Evaluating The Justice of the Decision of the Supreme Court in Sen. Hope Uzodinma Vs. Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha
It is perhaps the most celebrated case of the decade and this is not surprising because of the politics of calumny by the Nigerian political class, the blame game by the two major political parties and politicizing of the issues leading to the removal of the former CJN and the appointment of the current CJN. The social media community and the common man in the street jumped into the fray and everyone became a legal commentator berating the Supreme Court for perverting justice in favour of the ruling political party! The views of political actors and their sympathizers notwithstanding, the decision of the Supreme Court in the instant case as usual is very sound and unassailable. My opinion on the soundness of the Supreme Court decision is not borne out of the age long maxim that “the Supreme Court is not final because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is final”.
The Supreme Court based its decision on the elementary principle of law that the court and the parties are bound by the issues joined in their pleadings. Put in a lay man’s language, the court is bound to decide on the cases submitted to it by both parties. Senator Hope Uzodinma was the flag bearer of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the March 8, 2019 governorship election in Imo State. RT. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was declared the winner of the election while Senator Hope Uzodinma took 4th position in the result declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Sen. Hope Uzodinma and the APC filed a petition at the Governorship Election Tribunal against the result of the election. Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, the PDP and INEC were made 1st Respondent, 2nd Respondent and 3rd Respondent respectively to the petition. The crux of Sen. Uzodinma’s petition was that in the course of collation of results in the Ward, Local Government and State levels INEC incorrectly stated the votes of Rt. Hon. Ihedioha and reduced the votes of Sen. Uzodinma by unlawfully excluding the results from 388 polling units where Sen. Uzodinma scored overwhelmingly majority of the votes cast. Sen. Uzodinma also stated before the Electoral Tribunal that when the votes from the excluded units are added to the votes of Sen. Uzodinma and Rt. Hon. Ihedioha, Sen. Uzodinma will score 310,153 while Rt. Hon. Ihedioha will score 260,162
Expectedly, Rt. Hon. Ihedioha denied the allegation of exclusion of results made by Sen. Uzodinma and alleged in his pleadings before the tribunal that Sen. Uzodinma has embarked on a scheme to introduce false result sheets into the result of the election. INEC on its part also denied the allegation made by Sen. Uzodinma and asserted that the results relied upon by Sen. Uzodinma are false. They pleaded that they will tender the genuine results in the course of the trial. In other words INEC never denied that elections did not hold in the 388 polling units. And as noted by the Supreme Court, this is very crucial! Now after pleadings (which is the preliminary stage of exchanging papers by the parties), it was time to call witnesses to prove the allegations or otherwise averred in their respective pleadings. Sen. Uzodinma called 54 witnesses and tendered Form EC8A – E series which include the statement of results from the 388 polling units and ward collated results.
Rt. Hon. Ihedioha on the other hand called just four witnesses and tendered certified true copies of the Form EC8 series showing the results with which INEC declared him winner of the election. PDP called one witness and INEC did not call any witness nor tender any document! Recall that Ihedioha and PDP alleged in their pleadings that Sen. Uzodinma forged the results of the 388 polling units. By making this criminal allegation, the law requires them to prove the allegation beyond reasonable doubt, as required in criminal prosecution, but they failed in this duty. As the Supreme Court noted, they never called any iota of evidence to prove this allegation! INEC on the other hand never called any evidence or tender any document to show that what Uzodinma tendered was fake. In other words, Uzodinma’s evidence on the 388 polling units was uncontroverted! And when evidence is uncontroverted a court of law is bound to act on it! The question Nigerians should be asking is why did INEC’s legal team not call some of the presiding officers posted to the 388 polling units to testify that the result tendered by Sen. Uzodinma was fake and what stops them from tendering the genuine results as averred in their pleadings? Nigerians should also ask the legal team of Rt. Hon. Ihedioha why they failed to call their polling agents in most of the 388 polling units to assert that there were no votes in those units or that the results were cancelled whichever be the case! The Supreme Court clearly acted on the evidence before it! It is obvious the legal team of Rt. Hon. Ihedioha probably did not consider the petition of Sen. Uzodinma to be of a serious threat for obvious reasons. Sen. Uzodinma was declared a distant fourth position in the election and in the electoral history of Nigeria a candidate with such a low score has never successfully challenged the result of an election let alone declared a winner to displace the number one candidate. But this is a big lesson for all lawyers and litigants never to consider any case as infinitesimal.
Many commentators have criticized the judgment of the Supreme Court for ascribing any probative value to the results of the 388 polling units tendered by a police officer instead of an INEC staff. Rt. Hon. Ihedioha’s legal team obviously based the strength of their defence on the lack of probative value of these result sheets because they were not tendered by an INEC official. A Deputy Commissioner of police was called by Sen. Uzodinma on the basis of a subpoena duces tecum et testificandum to testify as PW54. The result sheets of the 388 polling units were tendered in evidence through the police officer. Paragraph 22(c) (i) – (vi) of INEC Guidelines for 2019 General Elections clearly states the steps a presiding officer shall take after the result of a polling unit has been collated thus:
(c) The Presiding officer shall then:
(i) sign, date and stamp the appropriate EC8A forms;
(ii) announce loudly the votes scored by each political party;
(iii) request the candidates or their polling agents where available at the Polling Unit to countersign;
(iv) refusal of any candidate or polling agent to countersign the appropriate form EC 8(A) series shall not invalidate the result of the Polling Unit;
(v) keep the originals of EC8 series and the first pink copies for the Commission;
(vi) give to the polling agents and the Police, a duplicate copy each of the completed forms
The above provision of the INEC Guidelines for the 2019 Elections clearly makes the case built by the legal team of Rt. Hon Ihedioha to fall like a pack of cards. They have argued that the results tendered were not certified trues copies and that the police officer is not the right person to tender them. These arguments are not tenable in law because the results, as can be seen from the provision of paragraph 22(c)(iv) above, are duplicate copies of the originals which require no certification and the police authority is empowered by law to be in custody of the results.
The decision of the Supreme Court also pointed out that this is not the first time the Court is relying on the copies of results in the custody of police officers to decide the validity of election results in Nigeria. The court cited the case of Nnadi Vs Ezike (1999) 10 NWLR (Pt. 622) 228 at 238. The tendering of the results through the police officer was to show that the scores recorded therein were excluded from the forms EC8B (ward collation results). It must also be reiterated that the police officer was summoned by the Election Tribunal to produce and tender the documents!
Lastly I must point out that Paragraph 12(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) places a burden of proof on the Respondent to an election petition of this nature. It states that“….the respondent in his reply shall set out the facts and figures clearly and distinctly disproving the claim of the petitioners”. And again the legal team of Rt. Hon. Ihedioha failed to discharge that burden of proof. According to them, Sen. Uzodinma took 4th position so they don’t have to comply with that provision of the Electoral Act.
Once again the Supreme Court has shown by this landmark decision that it is indeed the last hope of the common man. What Nigerians and those having one interest or the other regarding this judgment should note is that the jurisprudence of justice dictates that there are three viewpoints of justice; justice from the viewpoint of the claimant, justice from the viewpoint of the defendant and justice from the viewpoint of the court. But in all these viewpoints the substantive justice is the justice from the viewpoint of the objective man who is unbiased and having no emotional or sentimental attachment to the case. That justice from the viewpoint of the objective man is what the court is enjoined to dispense at all times and that is the kind of justice the Supreme Court has dispensed in this case. It is obvious that most people berating the Supreme Court for this judgment are doing so without the right information. This article is intended to educate and correct the perspective of those with objective mindset.
Honesty Eguridu is a Legal Practitioner based in Lagos.
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