Imo: Uzodinma remains governor as Supreme Court dismisses Ihedioha’s application

…affirms Jan. 14 judgment …parties in case to bear their costs …decision will haunt country’s electoral jurisprudence – Justice Nweze  

The Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed its January 14 judgment which sacked Emeka Ihedioha as Imo State governor.

In a judgment of six to one, the apex court dismissed the application by Ihedioha and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which sought to review the judgment of January 14, saying the application lacked merit.

Ihedioha was declared winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Imo by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) after having won majority of lawful votes cast at the governorship poll.

Ihedioha’s election was upheld by the Imo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, in their concurrent decisions in the appeal filed by Hope Uzodinma, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

But the Supreme Court in its judgment on January 14, 2020 disagreed with the decisions of the lower courts and declared Uzodinma governor of Imo State.

Miffed by the decision, Ihedioha approached the apex court to reverse his sack on the grounds of nullity.
However, six justices of the Supreme Court on Tuesday held that the apex court lacked powers to sit on appeal in its own judgment.

The apex court held that the application by Ihedioha asking it to set aside its judgment of January 14 on grounds of nullity was an invitation on the apex court to sit on appeal over its own judgment, which the court cannot do.

In the majority ruling delivered by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the court held that granting the request of the applicants would open the floodgate by parties to all kinds of litigations.

The apex court insisted that by the provision of section 235 of the 1999 Constitution, its decision on any judgment based on merit was final and should not be reviewed once delivered under any guise, except for clerical errors.

The apex court also stated that by Order 8 Rule 16, the general law was that it has no power to alter any judgment and that such judgment once delivered on merit should remain forever.

“Certainly, this court has no inherent power to grant what is being sought; it is beyond the powers of this court. There is no constitutional provision for this court to review its own judgment,” Justice Ariwoola said.

“To say the least, this court has no competence and lacks power to sit on appeal in its own decision. Finality of the Supreme Court is entrenched in the constitution and inherent power can only be invoked where there is law to do so,” he said. “This court cannot under any guise alter any judgment under any inherent power, as doing so would bring the court into disrepute and ridicule. The application is liable for dismissal and is hereby dismissed for want of jurisdiction and competence.”

The court, however, held that parties in the case should bear their cost.

In his dissenting judgment, however, Justice Centus Nweze set aside the January 14 judgment of the Supreme Court that removed Ihedioha from office as a nullity and in bad faith.
Justice Nweze held that Uzodinma mischievously misled the court into unjust conclusion with the unverified votes in 388 polling units.

“In my intimate reading of the January 14 judgment, the meat and substance of Ihedioha’s matter was lost to timeframe. This court once set aside its own earlier judgment and therefore cannot use timeframe to extinguish the right of any person. This court has powers to overrule itself and can revisit any decision not in accordance with justice,” he said.

Justice Nweze said “the decision of the Supreme Court will continue to haunt our electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come”, adding that without evidence of meeting other constitutional provisions, the court misled itself into declaring Uzodinma as governor.

He held that the table in the 388 polling units, which gave Uzodinma the winning votes, was mischievous as it omitted votes for other parties.

“In the mischievous table, votes were in excess of the accredited voters,” he said.

“I am of the view that this application should succeed. I hereby make an order setting aside the decision of this court made on January 14 and that the certificate of return issued to the appellant be returned to INEC. I also make an order restoring the respondents as winner of the March 9 governorship election,” he said.

Arguing his application earlier, Kanu Agabi, Ihedioha’s lawyer, told the court that they were praying it to change its mind because of certain inherent errors in the judgment that removed his client from office.

He claimed that the apex court did not consider the judgment of the Court of Appeal which struck out Uzodinma’s appeal for being incompetent, adding that as at the time the apex court gave its judgment, the decision was still subsisting.

Agabi, in pointing out another error he said was contained in the judgment, wondered where the issue of 388 polling units came about when in actual fact, Uzodinma had tendered results of 366 polling units which he claimed were excluded from the total figure of votes cast at the election.

He said “the judgment gave them credit in 22 polling units from nowhere”, adding that “contrary to all precedents, the number of votes cast at the election exceeded the number of accreditation by 129,000”.

He also argued that the judgment did not show that the APC had the necessary constitutional spread to be declared as winner of the election and that the appellants ought not to have benefitted from an election which they claimed was invalid by reason of alleged malpractices.

He therefore urged the court to set aside its judgment sacking Ihedioha and restore the verdict of the Court of Appeal.

Responding, Damian Dodo, counsel to Uzodinma and the APC, urged the court to dismiss the application for being incompetent and lacking in merit.

Felix Omohomhion, Abuja

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