On Tuesday, 28 January 2020, the good people of Imo State in particular and Nigerians in general were shocked by the Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly, Collins Chiji and about seven other legislators from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Action Alliance (AA) who said they were defecting and later that day actually defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Chiji was elected a member of the State House of Assembly representing Isiala Mbano constituency on the platform of the APGA in 2019. He defected to the PDP on 10 June in order to contest for the position of Speaker and was elected Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly on Thursday, 13 June 2019. On 28 January 2020, barely two weeks after the Supreme Court invalidated the election of the erstwhile governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and installed Senator Hope Uzodinma in his place, he defected again from the PDP to the APC with these other lawmakers of the State Assembly.
The Speaker announced his defection and that of his colleagues during a 15-minute plenary session that Tuesday which was said to have abruptly ended after he announced the names of the defecting lawmakers as Uche Ogbuagu representing Ikeduru constituency; Dominic Ezerioha representing Oru West constituency; Chigozie Nwaneri representing Oru East constituency; Kanayo Onyemaechi representing Owerri West constituency; Kennedy Ibe representing Obowo constituency; Onyemaechi Njoku representing Ihitte/Uboma constituency and Eddy Obinna representing Aboh Mbaise constituency.
To put it mildly, those developments were a huge embarrassment to Imo people, especially when one of the defectors was a well known and beloved journalist and radio presenter who should have known better than betray the trust his people had on him. It all simply went to buttress the truth the Bible always postulated – that the heart of man is continuously deceitful.
Who would have thought of the possibility of such a betrayal while these opportunistic politicians were campaigning for votes? And what on earth could possibly have been the motif or even the rationale of Mr. Chiji and his co-political sojourners in defecting to the ruling party of the federal government from a party that clearly had the majority in the House of Assembly, and therefore could address Executive issues with one voice and some moral strength that could get the Executive to do well for the state?
This was happening barely two weeks after the government of Senator Hope Uzodinma was sworn in to replace that of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, a former Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, fondly called Mr. Due Process by the teeming population of Imo citizens, and his team.
Since those nine members of the Imo Assembly defected to the ruling party, the question that has refused to go away from the lips of most Imo people is: “who did this to us?” They believe there are some powerful, invisible forces remote controlling the destiny of their state. Imo people are totally confused. They are worried. They are angry. They are asking questions. They are still not comfortable with the Supreme Court verdict that torpedoed Ihedioha’s government. From many quarters, challenges are being thrown at the Apex Court to review its decision on the governorship election results that stole into their state like an unforeseen night shadow.
One very vocal advocate for transparency in the case is the Coalition of Civil Societies, a world-wide organization of legal luminaries that has branches in many countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and America which openly encouraged Ihedioha to file for a review of the judgment of the Supreme Court that sacked him as governor.
The Coalition has insisted that the Supreme Court erred in law by recognizing Senator Hope Uzodinma as winner of the governorship election in the state. It said the judges proffered two divergent verdicts on the same case and that it was an unprecedented act in law for the Supreme Court to manipulate or doctor its own judgment in order to cover its track.
The organization noted that in delivering its judgment, the Supreme Court overthrew all known legal and electoral jurisprudence and settled principles as they were applied in other similar election cases. It pointed out that on 14 January 2020 when the Supreme Court gave judgment in the Imo State governorship appeal, the respondents were shocked when they approached the court for a copy of the judgment delivered in an open court which lasted less than 10 minutes on that day and was contained in about six pages, only to be given a judgment of 46 pages on January 22, totally different from the full and final judgment read on January 14.
The group said that Senator Hope Uzodinma failed to provide any evidence apart from a fake result sheet which was not even recognized by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. The court should have aligned itself with the tribunal and appellate court by disregarding the results from the 388 polling units due to the high rate of electoral malpractices and violence that attended to them.
Indeed, most Nigerians in general and Imo people in particular saw the judgment of the Supreme Court as lacking in common sense because, in actual fact, it did not seem to meet the ends of justice. They questioned how the Apex Court could have admitted a result that was numerically higher than the total accredited voters without verification. They questioned why some data in the document accepted by the court showed gross evidence of over-voting. A look at the table submitted by Senator Hope Uzodinma to the tribunal on the 388 polling units in question, for example, showed how unsettling the Supreme Court decision was.
