Hamisu Kabir Matazu, Muideen Olaniyi, Abbas Jimoh (Abuja) & Jude Aguguo Owuamanam (Owerri) — The Supreme Court yesterday sacked Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State and declared Senator Hope Uzodinma winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in the state.
A seven-member panel of Justices presided by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad held that Ihedioha was not validly elected as governor by majority of lawful votes cast in the election.
The panel therefore ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Ihedioha, while a fresh certificate of return be issued to Uzodinma forthwith and "he should be sworn in as governor immediately."
In the lead judgment read by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, the apex court held that Uzodinma proved the allegation of exclusion of results in 388 polling units of the state where he scored 213, 695 votes.
Justice Kekere-Ekun ruled that the Court of Appeal was wrong to have ruled that the PW54, subpoenaed police, who produced the documents of the results, was not the proper person to tender same as he was not at the polling units where the results came from.
The apex court upheld the argument of counsel to Uzodinma, Damian Dodo (SAN) that the issue is whether their results were unlawfully excluded from the results, and not whether elections held in the polling units.
"The majority judgment of the lower court affirming the judgement of the governorship election tribunal is hereby set aside. It is hereby declared votes due to the appellants- that is Senator Hope Uzodinma and the All Progressives Congress from 388 polling units were wrongly excluded from scores ascribed to the appellants," she said.
The apex court dismissed the appeal by candidate of the Action Alliance (AA), Uche Nwosu for violating the provision of Section 37 of the Electoral Act by being nominated by two separate political parties.
Meanwhile, judgments in the governorship appeals for Kano and Sokoto has been fixed for Monday, January 20.
Heavy security in Imo Government House
Our correspondent in Imo reports that the judgement was being trailed by mixed feelings in the State. While most residents of Owerri, the state capital, rejoiced, others were in pensive mood over the judgment.
At the Imo Government House, all the gates were locked immediately the verdict was delivered. Heavily armed security personnel prevented people from gaining entry into the Government House. People were only allowed out of the premises.
A lady who works in the protocol department openly wept and could not be consoled. The streets became immediately empty as people feared the backlash
Imo people have emerged victorious - Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari has lauded the Supreme Court for their courage and perseverance in the decision to return a well-deserved victory to the APC and Uzodinma.
"The road to justice may be long and tortuous, but it is the best path for anyone aggrieved," said the President.
"Under the new administration, a new journey to build a new Imo with new energy is about to begin. In this outcome, it is the people of Imo State who have emerged victorious," Buhari said in a statement issued yesterday by his media aide Garba Shehu.
Lawan hails judgement
Meanwhile, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has congratulated Senator Hope Uzodinma on his victory at the Supreme Court.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Ola Awoniyi,Lawan also congratulated the APC in the state for peacefully retrieving its mandate through the constitutionally stipulated judicial process.
The Senate President said the unanimous decision of the seven-member panel of the highest court in the land has cleared any doubt on the victory of the APC in the election.
"This is a victory for democracy, the rule of law, the All Progressives Congress and the good people of Imo State.
"The new Governor-elect should be magnanimous in victory and see his mandate as a call to serve his people conscientiously and to the best of his ability," Lawan said.
Also, the ruling APC said yesterday that it was ecstatic over Uzodinma's victory.
The APC National Publicity Secretary, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement issued yesterday, called on all stakeholders to come together in support of Senator Uzodinma to ensure the success of its Next Level agenda and to entrench the ruling in the state and entire South East.
Similarly, former governor of the State and Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District, Owelle Rochas Okorocha has congratulated Uzodinma and called on all people of the state to support the incoming governor. He assured Uzodinma of his unflinching support.
INEC set to issue Certificate of Return
Meanwhile, INEC has said that the Certificate of Return (CoR) would be issued to Uzodinma.
The commission's Director of publicity and voter education, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, told Daily Trust last night that the issuance of the certificate would be done very soon and declined further comments.
Daily Trust however learnt from other officials who pleaded not to be named, that the commission cannot unilaterally issue the CoR to anyone by fiat or by media report.
"There are due processes to be followed, the commission would be served the court order and then progressed from there," the official said.
When asked if the certificate would be issued in INEC Headquarters in Abuja or in Owerri, Imo State, the officials said the commission would looked at some circumstances and would determine where the certificate would be issued after being served with the appropriate documents.