By Ifeanyi Maduako
All over the world, it is envisaged that general elections may never be perfect, and contentious issues arising from these elections should be resolved by the courts. If electoral bodies in all countries of the world are deemed perfect and immutable, there would be no need for courts to adjudicate on matters arising from them.
That is why even in the most advanced countries of the world, their highest courts are always called upon to resolve disputes arising from elections that are even near perfect. In these developed democracies, it is assumed that the wisdom of their courts takes precedence over their electoral bodies, and whatever judgements these courts give on electoral disputes are immutable and unassailable.
In U.S for instance, their supreme court had resolved a number of presidential litigation in the past even when the elections appeared credible, free and fair.
In Nigeria, the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the extant provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) make it imperative that litigation arising from gubernatorial and presidential elections should terminate at the supreme court at the extreme case. Whereas that of the presidential litigation begins from the Appeal Court which serves as the trial tribunal and ends at the supreme court, that of the governorship position has three layers to wit: the tribunal, the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court. Whatever judgement the Supreme Court gives in every case is binding on all parties.
In Imo State, the opposition has coined a derisive epithet or derogatory sobriquet of “supreme court governor” for Governor Hope Uzodinma who was declared as the duly elected governor of Imo state by the supreme court of Nigeria on January 14, 2020. For the minority vocal opposition in Imo, the Supreme Court declaration of Senator Uzodinma as governor against the earlier declaration of INEC is beyond their limited comprehension.
Governor Uzodinma is neither the first governor nor politician in Nigeria to have his mandate retrieved and validated by the Supreme Court. The apex court’s interventions in restoring mandates started in 2007 when it interpreted the tenure of former Governor Peter Obi.
The Apex court restored the mandate of Peter Obi even when there was a sitting governor of Anambra State as that time. The mere fact that Sen. Andy Ubah was only 17 days in office as governor didn’t sway the emotions of the eminent jurists to pervert justice by retaining him on the seat as governor instead of Peter Obi whose four years mandate was yet to elapse at the time. After Peter Obi, came Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State.
In the case of Amaechi, it was even far more complicated and worse than Governor Uzodinma. Whereas Amaechi didn’t campaign at all as governor, and was not on the ballot paper having being replaced by Celestine Omehia as the PDP candidate , the Supreme Court still declared Amaechi as the governor of Rivers State in an election he was never a contestant. Between a man who was not on the ballot paper during the election like Amaechi and Senator Uzodinma who was on the ballot paper but was purportedly declared the fourth position by INEC, who is better? There is no governor in Nigeria of today whose mandate was not authenticated or validated by the Supreme Court of Nigeria even those who were deemed to have won their elections in the actual sense. The Apex court affirmed their mandates, and that’s why they are still in their offices as governors today.
It happened in Zamfara State where the victories of all the candidates of All Progressives Congress (APC) were invalidated by the apex court which gave the mandates to the opposition candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). All the positions, from House of Assembly, House of Representatives, Senators and governor which APC won in Zamfara state were declared null, void, and of no legitimate effect whatsoever due to the fact that the candidates of the party violated the Constitution and the Electoral Act in nomination of their candidates. The PDP reaped bountifully from that. The same fate befell APC in Rivers State in the 2019 general election.
The most recent was that of Bayelsa State. The APC candidate David Lyon, who was declared as the duly elected governor of Bayelsa State by INEC, and was due for inauguration on February 14, had his mandate truncated and his hope dashed by the supreme court of Nigeria, few hours before his swearing in. That of David Lyon was so pathetic and sympathetic because he was already rehearsing his parade match which was meant for his aborted inauguration. He was still at the parade ground when the heavy news came from the supreme court that his mandate has been quashed due to no fault of his but that of his deputy. He was like the biblical Moses who saw the promise land very close by, but couldn’t step his feet on it.
With all these precedents, Governor Uzodinma should never feel hurt or inferior whenever the frustrated opposition in Imo state pejoratively refer to him as a “supreme court governor”. The opposition in Imo state is like a baby whose mouth was violently pushed away from his mother’s breast. They are still crying and sucking from that intervention of the supreme court on January 14, they should take consolation on the fact that they were able to suck the milk for seven good months unlike their counterparts in Bayelsa who didn’t have the opportunity to suck for even one day. Governor Uzodinma should be proud of himself in realization that his mandate was authenticated, legalized, and duly affirmed by the highest court in the land. It confers the highest degree of legitimacy on his mandate than any other form of legitimacy. A supreme -court – declared mandate is far better than INEC- declared -mandate. The Governor has a supreme legitimacy. Maduako, a media practitioner, writes from Owerri. (08061562735)