Uzodinma replaces Ihedioha as Supreme Court sacks Imo governor

BARELY seven months and 13 days in office, Imo State Governor Emeka Iheadioha was sacked on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the Certificate of Return from him and give it to Hope Uzodinma, who is to be sworn in immediately.

The judgment elicited mixed reactions from the All Progressives Congress (APC), whose candidate is declared the winner and the Peoples Democratic Party, which presented Ihediooha

In Owerri, the Imo State capital, supporters of Uzodinma  took to the streets celebrating while Ihedioha’s lamented the loss.

The verdict also gave credibility to the prediction by a Catholic priest Ejike Mbaka of the Adoration Ministry, Enugu, who said in December that Uzodinma would become Imo State governor.

The  Supreme Court postponed till Monday, judgments in the cases involving Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal and his Kano State counterpart Abdullahi Ganduje.

Delivering the judgment in the Imo case, members of the seven-member panel of the  apex court unanimously agreed  that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was wrong to have excluded results from 318 polling units from the votes recorded for the APC  candidate.

The votes scored by Uzodinma and his party in the 318 polling units and which the court held was unlawfully excluded was put at 213, 695.  Ihedioha and the PDP were said to have scored1, 903 in the polling units said to be located in Uzodinma’s  stronghold.

The lead judgment was read by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun.

Justice Kekere-Ekun held that the election petition tribunal and the Court of Appeal misunderstood Uzodinma’s case when they ruled in favour of Ihedioha.

She said the case of the appellants (Uzodinma and the APC) was about unlawful exclusion of part of the votes he garnered in the election and not whether or not there was a valid election in part of the state where Uzodinma’s results were cancelled.

Justice Kekere-Ekun said the judgment in the appeal marked: SC/14/62/2019 filed by Uzodinma and his party was used to resolve all the issues.

She added that the other appeals – SC/1461/2019 (filed by Ifeanyi Ararume of the All Progressives Grand Alliance  and SC/1470/2019  filed by Ihedioha  were no longer necessary. According to her, they had become academic in view of the court’s decision in the Uzodinma appeal.

Justice John Okoro, who took ill during the court’s sitting on Monday was excluded from the panel that sat Yesterday. He was replaced on the panel by Justice Amina Augie.

Other members of the panel are Justices Ibrahim Muhammad (Chief Justice of Nigeria and head of the panel), Sylvester Ngwuta, Olukayode Ariwoola, Amiru Sanusi and Uwani Abba-Aji,

Justice Kekere-Ekun earlier dismissed a motion by Ihedioha, challenging Uzodinma’s candidacy for the election on the grounds that the Supreme Court had held in a judgment in  December last year, in an appeal marked: SC/1384/2019, to the effect that Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance(AA) was also a candidate of the APC for the same election.

She said: “The judgment in SC/1384/2019 relates to the valid nomination of a candidate in a party’s primary, which is a pre-election matter.

“The validity of the first appellant’s (Uzodinma’s) nomination cannot be enquired into by this court in a post -election appeal.”

The court earlier yesterday also struck out the appeal filed by Nwosu after it was withdrawn by his  lawyer, Solomon Umoh (SAN).

Justice Kekere- Ekun said: “In the substantive appeal, I am of the view that the two main issues that can resolve this appeal are appellants’ issues one and two.

“Issue one is in respect of the concurrent findings of the two lower courts to the effect that PW54 was not the proper person to tender Exhibits PPP1 to PPP366.

“Having given careful consideration to the arguments of the respective learned counsel, there was clear evidence before the court that PW54, a police officer, who was subpoenaed to testify and produce the documents in question.

“Having produced the documents handed over to the police in obedience to the subpoena issued by the court, the lower courts were wrong to have held that he was not the. proper person to tender them on the grounds that he was not present at the polling units, where the results emanated from.

“I agree with the learned counsel for the appellants that the lower courts misconstrued their case. The issue in contention was whether the results for 318 polling units were unlawfully excluded from the collated results.

“The documents were tendered to prove the exclusion as pleaded by the appellants and not whether election held in the polling units, in which case, the polling agents would have been called.

“With regard to the appellants’ second issue, a careful perusal of the appellants’ pleading reveals that, indeed, the finding that the appellants did not prove the allegation that their votes were excluded from collation, was as a result of the misapprehension of their case.

“Having resolved these two issues in the appellants’ favour, I am of the view that it is not necessary to consider the remaining issues. In the circumstances, I hold that there is merit in this appeal. It is hereby allowed that:

.The majority judgment of the lower court, affirming the judgment of the governorship election tribunal, is hereby set aside. It is hereby ordered as follows;

.It is hereby declared that votes due to the appellants, that is  Uzodinma and the APC  from the 318 polling units, were wrongly excluded from the scores ascribed to the appellants.

.It is hereby ordered that the appellants’ votes from the 318 polling units, unlawfully excluded from the appellants’ scores declared, shall be added to the results earlier declared by the 3rd respondent (INEC).

.It is hereby declared that the 1st respondent, Rt Hon.  Emeka Ihedioha, was not duly elected. by majority of lawful votes cast at the said election. His return as the elected governor of Imo State is hereby declared null and void and is accordingly set aside.

.It is hereby declared that the 1st appellant, Senator  Uzodinma, polled the majority lawful votes cast at the governorship election held in Imo State on 9th March 2019 and satisfied the mandatory constitutional threshold and spread across the state.

.It is hereby declared that the 1st appellant, Senator Uzodinma is the winner of the governorship election of Imo State. held on 9th March 2019 and declared on 11th March 2019.

.The certificate of return issued to the 1st respondent, Right Hon. Ihedioha, is hereby withdrawn.

.It is hereby ordered that a certificate of return shall be issued to the 1st appellant, Senator Uzodinma forthwith and should be sworn in as the governor of Imo State immediately.

.In the circumstance, appeals numbers SC/1461 of 2019 and SC/1470 of 2019 have become academic and are hereby struck out.”

The court will on Monday deliver judgment in  two appeals in the Sokoto State dispute. The main appeal was filed by the APC candidate, Ahmed Aliyu and his party.  Governor  Tambuwal, of the PDP, filed a cross-appeal.

It had also rescheduled judgment for the appeal challenging the victory of Ganduje by PDP’s Abba Yusuf.

COURTESY: THE NATION

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