The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the application filed by Emeka Ihedioha and the Peoples Democratic Party, seeking the reversal of the apex court’s January 14, 2020 judgment, which removed him as Imo State governor, only seven months after his inauguration.
In the place of the sacked Ihedioha, the Supreme Court had installed Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress as the new governor of Imo State, after declaring him the valid winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in the state.
Displeased with the turn of events, Ihedioha and the PDP approached the apex court, seeking the reversal of the judgment.
But a seven-man panel of Supreme Court Justices, in a split six-to-one verdict on Tuesday, dismissed the application.
The panel was presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhamamd.
Six of the seven Justices affirmed the court’s earlier decision, while one ruled in favour of Ihedioha and the PDP.
Aside the CJN and Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, who delivered the lead majority ruling of the court, others who consented to the majority decision were Justices Sylvester Ngwuta, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Amina Augie, and Uwani Abba-Aji,
The six Justices, along with the now retired Justice Amir Sanusi, constituted the seven-man panel that delivered the disputed January 14, 2020 judgment.
Justice Chima Nweze, who delivered the dissenting ruling, rebuked Uzodinma for allegedly misleading the apex court into declaring him the winner of the election.
Criticising his colleagues, who delivered the January 14, 2020 judgment, Justice Nweze said it was “preposterous” for the apex court to award the “electoral victory” to Uzodinma who had contended that the March 9, 2019 election was invalid.
He said, “In this circumstance, I take the humble view that this court has the inherent jurisdiction of redeeming its image by setting aside the judgment.”
His dissenting judgment drew an applause from a section of the audience in the court, but the CJN quickly warned that clapping was prohibited in court, adding that anyone caught doing so in future could be made to clap continuously for 14 days.
Delivering the lead majority judgment, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola dismissed Ihedioha’s application on the grounds that the apex court’s judgment was final and that the court could not be made to sit in appeal over its judgment.
He said, “It is settled law that this court has no power to change or alter its own judgment or sit in appeal over its own judgment.
“There is no doubt that the court has inherent powers in respect of matters within its jurisdiction, it certainly has no inherent power to assume jurisdiction in respect of a matter not within its jurisdiction.
“It is clear from the tone and the body of the instant application that what is being sought is asking the court to sit in appeal over its judgment already delivered and executed. That is certainly beyond the competence of this court.”
He recalled that only on February 26, 2020 the Supreme Court dismissed a similar application for the review of its February 13, 2020 verdict, which sacked the Bayelsa State governor-elect David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress after disqualifying the deputy governor-elect, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, for submitting false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Incensed by the applications, the apex court in the said ruling awarded a record N30m cost against each of the legal giants, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) and Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who filed the applications for review of the judgments on behalf of the APC and its two candidates.
But Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), who filed similar application on behalf of Ihedioha and the PDP, on Tuesday escaped without any scolding or heavy fines slammed on Babalola and Olanipkeun.
Rather, Justice Nweze, who delivered the dissenting judgment, commended Agabi for having the courage to file the application for the review of the apex court’s judgment.
At the hearing earlier conducted by the court on Friday, APC’s lawyer, Damien Dodo (SAN), had urged the court to dismiss the application for offending the principle of the finality of the judgment of the court.
INEC’s lawyer, Taminu Inuwa (SAN), took a neutral position by not opposing or supporting the application.
Affirming the court’s earlier judgment, Justice Ariwoola, who reproduced part of the ruling of the apex court’s ruling, which dismissed APC’s application for the review of the judgment on Bayelsa State, said the court lacked jurisdiction to “alter or vary a judgment or an order after the delivery.
“To set aside the judgment in this circumstance is to open the floodgate for applications by parties to review its judgments and this will, to say the least, bring the court to disrepute and ridicule.
“In the circumstance, this application is accordingly dismissed. Even though cost follows event, parties are to follow, parties are to bear their costs.”
But in his dissenting judgment, Justice Nweze held that the principle of finality of the apex court’s judgment could not “extinguish the applicants’ right to fair pronouncement of the court.”
He affirmed the Court of Appeal’s decision, which upheld Ihedioha’s victory, adding that the apex court in the January 14, 2020 judgment wrongly declared Uzodinma winner of the last governorship election.
He ordered Uzodinma to return th
e certificate of return issued to him by INEC.
Alluding to various irregularities in the apex court’s January 14, 2020 judgment, he said, “The reasoning in the judgment will sooner or later haunt our electoral jurisprudence.”
He said although his opinion was dissenting, “it is an appeal to the brooding spirit of the law” which might be useful in the future review of the apex court’s decision in the case.
‘Judgment, endorsement of electoral fraud’
Reacting, the PDP described the Supreme Court’s majority judgment as “a disconcerting endorsement of electoral fraud,” which places a huge burden on the court.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP hailed the dissenting judgment by Justice Nweze, saying “it presents a glimpse of hope for the nation’s judiciary.”
The PDP said, “Justice Nweze’s pronouncement, which went straight into the substance of our application, represents a universal view about the travesty of justice that occurred in the Imo State governorship election judgment.
“It is indeed unfortunate that the Supreme Court had the wholesome opportunity to redeem itself and correct its errors, but choose to hide b
ehind technicality to justify and endorse an electoral fraud.”
APC hails Uzodinma
But the APC on Tuesday congratulated Uzodinma following his affirmation by the Supreme Court.
This was contained in a statement signed by the APC National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Isa-Onilu, in Abuja.
It read, “As a law-abiding party, we believe in the sanctity of the rule of law and will always accept the decisions of the Apex Court, whether favourable or not. The APC will never choose the route of impugning on the integrity of our judiciary, undermining other public institutions and threatening our democracy with unpatriotic utterances and actions.
“We are confident the Imo people have chosen the right man for the job. Our congratulations therefore go to the good people of Imo State as they begin a new journey into prosperity under the capable watch of Governor Uzodinma.”
Judgment casts doubts on judicial sanctity — Third Force
Meanwhile, a group of eminent leaders of thoughts, under the aegis of the Third Force Movement in Nigeria, said the apex court’s majority verdict had “cast serious doubt over the integrity and sanctity of the Nigerian Judiciary.”
This was contained in a statement signed on behalf of the group by its spokesperson, Dr Olusegun Obe, on Tuesday.
The group also vowed to petition the United Nations, United States, United Kingdom, African Union, European Union, among other world powers in pursuing justice.