Judicial Bombshell over Imo State Gubernatorial Election Petitions

Issues In The News

Report by Atilade Atoyebi

The political landscape in Imo State is in turmoil now. Emeka Ihedioha had been occupying the Government House as the Governor of the State since May 29, 2019 when he took his oath of office. Now the Supreme Court ruling has swept him out of office. Some people have described the Court’s judgment as a ‘bombshell’. Others saw it as a‘volcanic eruption’. It was a unanimous decision by seven Justices of the court. The Chief Justice of Nigeria,Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad. 

Ihedioha’s journey downhill started when he was dragged to the electoral tribunal by his rivals in the election. One of them is Uche Nwosu, the brother-in-law of Rochas Okorocha, the former Governor of Imo State. Uche was to contest under the ticket of All Progressive Congress, APC. He failed to win the party’s nomination. Hope Uzodinma did and went for the election. Nwosu chose Action Alliance as the last alternative open to him. He ran on the party’s ticket. But he went to the Election Petition Tribunal to urge the Tribunal to nullify the result of the election on the grounds that Ihedioha did not obtain at least one quarter of the votes cast in two third of the local governments in the State in accordance with the dictate of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

Emeka Ihedioha 8-month Governor of Imo State

Another candidate in the March 9, 2019 gubernatorial election in Imo was Ifeanyi Ararume. Among other planks of his petition, he cited the alleged anomaly similar to the one in Nwosu’s case. While Uzodinma went that far too, he had a different joker. His lawyers detected that he had been ‘cheated’ at the election collating centre. Votes in 388 polling units were excluded from the tabulation at the collating centre. The polling units were believed to be located at Uzodinma’s stronghold. 

No matter what they brought before the Tribunal, the cases of the three petitioners were dismissed by the Tribunal on September 21, 2019. The three man panel headed by Justice Malami Gondondaji ruled that Ihedioha was lawfully elected as the Governor of Imo State. 

What did you expect? The three aggrieved candidates filed their individual appeals at the Court of Appeal. The superior court reaffirmed the election of Ihedioha as Governor in a judgment it delivered on November 19, 2019. While the appeal court ruling was unanimous in respect of the petitions by Nwosu and Ararume, that of Uzodinma was decided 4 to 1 which meant that majority of the five judges flawed his case and one judge said that his case was meritorious. 

The next stage of the battle then moved to the Supreme Court, the last judicial ‘bus-stop’ in Nigeria. Of the three appellants, Uzodinma had a ray of hope because of that dissenting judgment. 

Meanwhile, on October 22, 2019 the Supreme Court in an entirely different case that came before it through an appeal, removed Nwosu’s name as the candidate of AA. He had failed to resign his membership of APC where he participated in its primary before jumping at the ‘last minute’ into AA to contest the election. Nevertheless, he followed up at the Supreme Court, his petition over alleged irregularities during the conduct of the gubernatorial election. 

On December 20, 2019 the Supreme Court said again that Uche Nwosu did not qualify to contest the gubernatorial election. It was on the basis of that case that Nwosu withdrew his appeal which the Supreme Court struck out yesterday before anything else. 

Ararume’s appeal was also dismissed by the apex court. However the appeal by Uzodinma succeeded. The votes counted and recorded in the 388 polling units were added to the votes in favour of all the candidates. Uzodinma is now way ahead of the others including Ihedioha. 

Look at the results declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission in March last year: 

PDP: Emeka Ihedioha  273,404

AA: Uche Nwosu 190,364

APGA: Ifeanyi Ararume 114,676

APC: Hope Uzodinma 96,458

There is consternation in the land over the declaration by the Supreme Court that the man who came distant 4th is now the rightful Governor of Imo State. It is a question of law and arithmetic. The highest court in the country ruled that Uzodinma should not have been deprived of the votes he earned in the 388 polling units where the election results were canceled by electoral officers that were incompetent to do so by law. That’s the legal position of the Supreme Court. The addition of the votes cast in the 388 polling units to the scores by all the candidates put Uzodinma ahead of all the others including Ihedioha. Simple! The new tabulation will be made available as soon as it received. 

Hope Uzodinma, new Governor of Imo State

Will it be smooth sailing for the new Imo State Governor? Well, the state of the parties in the House of Assembly may be a potential source of worry for him. It currently looks like this: 

Imo state House of Assembly composition:

PDP = 13 members

AA = 6 members

APGA = 6 members

APC = Zero

Time will tell!

Written by Atilade Atoyebi