By Buchi James
Imo State Governor Emeka Ihedioha has described his victory at the Court of Appeal as a reaffirmation of the collective will and desire of the people. Ihedioha made this declaration shortly after the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja upheld the decision of the governorship elections tribunal that ruled in favor of the governor and his party the PDP in September. Recall that following the ruling of the Imo State Governorship Elections Tribunal which upheld Ihedioha’s victory at the Imo State gubernatorial polls in March, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and its governorship candidate, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, Action Alliance (AA) and its candidate, Uche Nwosu, and the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its governorship candidate, Senator Hope Uzodimma filed an appeal at the appellate court seeking the court to set aside the judgment of the Imo State Governorship Elections Tribunal. The appellants sought the court to void the election of Ihedioha on the grounds of his failure to obtain the constitutional one quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of Imo State, in consonance with the provision of section 179 of the 1999 constitution as amended. In their separate submissions via their advocates, the appellants sought the Appeal Court to quash the judgment of the election tribunal and declare them winners of the March 9 gubernatorial elections in Imo state. The appellants also sought the court to issue an order mandating the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh gubernatorial election in Imo state. However, in a unanimous judgment by the five-man appeal panel presided over by Justice Oyebisi Omoyele, the Appeal Court dismissed the appeal of the Action Alliance (AA) and its governorship candidate UcheNwosu on the ground of lack of merit and upheld the Imo state Governorship Elections Tribunal’s judgment.
The panel also awarded a cost to the tune of N500, 000 against the appellant. Upholding the judgment of the lower tribunal, the panel added that the tribunal’s assessment was thorough and hence its decision against the appellant. There was however a dissenting judgment of ratio 4:1 in Senator Hope Uzodimma’s appeal. While four of the five-man appeal panel upheld the judgment of the lower tribunal on the ground of lack of merit in the appeal, and consequently awarded a cost of N500, 000, one of the members saw merit in the appeal and ruled that the judgment of the lower tribunal be quashed and awarded a cost of N1million against the PDP and its candidate Emeka Ihedioha. In Ararume’s appeal, the appellate court dismissed the appeal for inability of the appellant to prove his allegations against the respondents beyond any manner of doubt. The panel thereafter, upheld the decision of the Imo State Governorship Elections Tribunal and awarded a cost of N500, 000 against the appellant. Ararume’s appeal was predicated on 22 grounds and was argued by his lead counsel, Mr Awa Kalu, SAN, while those of Uche Nwosu and his party the Action Alliance (AA) and Hope Uzodimma and the All Progressives Congress (APC) were argued by their lead counsels Mr. Niyi Akintola, SAN and Mr. Damian Dodo, SAN. All appellants through their counsels urged the panel to allow the appeal and grant the reliefs they sought. However, lead counsel of Emeka Ihedioha, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, and that of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. K.O. Njemanze, SAN, urged the Appeal Court to dismiss the appeals for lack of competence and merit. The respondents submitted that the appeal of the Action Alliance (AA) and its candidate constituted a mere waste of the precious time of the court. They submitted that Uche Nwosu was never a contestant in the March 9 gubernatorial elections in Imo state, as a Supreme Court judgment delivered on October 22, had already struck out his name as a candidate of the AA in the March 9 governorship elections in the state. Democracy is indeed about the collective will of the people, and any practice seen to be encouraging it whether judicial, executive or legislative is to be commended greatly. More than anything however, Governor Emeka Ihedioha is supposed to settle down with this favorable decision and hit the ground running in his bid to deliver the much desired dividends of democracy to Imolites.