By Douglas Anele
Moreover, Rochas Okorocha (now a senator…can you imagine that?) literally turned Imo into his family estate or familiocracy. As if he took a cue from the example of President Muhammadu Buhari, he appointed members of his family, in-laws, and cronies to high positions in the state.
For example, Uche Nwosu, Okorocha’s son-in-law by virtue of being married to his first daughter, Ulomma, was his Chief of Staff and Commissioner for Lands and Housing at different times, whereas Mrs. Ololo mentioned earlier served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to the governor.
The person Okorocha nominated for the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to represent Imo State, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, is the father of Uzo, who is married to his second daughter, Uju. In July 2017, Okorocha appointed Christiana, Prof. Anwukah’s spouse, as the President, Imo State Customary Court of Appeal. That is not all.
According to media reports, Geraldine, one of Okorocha’s sisters allegedly supplied food to Imo Government House from her fast food joint, while his elder sister allegedly through a proxy, collected market tolls in the state. Instead of investing scarce resources wisely to improve Imo State University, Okorocha spent billions on a white elephant project, a new university called Eastern Palm University at his hometown, Ogboko. For civil servants, his eight years in office were an existential nightmare.
Government workers were regularly owed salaries for over eight months at a stretch: at some point, he unilaterally reduced their salaries and asked them to start farming without adequately incentivising his shambolic go-back-to-the-farm initiative or programme. Overall, notwithstanding the inane propaganda of the former governor and his acolytes, the eight years- from 2011 to May 28, 2019, can be aptly described as a Dark Age in the history of Imo.
Therefore, it was not a surprise that the electorate in Imo rejected Okorocha’s anointed replacement, his son-in-law Uche Nwosu, in last year’s governorship election. Emeka Ihedioha of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). According to INEC, Ihedioha scored the highest numbers of votes – 273,404 – amongst all the contestants and met the constitutional requirements to be elected governor. Uche Nwosu of Action Alliance (AA) came second with 190, 304 votes, whereas Ifeanyi Araraume of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Hope Uzodinma, candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), were third and fourth respectively with 114,676 and 96,458 votes.
Just as Ihedioha was gradually settling down to confront the arduous challenge of rebuilding the state devastated by Okorocha, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment penultimate week, toppled the apple cart by accepting the appeal filed by Uzodinma against the judgement of the Appeal Court which reaffirmed Ihedioha’s victory.
It must be noted in passing that since Ibrahim Tanko became the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Supreme Court is gradually acquiring notoriety for delivering “unanimous” judgements even in highly controversial matters for which exactitude leading to unanimity of conclusion is virtually impossible. In the Ihedioha versus Uzodinma case, it is as if none of the justices found any iota of merit in the four-to-one majority decision of the Appeal Court in November 19, 2019, which upheld the judgement of the governorship election tribunal that had earlier dismissed the petition of Uzodinma. In the light of serious anomalies identified by Ihedioha’s lawyers in the documents presented by prosecution witnesses when the matter was adjudicated before it got to the Supreme Court, could all members of the election tribunal and the appellate court judges who ruled in favour of Ihedioha have been so mistaken to the extent that there was no dissenting voice at the apex court?
Kudirat Kekere-Ekun of the Supreme Court who delivered the verdict on behalf of her colleagues did not give an exhaustive justification for the startling unanimous judgment, especially for accepting the uncertified, INEC-rejected result sheets from 388 polling units. She claimed that those very results were unlawfully excluded from the overall collated results.
Further, she stated that results from the cancelled polling units amounted to 213,295 votes, which meant that Ihedioha was deemed elected based on a wrong computation of results. By implication, the INEC-discredited results tendered by Uzodinma are valid and should have been accepted by the electoral body.
If that was done, Uzodinma, not Ihedioha, would have been returned as the duly elected governor. Expectedly, the judgment has elicited mixed reactions. Whereas President Buhari and APC stalwarts praised the judgment, the PDP and a broad section of Imo people dismissed it as a hideous and reprehensible travesty of justice.
