IMO: Supreme Court’s justice, equity, and the fear of God

By Malachy Uzendu

It is incontrovertible fact that for justice to apply there must be no short supply of truth. Truth is divinely ordained and binds humanity with the Almighty creator. In all religions, truth is sacrosanct. For justice to prevail, there be no iota of doubt that truth prevailed. Where there are doubts that truth is wobbled, the so-called justice would be like kettle of water turned upside down, its content is predictable.

The Supreme Court’s verdict on the Imo State Governorship Election left a sour taste on the mouth of every God-fearing person; the verdict left humanity more confused and like William Shakespeare stated ‘that judgment murdered sleep’. Since then, Nigerians and the international community have not had sleep. Most Nigerians are confounded; political pundits and academics are confused; legal luminaries have remained petrified; only those who lack equity and the fear or God in their psyche pooh-pooh our collective intellect, trying hard to turn our mental acuity upside-down.

It has defied logic how the judiciary, nay the Supreme Court, generally referred to as the hope of the common man made the populace appear as kindergarten who bathe only on the stomach axis. The Supreme Court chose dance-steps lacking in rhythm with the drummers and other instrumentalists. They engaged in a topsy-turvy gyration unmindful of the consequential bumpy effects. The age-long stare decisis principle upon which our jurisprudence is rooted was cast overboard.

Lets set the foundation for arriving at this conclusion. The governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Sen. Hope Uzodinma (and candidates of other political parties), had filed petitions against the declaration of Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Imo State. Sen. Uzodinma’s petition was premised on 388 polling unit results he claimed were excluded from the results announced by the INEC, insisting that if taken into account, he would have won. Ihedioha, PDP and INEC had denied the allegation.

For instance, Ihedioha in paragraph 8(i) of his reply to the petition stated that “the petitioners have embarked on a scheme to introduce false result sheets into the result of the election”. He also queried the existence of the polling units as well as the distribution of election materials to those purported polling units. Also, INEC in paragraph 7( c ) of its reply, averred that it did not omit to record votes as alleged and that any such results are “fictitious and suborned”. And by the use the word ‘suborn’, the apex court understands the meaning of the averrment.

Aside the above, at the hearing, Uzodinma and the APC called 54 witnesses out of which 28 were polling unit agents. Sen. Uzodinma himself testified as PW11, including a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) who testified as PW54. The other 23 witnesses were local government collation agents and sundry witnesses.

The DCP tendered documents in Ghana-Must-Go bag which he described as result sheets obtained from 366 polling units. He admitted in cross-examination, that he did not know the figures they contained or the polling units they were got from. Evidence obtained under cross-examination showed that the tendered result sheets were not legible and did not contain the votes cast for all the political parties at the election. It did not equally show any entry on the number of ballot papers issued to the respective polling units, the number of ballot papers used and unused in those polling units. Many of the sheets did not show the names and signatures of the Presiding Officers and the date of issuance. In some of them, the dates written on them were before or after 9th March, 2019, the date the election took place. The Election Tribunal discountenanced these evidences and unanimously affirmed the averments of the respondents.

The Court of Appeal in split 4-1 decision, upheld the verdicts of the Tribunal, except that it said the DCP was a competent witness and that his evidences should carry probative value. In the end, it dismissed the appeal. The minority judgment none the less upheld the petitioners’ claims, but did not calculate the additional votes which the petitioners or winner scored in the election.

Still aggrieved, Sen. Uzodinma appealed to the Supreme Court. On the pronouncement that DCP was a competent witness, Hon. Ihedioha cross-appealed and was assigned appeal number SC.1470/2019. While this cross-appeal is yet to be heard, the Supreme Court pronounced Sen. Uzodinma, duly elected governor of Imo State and ordered his immediate swearing-in. The apex court bandied figures which up until today confused the public. In its pronouncement the total valid votes at the election stood at 950,952 votes even though total accredited votes was 823,743 votes throwing up excess votes figure of 127,209. The final cumulative votes of the candidates at the election except Sen. Uzodinma remained the same. This sent tongues wagging as to whether Sen. Uzodinma garnered 100 per cent of the votes cast (probably representing 100 of registered voters?) in the disputed 388 polling units.

If the principle of stare decisis remains undisputable in our jurisprudence, then recent decisions of the Supreme Court should come to mind. Its decision on SC/409/2019: PDP vs. INEC & Others delivered on 24th Maym 2019 in respect of the Ekiti State governorship election; its decision on SC/1211/2019: Atiku Abubakar vs. INEC delivered on 15th November, 2019 and the Supreme Court’s warning through Justice Niki Tobi in Ararume vs Ugwu. At pages 62-63 of the Atiku Abubakar vs. INEC judgment, the Supreme Court stated clearly that whenever documents are tendered from the Bar in election matters, the maker of such tendered documents must be called to speak to those documents and be cross-examined on the authenticity of the documents. Tendering such is not an end to itself.

Also, Part V of the Evidence Act which deals with admissibility of documentary evidence is apt. A party who did not make a document is not competent to give evidence on it, except he obtained a certified-true-copy of the document, where the maker of the document is not subpoenaed. Where the maker is part of the suit or had disputed its authenticity, the court is bound to subject the document to further scrutiny to ascertain if it is real, imagined or forged otherwise such document would have no probative value. The Supreme Court is therefore totally wrong to have ignored these precedents and Evidence Act. More unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not indicate that it would provide reasons for this noxious Imo governorship decision, leaving every analysis to gesture and speculation, including inducement.

Going by the verdict on Imo governorship tussle, the public believes the apex court is encouraging disregard to the rule of law, disregard to precedence, disregard to Evidence Act, disregard to truth, equity and good conscience. Except we retrace our steps, the Supreme Court has planted a time bomb that is likely to consume our democracy, which liars still say is still in its nascent stage.

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