Political developments in Imo State, Nigeria is fast becoming novel. The past few days have come with a drum of strangeness. Like the abrupt change Nigerians had expected from President Muhammadu Buhari who rode on the back of Change to assume his office, that of Imo State has shaped recent political realities in the country. What may still happen in the next few days may still be growing in the vast womb of time.
Of course, all Nigerians may have come to terms with the verdict of the Supreme Court. It came on Friday, January 17, when a seven member panel of the Supreme Court ruled on the Imo 2019 governorship appeal. As filed by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Senator Hope Uzodinma, the Court looked at the facts of the matter and gave a unanimous verdict.
Straightway, the Supreme Court dismissed the decisions of the lower courts – the Elections Petition Tribunal and the Appeal Court – which both upheld the declaration by the independent national electoral commission, INEC, that Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP won the March 9, 2019 election. The Supreme Court set aside the previous verdicts, using the substance of the appeal to upturn the decision in favour of the appellant.
Accordingly, the Court noted that it was unethical for INEC to have removed votes duly authenticated by polling agents and INEC officials from 388 units which were undoubtedly won by Uzodinma. The court therefore added the figures from the 388 units, a result which dragged Uzodinma’s vote from 96,458 to about 400 thousand votes. This also catapulted him from the fourth position to the first on the list, as the highest vote scorer in the poll. Further assessment, again, showed that Uzodinma got at least 25 percent valid votes from the 2/3rd of the local government areas in the state, a situation which conforms with the constitutional requirement that energizes his declaration as the winner of the election.
Reactions from legal experts seem divided on the matter as some believe the Supreme Court was wrong in his judgement. They insist that since the additions have pecked the total valid votes above the total number of accredited voters, it ought not to have been declared in favour of the APC candidate. But these two legal luminaries have held the same position, in support of the decision of the apex Court. They reasoned that the court of law which deals on facts and not on truth, had been meticulous and accurate in its verdict.
To Obinna Akpuchukwu, Esq, the law is already settled that once results have been declared by a presiding officer, the INEC has no power to nullify or cancel the result. Only a competent election petition tribunal has such power. Hope Uzodinma, as he put it, met the constitutional requirements of securing 25 per cent votes in 2/3 of the Local Governments in the State and he won the highest number of valid votes cast in the election. He noted that the Court of law decides any case based on the issues formulated before it and marrying the evidence led at the trial to the law.
In his opinion, Kenneth Ikonne, SAN, says that though the verdict had been painful, it was legally correct and founded on the negligence of Ihedioha’s team of lawyers to file a cross petition. Kenneth Ikonne explained that, “Ever since David Mark V. Abubakar Usman, and Doma V. INEC, the law has been settled that neither collation officers nor a returning officer, has the power in law to exclude a polling unit result duly signed by the presiding officer at the polling unit”; adding that only the election tribunal possesses the power to cancel or exclude such a result. He submitted that “failure by Ihedioha’s legal team to file a cross petition fiercely challenging the integrity of the suspect polling units results upon which Uzodinma was relying became their greatest self-undoing.
But, instead of putting their house together, the national officials of the PDP issued a threat to the Supreme Court, seeking an immediate reversal of the verdict. The party clearly took the Court to the gutters, forgetting how many cases have been decided by the same Supreme Court in its favour.
Apart from the threats, the party mobilized their members for a protest nationwide. The protest which started on Sunday was attended by national officials of the party. They condemned the ruling of the Supreme Court, wondering how someone who scored the least number of votes could suddenly become winner of the same election. The national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus; the vice presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, the national legal adviser, Barr Emmanuel Enoidem and so many others led the protest. It was unfortunate that as they were protesting in Abuja, the vehicle which conveyed them fell on the road, leaving plenty people injured.
While this was on, PDP members in Imo State were seen in obvious mood of despair. Pictures of old men and women in tattered rags were seen crawling on the road. They wore sackcloth with heavy faces. Their protest portrayed a hopeless people who only called on God to save them. Some actually wept and just like the mourning of mother Rachel, they could not be comforted. They wished that the Supreme Court could sit back and review its verdict just to return “their victory” to them. Of course, that was just a wish that never was to be.
Like an aggravated shocker, what would seem like the only surviving root of the PDP in the Imo State government has begun a process of depreciation. From elections of March 9, 2019, none of the members of the Imo State House of Assembly was of the APC. The reality which reduced Senator Uzodinma to the last person on the list may have completed its natural circle. The APC was left with no representation in the House. But just like the PDP may have begun consultations on how to deploy the House of Assembly to stabilize the new APC led government, perhaps by getting the Governor impeached, house members started defecting. Just in their first sitting since the change of government, nine House members left three other parties to join the APC. Again, while the speaker of the house has defected to APC, the deputy speaker has resigned his position.
It is noteworthy that what might have appeared as a dark cloud in Imo State has completely faded. The tension that was instantly gathered is clear. Some had viewed the decision of the Supreme Court as an invitation to war. Partisan positions were clearly advanced by politicians to score their goals. The polity was being heated. Incitements were being planned. It was like a major insurrection with very vague future. Their sackcloth was indeed frightening. It seemed Nigeria was plunging once again into war. But sure, the APC held a counter protest, in solidarity with the new Governor. It also helped to calm the risen nerves.
While it seemed the ruling party was losing its grip on Imo State, as the result of Ihedioha’s election, what has happened in the last few days shows that no matter the height of the flames, pressing the right button could put off the fire. They gathered in their darkness, but the atmosphere is now clear. They thought of overthrowing, but they are now dethroned. They hoped to stoke a fire, bit the firmament is pure. They hoped the cloud was dark, but the lawmakers are defecting and this can only portray that the dark clouds are fast fading away.