International group condemns Imo Supreme Court Ruling
By Samuel Ogunsona
The Governor of Imo State, All Peoples Congress, (APC) candidate, Mr Hope Uzodinma will continue to have problem of legitimacy inspite of the Supreme Court ruling declaring him as the duly elected Governor, Fatherland Group, a global network of Nigerian professionals said in a statement on Friday.
The group said the APC Governor for a long time may not enjoy public trust adding that the Supreme Court ruling dashed the hope of majority of the people of Imo State. Fatherland Group said the people of Imo state will not be deceived by Greek gift policies being initiated by the new Governor to cover the tracks of the travesty of Justice and shift public attention from the issues surrounding his emergence.
The group said the massive public demonstrations that trailed the ruling was a clear indication that the Supreme Court ruling failed to address the fears and aspirations of millions of people in Imo State adding that the APC in Imo is presiding over ‘bottled up disenchantment.”
The Gubernatorial election in the State returned RT. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) as the winner of the election with Senator Hope Uzondinma, of the All Progressives Congress, being placed in the fourth place. Uzodinma filed a petition challenging the INEC return. He claimed that Ihedioha had not been validly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast and seeking nullification of the said return and a declaration that he was the winner of the said election.
“The Supreme Court, by its decision of 14 January 2020, endorsed an outcome in which the choice of the five million people of Imo State as to the Governorship of their state for the next four years was determined by a presumption of law that elections took place in 388 polling units within the State regardless of the reality” the group said in a statement signed by its Chairman Dele Ogun who is a lawyer.
The APC central contention was that INEC had improperly excluded results from 388 polling units in which he had scored the overwhelming majority of the votes cast. Specifically he argued that the total votes due to him from the 388 polling units, and which had been so excluded was 213,695 as against 1,903 votes from the same units due to Ihedioha. He submitted that had these votes been taken into account it would have been found that he had secured a majority of the lawful votes cast.
Fatherland Group said it remains a mystery how 388 polling units could produce a total of 213,695 votes.
He said his network, The Fatherland Group believed that it is in the field of democratic rights that society can least afford for disputes to be determined by legal technicalities of presumptions of law and facts, burdens of proof and points of pleadings.
According to him, “Substantive justice is having a dispute decided on the facts of the dispute while technical justice does not really decide the case on the facts of the dispute rather, it decides the dispute on the rules of court or procedural statutory provisions which does not guarantee that the real dispute is addressed by the court. This was the nub of the question that was directed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Tanko, by Senator Abaribe during the Senate confirmation hearing of the CJN which Nigerians saw on social media.”
The Fatherland Group regrets that the Supreme Court did not take the opportunity presented by this case to nullify the fanciful distinction between “Unlawful Exclusion of Electoral Results” and a complaint made, which is anchored on the “Failure of Elections to take place in a given Polling Unit”. This was an opportunity to make it mandatory for any party who seeks to assert exclusion of votes in a case where INEC has not expressly confirmed that elections were conducted by it in polling units, to first establish that elections took place. The criticism directed at INEC in the judgment that it failed to produce the genuine results for polling units in which it had not confirmed that elections took place appears to us to be misplaced.
The court would have better served the public interest by recognising that the presumption of regularity which operates to make the mere presentation of the Form EC8A by a party to be proof that elections occurred (where the same is not admitted by INEC) is clearly avoiding the realities of the present state of elections in the country which are marred with violence, ballot box snatching, abduction of electoral/returning officers as a result of unhealthy competition between contestants. This presumption also overlooks the practice of contestants forging certificates so as to appear qualified to contest certain positions. In the circumstances where it was not common ground that elections took place in those polling units, the Fatherland Group would have expected the court to have taken more cognisance of the non-admission by INEC, as the body with constitutional responsibility for the conduct of elections, of elections having taken place in the 388 polling units so as not to legitimise what appears to have been a serious irregularity.
It is a widely accepted axiom of law that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. This is especially critical in electoral disputes where the interests of all citizens are potentially affected by the outcomes and by legal precedents being set. It is therefore of concern to the Fatherland Group that the written reasons of the Supreme Court, as delivered by Kudirat Motonmori Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun JSC but unanimously adopted by the whole court, failed to set out all material facts to enable the public to see that the court took all relevant considerations into account and to follow the court’s reasoning. In particular we note that the judgment omitted to set out, or to otherwise address, the votes, if any, obtained in the same 388 polling units by the candidates who were placed in second and third position in the results originally declared by INEC. Had such been set out or addressed, it might have helped members of the public to be satisfied that the petitioner, who had been placed in fourth position on the results originally declared by INEC, had indeed scored the highest overall number of votes in the elections.
Finally, it is a matter of wider concern to the Fatherland Group that due to failings in the electoral process, in the practice of democracy in Nigeria, the outcome of elections is increasingly being determined less by an arithmetical count of votes actually cast by the people, as it should, and more by the practice and procedure of courts of law and the view of cases taken by a small body of judges. This concern that lawyers and judges are usurping the voice of the electorate can be traced back to the outcome of the 1979 Presidential elections and the litigation which ensued between Obafemi Awolowo and Shehu Shagari. We are concerned that such electoral disputes have become the norm rather than the exception and so the Fatherland Group calls for a comprehensive review of the electoral system to return the choice of political leaders to the judgment of the people.