Being an indigene of the state, I cannot stand aloof without contributing to the debate because the future of my state is at stake. But some intellectually lazy people have argued that only lawyers can have a valid opinion on the matter, which is totally unacceptable. What is at stake is not just about hair-splitting technicalities of law. There are core moral issues that rear up in every controversial judgment, especially one that seems, ab initio, to contravene the principles of natural justice, equity, and good conscience.
Moreover, as a logician I know that any law or judgment that contradicts well-established principles of valid reasoning or engenders inconsistent results in practice or leads to manifest absurdity cannot withstand the searchlight of rationality no matter its grounding in pure legalism. It follows that when lawyers disagree about a particular judgment, as in this instance, that is an opportunity to critically examine extra-legal considerations that might have influenced those who made the judgment.
Now, the legal team of Emeka Ihedioha has been criticised for not filing a cross petition at the apex court challenging the discredited results from the three hundred and eighty-eighty polling units, which are the linchpins of Uzodinma’s petition. However, there is a trending post in the social media from the legal team of Ihedioha by Rotimi Peters Esq., which requires attentive reading.
According to available information, the issue of authenticity of the results paraded by Uzodinma’s witnesses was exhaustively dealt with at both the election tribunal and at the Appeal Court against the petitioner because his lawyers failed to meet the stringent conditions stipulated by relevant provisions in extant Electoral Act and decided cases from the Supreme Court to give probative value to the results tendered which tilted the outcome in favour of the APC candidate. Indeed, it appears that the Supreme Court did not give adequate weight to decisions of the election tribunal and the appellate court as to whether the contentious results contained in bags and sacks presented by Uzodinma’s witnesses actually reflected valid votes cast during the election. This suspicion is corroborated by the fact that under cross examination during one of the trials, polling agents in twenty-eight out of the over three hundred contentious polling units and prosecution witness admitted that the result sheets they identified either were not legible or did not contain the scores of all political parties that contested the election.
They also agreed that those purported result sheets had no entry to show the number of ballot papers issued to the corresponding polling units, and the number of ballot papers used and unused in those units. Moreover, the names and signatures of the presiding officers were omitted in many of the documents, while some had dates that were before or after the election day proper.
To worsen matters, one of the prosecution witnesses confirmed that there was evidence of over-voting in some of the results he brought forward during cross-examination. Clearly, if the information presented above is correct, the insinuation that Tanko and his cohorts were merely rubberstamping a script already crafted by the so-called cabal in Aso Rock to increase APC’s foothold in Igbo heartland using a very vulnerable governor may not be as farfetched as it might appear at first sight.
It is quite understandable that, in their negative triumphalism, Hope Uzodinma and his supporters would praise the judgment while Emeka Ihedioha and his group are now in the slough of despond. But from my interactions with several Imo people, there is a general feeling of despondency and disenchantment across the state because of the abrupt truncation of the small restorative steps Ihedioha had taken already since he became governor and the unflattering reputation of Uzodinma.
Every Imo indigene I have spoken to maintains that the Supreme Court judgement is reprehensible and that replacement of Ihedioha with Uzodinma is a huge step backwards, although some also acknowledge that it is too early to determine whether the former would be a good governor or not in the long run.
At this juncture, it is important to raise some questions and reflect on some points raised by the judgement. First, why did the apex court summarily dismiss Ihedioha’s counter arguments against according probative value to the highly flawed results presented before it by the petitioners and wholeheartedly accepted the petition of Uzodinma?
Why did the court abandon trite principles of law regarding the evidential value to be accorded to documents tendered from the Bar in election matters, which it applied last year in respect of the Ekiti governorship election and in the case involving Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and INEC by according probative value to documents presented by witnesses who did not make the documents in the first place?
As a corollary, what is the justification by the apex court for ignoring the obvious flaws in the documents which necessitated dismissal of Uzodinma’s petitions at both the election tribunal and Appeal Court? To be continued.