By Chidi Nkwopara
Imo State holds the ace for recording over 24 legal battles since the gubernatorial elections were concluded by the Independent National Electoral commission (INEC) in 2007. I am not too sure that there is any other state or personality that can boast of this feat since the current democratic engineering started.
The man that was forced to absorb the heat emanating from the 24 cases or more remains Chief Ikedi Ohakim.
It all started like a huge joke. The initial poll of April 14, 2007, was cancelled by INEC. The electoral umpire blamed its action on violence in some local council areas in the state. I was one of those that queried why the House of Assembly and governorship elections were held the same day, the same booth and cast in the same ballot box but one was cancelled.
We were later to learn that when the Supreme Court ruled that Chief Ifeanyi Araraume was the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), INEC had already printed and distributed the voting materials to all the booths. In effect, the photo graph of the original candidate, Chief Charles Ugwu, was on the ballot paper.
â€œWhat this meant was that it was not clear who was being voted for in that election. When some ardent supporters of Chief Araraume saw this disparity, they reacted angrily and INEC had no option than to cancel the poll and slated the repeat on April 28, 2010â€, an INEC officer, who spoke on grounds of anonymity, confided in Vanguard.
Chief Martin Agbaso of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) approached the Federal High Court, Abuja, and wished to stop the April 28 poll. The court did not sit as he expected and the matter was adjourned to April 30, two days after the governorship poll had been conducted and result released by INEC.
On resumption, the court threw out Agbasoâ€™s suit for not only for lack of jurisdiction but because it had become an electoral matter and had also been overtaken by events. The court advised Agbaso to canvass his problems in the election tribunal, which had jurisdiction to hear the matter.
Chief Araraume, Chief Agbaso and his party joined the array of litigants before the election tribunal sitting in Owerri. In all, Ohakim and INEC were the defendants. With the exception of the case filed by the gubernatorial candidate of Democratic People Party (DPP), Dr. Fabian Ihekweme, which was willingly withdrawn, all the other cases crawled to the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt. With time, all the cases in the tribunal were decided in favour of Ohakim.
The interesting thing about the Araraume case is that Ohakimâ€™s lead counsel, Chief Bon Nwakanma (SAN), told the tribunal that it was not necessary to invite their client to testify in the matter, adding that Chief Araraume had presented all the materials they needed to prosecute the matter. That was the submission that closed the Governorâ€™s defence. Ohakimâ€™s opponents went to town with the news that he had chickened out!
The Governorâ€™s legal team then went to work, used all the documents and oral evidence presented to the tribunal, in writing their address. On judgment day, Ohakim smiled home. Not being satisfied, Araraume approached the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt. The same was true of Agbaso and APGA. They all failed again.
Nearly two years later, Chief Agbaso felt there could be another way out of the electoral quagmire. He remembered that there was an â€œunfinished matterâ€ hanging out there in Abuja, waiting to be exploited. He approached the Court of Appeal, Abuja. Ohakim and Araraume applied to be joined as â€œinterested partiesâ€ in the suit.
The legal battle commenced again until it was finally decided July 16, 2010, in favour of Governor Ikedi Ohakim.
One recurring decimal was that towards the end of each of the matters, text messages started flying into every telephone, alleging that Ohakim had bribed the judges. There were also judgments passed on the pages of newspapers by people who were not even in court to personally witness the proceedings. They did this at the tribunal level.
They repeated it when the matter went to the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt. It was again replicated before the judgment of the Supreme Court.
Honestly, when I got a text message that Ohakim had moved a staggering N2 billion to bribe the Justices, I concluded that the litigants had got wind of the outcome but decided to use the rumour as an escape route. It stands to reason that if they knew that Ohakim was in the habit of bribing judges, why did they fail to try their luck?
My sincere advice is that nobody should do anything that would destroy the judiciary. It is about the only thing that we can hold on!