The group gave the instance of number 69 on the table, where registered voters were 492. APC scored 819 votes. PDP scored 7 votes. That was 334 voters more than registered voters. Another was number 377 on the table, where registered voters were 367. APC scored 367 and PDP 4. That was four voters more than registered voters. It then pointed at Number 285 on the table, where registered voters were 449. APC scored 780 and PDP 4. That was 335 voters more than registered voters.
It noted that the document tendered by Senator Hope Uzodinma’s table of results from 388 polling units did not have any scores for any other political party such as APGA, AA, Accord – whereas there were 70 political parties that contested the election. Despite these anomalies, the group noted, the Supreme Court added 213,695 votes to Hope Uzodinma of APC from the fake 388 units and 1,903 votes to PDP, thereby making the total votes scored at the election 953,083. This was far in excess of the accredited voters clearly shown in the FORM EC8D before the tribunal which was 823,743. It meant that as many as 129,340 votes could not be accounted for by the Supreme Court decision.
Hon. Emeka Ihedioha has put final touches to approach the Supreme Court to correct the obvious errors in their judgment to ensure that justice is not only done but manifestly seen to be done. And many observers are of the opinion that the Supreme Court would have the courage to recall the Imo State governorship issue, correct the anomaly, restore justice in the system, peace in Imo State and faith in Nigeria’s growing democracy.
Indeed, it won’t be the first time the Supreme Court would be revising its earlier judgment. In 1971, there was the case of Johnson v Lawanson. The Supreme Court found reason to overrule itself in the case. Justice G.B.A Coker of the Apex Court made the decision that when the court was faced with the alternative of perpetuating what it was satisfied was an erroneous decision which was reached per incuriam and would, if followed, inflict hardship and injustice upon the generations in the future or of causing temporary disturbances of rights acquired under such a decision, he did not think the judiciary should hesitate to declare the law as it found it.
Again, in a watershed decision in Akeredolu v Abraham, the Supreme Court overruled itself on the question of what constituted 'outside jurisdiction' in relation to the Admiralty Court (Federal High Court) for the purpose of determining whether leave of court was required to effect service of an originating process. Even in America, the home of democracy, there have been at least ten cases where the Supreme Court had to reverse its earlier decisions.
It is not obvious, but it will certainly be interesting to know why these seemingly impatient, self serving legislators decided to defect to the ruling APC soon after their candidate was pronounced governor by the Apex Court. Was it that Chiji and his colleagues did not realize that the Supreme Court could reverse itself on an erroneous judgment and re-instate Ihedioha in the face of all the agitations that his removal has generated? Was it that by their political assessment and sense of judgment, they did not realize they would do better for themselves and for their constituencies as a Responsible Opposition or Shadow Government having the greater number of representatives in the Assembly as against the ruling APC that had not even one member in the Assembly before their defection? Was it that they preferred to become the Executive’s puppets, willing to obey every of the governor’s command without resistance because they would now belong to the same ruling party?
Honestly, in all my 44 years as a journalist in Nigeria and in the UK, I have never come across such a dumb political calculation as this. And I begin to ask all over again, a question I have asked time without number. Why do Nigerian politicians lack ideology and representative focus? For instance, all these politicians who defected to APC, did they consult their constituents before taking such serious decisions? Did their constituents meet to endorse their plans to defect? Or did they just wake up in the morning and believed they might get more money for themselves from the new governor if they belonged to the same party? And were they going to take their constituencies along with them to their new party?
Did it not occur to these traders who call themselves politicians that they would do better for themselves and for their constituencies if they operated as a Responsible Opposition, guiding the minority government to do the right things for Imo people?
And what if, with the level of pressure being put on the Supreme Court from across the world, it finally caves in and reverses its earlier verdict in the face of new evidences and restores Ihedioha’s mandate, would these guys have the face to come back to the PDP? Or would they still stay in the APC and from there, hope to reach out to Abuja over and above their governor? Chai! Democracy don suffer. Sorry for Imo people. They still have a long way to go.
Chief Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of ‘The Presidential Years From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ and Publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (Website: www.imostateblm.com)