© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Imo guber election: Four noteworthy points from Supreme Court’s full judgment
Tuesday, January 14, the Supreme Court declared Hope Uzondinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the duly elected governor of Imo State in a ruling that has turned out to be deeply controversial.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Uzodinma had gathered the fourth-highest votes in the election. But the APC candidate said he in fact had the highest votes—if votes from 388 polling units, which he said were his stronghold, were collated. The Supreme court eventually favoured his prayer and declared him the winner.
Barely 24 hours after the ruling was given, Uzodinma received his Certificate of Return from INEC – but the electoral commission maintained the election was credible “despite some challenges”.
Certain facts about the court’s decision were originally unclear, but TheCable on Thursday published a copy of the judgment delivered by Justice Kudirat Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun.
“In the circumstances, I hold that there is merit in this appeal,” Justice Kekere-Ekun had concluded. “The appeal is allowed. The judgment of the lower court affirming the judgment of the Governorship Election Tribunal is hereby set aside.”
Other justices on the panel were Chief Justice of Nigeria Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, Olukayode Ariwoola, Amiru Sanusi, Amina Adamu Augie, and Uwani Musa Abba Aji.
In this report, The ICIR shares four key points from the 45-page document.
Not all the ‘cancelled votes’ were Uzodinma’s
It has been previously suggested that Uzodinma’s claim is that 213,295 votes that went to him from 388 polling units were not collated and that all other candidates did not get more votes from these polling units.
“By the time the Supreme Court finished its reworking, Hope Uzodinma moved from 96, 458 votes to 309, 753. The Supreme Court got this magical number by adding votes from 388 polling units Hope Uzodinma demanded that the courts add,” Chido Nwakanma, an editorial board member at Business Day wrote on Thursday.
“Curiously, all the votes bar none in those units went to Hope Uzodinma. There was no subtraction or addition to the votes of any other candidate. Does not make sense, right?”
But the full judgment shows otherwise. It states that Uzondinma’s claim was that while he received 213,295 votes from the contended polling units, “the 1st respondent (PDP candidate, Emeka Ihedioha) is entitled to 1,903 votes from the same 388 polling units”.
Why Nwosu’s disqualification did not affect Uzodinma
Ihedioha had on January 10 filed a motion seeking to strike out Uzodinma’s appeal at the Supreme Court because the court had in 2019 ruled that Uche Nwosu’s nomination by two political parties was null and void. Ihedioha argued that this also applied to Uzodinma because he was also nominated by the APC for the same election.
But the court observed that it was wrong that the issue was just being raised at the Supreme Court level. This rendered it incompetent and an “instrument of ambush”. It also said the court does not delve into pre-election issues, and the determination of whether a candidate has been validly nominated is the reserve of High Courts—as stipulated by the Electoral Act.
“This court has no original jurisdiction to determine whether an aspirant was properly nominated by his party as a candidate for election,” the judgment stated.
The only contentious issue tabled before it, the court noted, was the exclusion of votes scored by Uzodinma from ward collation results.
Why the court recognised APC’s exhibits
APC’s counsel, D.D. Dodo (SAN), had noted during cross-examination of witnesses at the electoral tribunal that police officers were present at the contested polling units. But the trial court expunged the exhibits presented, said to be the authentic poll results, because the police lacked the competence to testify and the documents (Exhibits PPP1 – PPP366) were not certified.
Dodo, however, said they do not need certification because they are duplicate originals, according to the 2011 Evidence Act. He said the documents were in the custody of the police and released on the authority of the Commissioner of Police after a subpoena was issued.
He argued that Nigeria’s electoral laws and INEC’s guidelines recognise the procedure of giving electoral results to the police. The appellants further said, even though had called them false result sheets, “The respondents failed to adduce any evidence in proof of their allegation that the documents were forged [and] did not tender any result for the election in the 388 polling units in issue to contradict the duplicate originals of the results.”
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had, on the other hand, pointed out inconsistencies in the supposed number of votes scored, according to the pleaded documents, and the number of registered voters. It also said Uzodinma ought to have proved that elections were properly conducted in the 388 units and that the results were issued by the presiding officers to the APC’s agents.
The party observed that APC only called 28 polling unit agents at the tribunal court “leaving 360 polling units unattended”. INEC, on its part, told the court APC’s purported accurate results are false and it “did not unlawfully exclude the polling unit results in units where elections were properly conducted”.
The Supreme Court agreed with the APC’s arguments. It also supported the dissenting opinion of Frederick Oho, Justice of the Court of Appeal, about the admissibility and weight of evidence from the police.
INEC did not counter APC’s claim with any evidence, witness
The full judgment substantiates the claim that PDP called only one witness while INEC neither called a witness nor tendered any documents to challenge the appeal.
The Supreme Court held that the APC did not need to call polling agents to prove elections were held in the units because their contention was that their votes were excluded not that there was no election.
“The authorities of this court requiring the evidence of polling unit agents, polling unit by polling unit, are therefore not applicable in the circumstance,” it ruled.
“Although they relied heavily on the assertion that Exhibits PPP1 – PPP366 were fake, no evidence was adduced to prove the assertion at all, let alone beyond reasonable doubt. The respondent failed to produce the ‘genuine’ results as pleaded.”
In another section of the judgment, Justice Kekere-Ekun state that INEC “failed woefully to tender the results it termed ‘genuine’, which would have rebutted the presumption of regularity in favour of the documents” tendered by the APC.
We do not join issues with the apex court — INEC
Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, told The ICIR the electoral commission’s tradition is not to join issues with the Supreme Court and that it would prefer to let the sleeping dog lie.
“Of what use will it be if we disagree or otherwise about a judgment which nobody can do anything about?” he asked.
“We are not going to join issues. There is no point doing that. We have released our results. That is in the public domain. The election tribunal upheld our arguments. The Court of Appeal upheld our arguments. But the Supreme Court decided to do something else, so it’s best left to the Supreme Court.”
Asked why the commission did not adduce evidence to puncture the APC’s claims about excluded votes, Oyekanmi did not provide an answer. He rather directed The ICIR to also go through the judgments of the Court of Appeal and the election tribunal.