did not pick his call, but a source said: "Imo PDP will adequately respond to the Supreme Court judgment, but not now."
The court noted that results from the cancelled polling units amounted to 213,295 votes, adding that Ihedioha was returned elected based on wrong computation of results.
According to the apex court, findings by the tribunal and the appellate court to the effect that Uzodinma did not prove his case, "was as a result of misapprehension of the case of the appellant."
Justice Kekere-Ekun held that "there is merit in this appeal. It is hereby allowed. Majority judgment of the lower court affirming the election of the second respondent is hereby set aside."
She further directed the addition of all the unlawfully cancelled votes that were due appellant, declaring that Ihedioha was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast.
"His election is declared null and void and is hereby set aside," she declared.
The court further held that Uzodinma satisfied the statutorily required spread.
Aside the CJN, other members of the panel that concurred with the lead verdict were justices Sylvester Ngwuta, Kayode Ariwola, Uwani Abba Ajji and Amiru Sanusi.
Meanwhile, the apex court deferred its judgment on appeal challenging the election of Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State till Monday.
The panel initially stood down its proceedings to give judgments on appeals that arose from both Imo and Sokoto State governorship elections.
The CJN-led panel had concluded hearing on four separate appeals in Imo and two appeals in Sokoto States.
Even though the apex court was initially ready to hear 13 different appeals that emanated from governorship elections in six states, the CJN however announced decision of the panel to give priority to some of the appeals he said were due to expire.
He noted that whereas the statutory period for hearing of Imo State appeals would elapse by January 17, that of Sokoto State would expire January 20.
Consequently, the apex court adjourned appeals relating to governorship elections in Bauchi, Benue and Plateau States, some of which will elapse from January 25.
Meanwhile, Nwosu who is son in-law to the immediate past governor of the state, Rochas Okorocha, withdrew his appeal before it could be heard.
He predicated his decision to withdraw the appeal on a judgment the Supreme Court delivered against him on December 20, 2019.
The apex court had in the said judgment, held that Nwosu was not eligible to participate in the governorship contest, noting that he was nominated by both APC and AA.
All the other appellants, in their separate appeals, argued that Ihedioha was not the valid winner of the Imo State governorship contest.
It was part of their contention that Ihedioha failed to obtain the constitutional one quarter of votes in at least two-third of the 27 local Government Areas of Imo State as required under Section 179 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
While Ararume adopted his brief of argument through his lawyer, Yusuf Alli(SAN), Uzodinma was represented by Mr. Damian Dodo(SAN), even as Solomon Umoh(SAN), argued Nwosu's case.
Cited as respondents in the appeals were INEC, Ihedioha and PDP.
Ihedioha had prayed the apex court to ignore Uzodinma's claim, maintaining that his appeal was not centred on exclusion of result, stressing that issues were joined on whether or not election actually took place in the affected polling units.
He insisted that the onus was on the APC candidate to prove that election held in the units, before he could allege the exclusion of his votes.
Aside drawing attention of the apex court to the fact that Uzodinma only produced 28 witnesses with respect to result from over 388 polling units, Ihedioha's lawyer argued that the appellant had no case in view of the judgment that recognised the nomination of Nwosu as candidate of the same APC.
Recall that the Court of Appeal in Abuja had, on November 19, 2019, upheld Ihedioha's election victory, dismissing appeals that were brought before it by all the other aggrieved candidates.
In the case of Sokoto State, the panel fixed Monday to decide the appeal, which was filed by the governorship candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state, Ahmed Sokoto.
The APC candidate, who adopted his brief of argument through his lawyer, Dr. Alex Iziyon(SAN), is challenging the declaration of Tambuwal of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the valid winner of the governorship contest.
However, in a counter move, Tambuwal who won the election with a slim margin of 342 votes after a supplementary poll, and was declared winner by both the tribunal and the appellate court, also filed a cross appeal.
Tambuwal's lawyer, Muyiwa Akinboro(SAN), argued that the appellant failed to show any reason why the apex court should tamper with concurrent judgements of the two lower courts.
He contended that the appellant was unable to establish that judgments of both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal, which affirmed Tambuwal's election, was perverse.
Okorocha, Obi react
Also yesterday, the former governor of the state and Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, congratulated Senator Hope Uzodinma over his victory at the Supreme Court.
Owelle Okorocha also congratulated APC members in Imo for the victory, calling on all hands to be on deck in support of Uzodinma, assuring him of his unflinching support.
On his part, vice presidential candidate of PDP, Mr. Peter Obi, said that the Supreme Court's judgment "is incredible," noting that "it questions the rationality for future elections in the country."
Reacting, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, yesterday, said it was surprised at the judgment of the Supreme Court, describing it as yet another sad commentary on the nation's democratic order.
The party said it's difficult to understand how Senator Hope Uzodinma, who came fourth in the election with 96,458 votes, "will suddenly, by the token of the judgment of the Supreme Court, defeat Governor Emeka Ihedioha that scored 276,404 votes."
In a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said: "Most Nigerians are still at a loss as to understand the basis upon which the Supreme Court arrived at its decision.
"The party says it is lamentable that the destiny of the people of Imo State is being taken from the governor they chose and voted for and handed over to individuals and a political party that do not have their blessing and mandate and which they rejected at the election.
"The people of Imo State are now confronted with the challenge of having a government that they cannot identify with and which cannot connect with them, having not emanated from them.
"Moreover, all the gains, including the development and stability already achieved by the people-based government under Governor Emeka Ihedioha/PDP administration in the state are now heavily jeopardised."
Reacting to the judgment, APC, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, said: "All Progressives Congress, APC, is ecstatic.
"Even as we are still wondering why we lost elections we clearly won in Zamfara State at the Supreme Court and how the same court ruled our party out of the electoral race in Rivers State, we have never, as a political party, lost faith in the judiciary.
"We salute Senator Hope Uzodinma, our supporters and members for their temperance displayed in the aftermath of the blatant rigging of the Imo governorship election. We chose to focus on the judicial route to reclaim the party's mandate. We are confident that our other stolen electoral mandates will be restored by the courts.
"APC calls on all Imo State APC stakeholders to come together in support of Senator Uzodinma to ensure the success of the party's Next Level agenda and to democratically entrench APC in the state and entire South-East."
Also, National Vice Chairman, North-East of the party, Mustapha Salihu, who spoke on Channel's Television programme, Politics Today, monitored in Abuja, said the judgment is a lesson that partisans should not just accept all the declarations of the electoral umpire without challenging them legally.
He said: "We are in festive mood because this is a very sound judgment and it has come at the right time.
"Every judgment is made up of the reason for the decision, the facts of the case and obiter dictum or opinion of the judges."