‘How Ihedioha’s lawyers goofed’

South-East Bureau Chief, JUDE OSSAI, looks at some of the views of stakeholders on the ‘voyage’ of the PDP to the Supreme Court over the judgment on Imo guber.

TO the former governor (Ihedioha), there are grounds in law for the Supreme Court to reverse itself, reason he has approached the apex court, stating that his rival and eventual winner, Senator Hope Uzodinma, was not the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the March 9, 2019 gubernatorial election.

The argument of the former deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives is on the premise of the judgment of the same Supreme Court on December 20, 2019 where one Uche Nwosu was declared as the rightful candidate of APC and Action Alliance (AA) and was disqualified for double candidature.

According to Ihedioha, the APC could not have produced two candidates in one election, adding that the Supreme Court had no powers to allocate votes to any candidate.

“Supreme Court has no power to increase the number of people accredited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Somebody that was not a candidate cannot be winner of an election he was not a candidate in. Nigerian Police have no powers to organise elections in Nigeria. Results tendered by a police officer cannot be admitted in any court as exhibit as he was not INEC officer,” Ihedioha was reported to have said.

To some other people, Governor Hope Uzodinma might not have won the gubernatorial election, yet, the Supreme Court, based on the facts, was right in declaring him the winner of that election.

This category of people blames the legal team of Ihedioha for the defeat.

“The error was not the Supreme Court’s, but that of former Governor Ihedioha’s legal team; and it was a crucially fatal error,” Kenneth Ikonne, SAN, said.

“What happened was this: During the governorship election in Imo State, there were apparently concocted results, perhaps not having any basis whatsoever in reality, but signed by INEC presiding officer. These were turned in from more than 350 polling units, giving Hope Uzodinma of the APC an incredibly unassailable lead.

“When those results were transmitted to the wards’ collation centres, the collation officers, who had no power in law to cancel or reject them, rejected the said polling units results, and refused to collate them, thereby effectively excluding them from the total tally of the governorship result that was eventually declared by the Returning Officer.

“In the aftermath of the said exclusion, the INEC declared Governor Ihedioha the winner of the election. The exclusion of the results of those polling units was the fulcrum of the petition presented at the tribunal by Uzodinma. Ever since David Mark Vs Abubakar Usman, and Doma Vs INEC, the law has been settled that neither collation officers nor a returning officer  has the power in law to exclude a polling unit results duly signed by the presiding officer at the polling unit.

“Only the election tribunal possesses the power to cancel or exclude such results.

“So, at the point of its presentation, Senator Uzodinma’s petition was potentially viable, in spite of the apparent dubiousness of the polling units’ results on which it was anchored, there being a rebuttable presumption of regularity and correctness by virtue of both the Electoral Act and Evidence Act, ensuring in favour of any result declared by a presiding officer.

“The backbreaking and fatal error made by Ihedioha’s legal team was in not filing a cross petition fiercely challenging the integrity of the suspect polling units’ results upon which Uzodinma was relying, and praying the election tribunal to formally nullify the said results.

“Ihedioha, indeed, did set up facts in his reply to the petition rehashing the serial infractions that led to the exclusion of the results of the said 300 plus polling units. But that was legally not enough, in the absence of a cross petition.

“Tragically, Ihedioha’s legal team forgot to include the pivotal cross petition. And in the absence of a cross petition, the Supreme Court was right in law, painfully though it may seem, to rely on the presumption of regularity and correctness enshrined by both the Electoral Act and Evidence Act in favour of the said results; and to reckon with them and add them up to the final result, since Ihedioha’s legal team had woefully failed to effectively attack the results and rebut that presumption.

“For the Supreme Court, this was the legally correct conclusion to come to, having found that INEC had no power in law to exclude polling units results duly affirmed by the various polling units’ presiding officers.”

Be that as it may, Governor Uzodinma contends that the battle had been lost and won, as he told the people of Imo State in his maiden address to them there was need for vigilance, stressing that it was crystal clear to him that some of those who lost out in the final battle at the Supreme Court, where the real winner of the March 2019 governorship election was determined, were finding it difficult to come to grips with reality.

“They have consequently resorted to mischief making and incitement of the public. They spread falsehood against me and the government. They sponsor pockets of protests against the government and seek to divide us on clannish grounds. They deride our own institutions when such institutions take decisions that do not favour them.

“Let me make it clear that while our doors are wide open to accommodate everyone, including my political opponents, and while we insist on enduring peace and reconciliation, we shall not brood any reckless breach of the laws of the land,” he had said.

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