A member of the seven Justices of the Supreme Court which heard the application filed by the sacked Governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha, seeking to review the judgement that ousted him, Justice Centus China Nweze, yesterday, held that the verdict of the apex court on Ihedioha’s removal was a nullity.
Justice Nweze, who delivered the only dissenting judgement, held that the said judgement was given in bad faith and consequently nullified the declaration of Senator Hope Uzodinma as governor on account of wrong declaration.
He further held that Uzodinma mischievously misled the court into unjust conclusion with the unverified votes credited to himself in the disputed 388 polling units.
This was just as six other Justices on the panel led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, dismissed Ihedioha’s application for lacking in merit.
Reading his dissenting judgement, Justice Nweze held: “In my intimate reading of the January 14 judgement, the meat and substance of Ihedioha’s matter were lost to time frame. This court once set aside its own earlier judgement and, therefore, cannot use time frame to extinguish the right of any person.
“This court has powers to overrule itself and can revisit any decision not in accordance with justice.”
According to Justice Nweze, “The decision of the Supreme Court in the instant matter will continue to haunt our electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come. Without evidence of meeting other constitutional provisions, the court misled itself into declaring Uzodinma as governor.
“This court has a duty of redeeming its image, it is against this background that the finality of the court cannot extinguish the right of any person.
“I am of the view that this application should succeed. I hereby make an order setting aside the decision of this court made on January 14 and that the certificate of return issued to the appellant be returned to INEC.
“I also make an order restoring the respondents as winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election.”
The majority judgement, however, refused to set aside its judgement that removed Ihedioha and replaced him with Uzodinma.
The court held that it lacked powers to sit on appeal in its own judgement delivered on merit and in accordance with dictates of the law and justice.
The court held that the request by Ihedioha asking it to set aside its judgement of January 14 this year on grounds of nullity is an invitation on the apex court to sit on appeal over its own judgement, which the court cannot do.
In the majority ruling delivered by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the court held that granting the request of the applicants would open the flood gate by parties to all kinds of litigations.
The apex court, in the majority ruling, insisted that by the provision of section 235 of the 1999 Constitution, its decision on any judgement based on merit is final and shall not be reviewed once delivered under any guise, except for clerical errors.
The court also stated that by Order 8 Rule 16, the general law is that it has no power to alter any judgement and that such judgement once delivered on merit shall remain forever.
Justice Ariwoola said: “Certainly, this court has no inherent power to grant what is being sought; it is beyond the powers of this court. There are no constitutional provisions for this court to review its own judgement.
“To say the least, this court has no competence and indeed lacked power to sit on appeal in its own decision. Finality of the Supreme Court is entrenched in the constitution and inherent power can only be invoked where there is law to do so.
“This court cannot under any guise alter any judgement under any inherent power, as doing so would bring the court into disrepute and ridicule.
“The application is liable to dismissal and is hereby dismissed for want of jurisdiction and competence.”
The court, however, held that parties in this case should bear their cost.
Other Justices who aligned with the majority judgement are the CJN, Justice Muhammad, Justices
Sylvester Ngwuta, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Amina Augie and Mary Uwani Abba-Aji.
INEC had declared Ihedioha as winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election on the ground that he won majority of lawful votes cast at the governorship poll.
The Imo State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal and the Court of Appeal in their concurrent decisions in the appeal filed by Senator Uzodinma, upheld Ihedioha’s election and dismissed Uzodinma’s petition on grounds that he did not prove his allegations against the election of Ihedioha.
The apex court, however, disagreed with the decisions of the Appeal Court on the grounds that they erred in law when they excluded votes from 388 polling units from the total scores at the poll.
According to the apex court in the judgement delivered by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun on January 14, when the excluded votes totalling over 200,000 were added, Uzodinma and not Ihedioha actually won majority of the lawful votes cast in the March 9 governorship election in Imo State.
The apex court consequently declared Uzodinma Governor of Imo State and ordered INEC to withdraw the earlier certificate of return issued to Ihedioha and issue a fresh one to Uzodinma.
The court accordingly ordered that Uzodinma, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which came fourth in the election be sworn in as Governor of Imo State.
Miffed by the decision, Ihedioha approached the apex court with a request to reverse his sack early this year on the grounds of nullity.
In arguing his application, Ihedioha’s counsel, Kanu Agabi (SAN), told the court that they are praying the court to change its mind because of certain inherent errors in the judgement that removed his client from office.
He claimed that the apex court did not consider the judgement of the Court of Appeal which struck out Uzodinma’s appeal for being incompetent, adding that as at the time the apex court gave its judgement, the decision was still subsisting.
In pointing to another error he said was contained in the judgement, Agabi wondered where the issue of 388 polling units came about when in actual fact, Uzodinma had tendered results of 366 polling units which he claimed was excluded from the total figure of votes cast at the election.
He said “the judgement gave them credit in 22 polling units from nowhere”, adding that, “contrary to all precedent, the number of votes cast at the election exceeded the number of accreditation by 129,000.”
He also argued that the judgement did not show that the APC had the necessary constitutional spread to be declared winner of the election.
Agabi, therefore, urged the court to set aside its judgement sacking Ihedioha and restore the verdict of the Court of Appeal.
He submitted that by section 6 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has all powers, including powers to correct its errors.
Responding, counsel to Uzodinma and the APC, Damian Dodo (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the application for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
Dodo said they are opposing the application because the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain it in the first place.
Dodo said: “Whether the application is characterized as an application for review or classified as an application to set aside or so ever dressed or clothed, this court has consistently and rightly so held that it lacked powers to sit on appeal over its own judgement and this is what it is.”
On the judgement of the Court of Appeal which dismissed their case, Dodo submitted that the judgement of the Supreme Court which set aside the judgement of the appellate court has completely taken care of all issues raised at the lower court.
He subsequently asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the application for lacking merit.
Highlight of yesterday’s event was when after the ruling of Justice Nweze, people in the court, including counsel, burst into spontaneous clapping and the CJN threatened to sentence anyone caught clapping to “continuous clapping”