By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI, Abuja
The Supreme Court, yesterday, dashed hopes of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to reclaim the governorship seat of Imo State through the instrumentality of the judiciary.
A seven-man panel of Justices of the Apex Court in their consensus judgment yesterday, held that the Owerri Division of the Court of Appeal, grossly erred in law when it gave PDP and its candidate in the April 26, 2011, governorship election in Imo state, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, the leave to challenge the outcome of a suit that was filed and lost at the Federal High Court by the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN and its flag bearer, Mr Ifeanyi Ararume.
In the lead judgment which was prepared and read yesterday by Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, the Apex Court, further accused the PDP of attempting to perpetuate a “do-or-die attitude” in Imo state, capable of “making nonsense of our entire judiciary and legal system.”
Consequently, the Apex Court panel, yesterday, ordered the PDP, Ararume and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to pay a fine of N100, 000 each to Governor Okorocha for attempting to subject the judiciary to ridicule.
Other members of the panel who concurred with the lead judgment yesterday were Justices John Afolabi Fabiyi, Sulieman Galadima, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, Olukayode Ariwoola, Musa Dattijo Muhammad and Kudirat M. Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun.
Specifically, Okorocha had through his lawyer, Chief Niyi Akintola, SAN, gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the ruling of the Court of Appeal in Owerri which had on October 19, 2012, granted the PDP leave to appeal against the Federal High Court judgment that upheld his election.
The High Court in Owerri had in a verdict it delivered on February 3, 2012, dismissed the suit filed against Okorocha by the ACN and Ararume, on the premise that the subject matter of the suit was a post election matter.
Dissatisfied with the High Court judgment, both ACN and Ararume lodged an appeal at the Court of Appeal Owerri on March 30, 2012.
While the appeal was pending, PDP and its own candidate, Ohakim, on May 18, 2012, filed an application where they sought for leave to be allowed to appeal against the High Court judgment as interested parties.
Though Okorocha vehemently opposed the application, however, the appellate court, on October 19, 2012, granted PDP’s request and gave it the nod to go ahead and challenge the high court decision that dismissed Ararume’s appeal.
Irked by the decision, Okorocha, took the case before the Supreme Court where he insisted that the appellate court Justices erred in law when they joined PDP as an appellant in a pre-election suit, when the reliefs being sought by ACN and Ararume, related to a post-election issues, the subject matter of which was ab-initio heard and determined by the Apex Court.
Basically, it will be recalled that prior to the 2011 general elections, INEC, had fixed April 26, 2011, to conduct governorship election in Imo state in compliance with the provision of section 178(2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
On that date, election successfully held in 23 Local Government Areas of Imo state, while violence marred the conduct of election in four LGA’s comprising Ohaji/Egbema, Mbaitoli, Oguta, Ngor-Okpala as well as Orji ward in Owerri North LGA.
Sequel to the provisions of section 26(1), (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, INEC, postponed election in the affected areas of the state and declared the governorship election in Imo state inconclusive. It subsequently slated May 6, 2011, to hold supplementary election in the areas.
Meantime, on May 3, 2011, ACN and Ararume filed an action challenging the constitutionality of the decision of INEC to conduct the supplementary election.
However, the court process could not be issued on INEC until May 10, after the election had held and Okorocha declared and returned as duly elected governor of Imo state.
The Election Petition tribunal in Imo state had earlier dismissed a petition by PDP which challenged the constitutionality of the supplementary election. Bid by PDP to upturn the decision of the Tribunal failed both at the Appeal and Supreme courts.
In its judgment yesterday, the apex court, stressed that PDP ought not to have been allowed by the appellate court to join in an appeal it was not even a party to at the High Court.
According to Justice Ogunbiyi, “The effect of the ruling by the court below to re-litigate an existing judgment in rem, is tantamount to a breach of the principle of res-judicata which should operate as an estoppel. Such gross abuse of court process will certainly subject our judicial system to ridicule.
“The quest for power and governance should not be without end. The courts, in particular the apex court, which has the duty to give example to all subordinate courts, should be wary against accommodating situations where litigations subsist without end under the guise of do or die attitude which effect would only make nonsense of our entire judiciary and legal system which had specifically put in place measures to check on the unending lethargy of our political ambition.
”The slogan, there must be an end to litigation, should persistently sound loud and clear in our polity. This is a matter of public policy which should not create a societal gangrene.
”The purpose and effect of the law will be lost if it acts only as a toothless bulldog. It should not be seen as a white elephant, but should be a fearful wolf in a sheep’s skin. Its effect should be so pronounced and felt especially at times like this where the abuse of the court process is so imminent.
”In the result, the two issues are both resolved in favour of the appellant while the ruling of the Court of Appeal, Owerri judicial Division delivered on October 19, 2012, is hereby set aside as an abuse of court process. The appeal in the circumstance is allowed and I make an order of N100, 000.00k in favour of the appellant against each of the 1st, 3rd and 4th respondents”, the apex court held.
The apex court had on October 31, 2013, struck out the name of the 2nd respondent (ACN) from the matter on the ground that it had ceased to exist as a political party in Nigeria.
Likewise, following the defection of Okorocha to the All Progressives Congress, APC, his former party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, hitherto before the apex court as the 5th respondent in the appeal, withdrew its brief and was accordingly struck out from the matter.
Ohakim had through his counsel Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, begged the apex court to dismiss Okorocha’s suit as grossly incompetent and lacking in merit, maintaining that the substantive matter was still pending at the appellate court.
Olanipekun, maintained that contrary to Okorocha’s contention, the appellate court, merely assumed jurisdiction on the matter with a view to determining whether or not it has the powers to hear and determine issues surrounding the outcome of the Imo supplementary governorship election.
Likewise, counsel to PDP, Chief Awa Kalu, SAN, sought the dismissal of the appeal, prayers that were yesterday refused by the apex court.
Meanwhile, Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, has warned his political opponents to “go home and rest, especially now that justice has finally prevailed”.
Reacting to the Supreme Court judgment, Okorocha said: “Honestly, the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. With this judgment, the Supreme Court, Abuja, has rested all litigations against my election victory in 2011.”
The governor expressed hope that the judgment has brought an end to the long over-stretched court cases that are diversionary to his government, adding that this is a signal for the opposition to stay clear of the Rescue Mission government.