There is a saying, Justice cannot just be seen, it must be felt, in the hearts of the people and in the soul of the country. The judiciary is often said to be the last hope of the common man, but now it seems a mirage, especially with the upturn of the Imo state gubernatorial elections held March 9th, 2019, which has become a cause for concern.To perpetuate an error is no virtue but to correct it is a compulsion of judicial conscience.
One may not be a fan of Hon Emeka Ihedioha and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) whose victory has been grossly impacted, but the public outpouring of cries of injustice in Electronic, Print, and Social media opinion polls attest that the judiciary has not covered itself in glory and should bury it’s head in collective shame. The deduction from the fast spreading anguish and disappointment remains that Justice has been sacrificed at the alter of expediency, even where they acted on what the court may call balance of probability. It goes further to allude that such travesty of justice can only stand where the Judiciary is corrupt, inept, or held in bondage.
The facts of the case are not ambiguous. In the result of the Imo State Governorship election held on March 09, 2019, INEC declared that the former Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt Hon Emeka Ihedioha scored the highest number of votes – 273,404 amongst all the candidates, met the constitutional requirements, and was duly elected. The other three candidates coming behind him were credited with the following votes: Uche Nwosu (AA): 190,364, Ifeanyi Araraume (APGA): 114,676, Hope Uzodinma (APC): 96,458. Senator Uzodinma challenged PDP’s victory based largely on the allegation that elections were conducted in certain 388 polling units, but the results of the elections which he had copies of (and which were favorable to him) were wrongly excluded by INEC in their collation of results of the election; that if those results were taken into account, he would have won the election. The legally empowered body that conducted the elections, INEC, denied the allegations and characterized the purported results tendered in evidence as false in their respective replies to the petition.
The Governorship election tribunal, after painstaking trial dismissed the petition of Senator Uzodinma and APC against the declaration of Emeka Ihedioha as governor, insisting that the petitioners did not prove the existence of other results from the so-called 388 polling units. Subsequently, the Court of Appeal on November 11, 2019 affirmed the judgment of the Governorship election tribunal, which dismissed the petition of Senator Uzodinma and APC. Fast forward, on Jan 14, 2020, the Supreme Court ruling on the appeals, overturned the earlier judgments, allowing the petitioners’ appeal but did not state the new vote counts which the petitioners proved from the 388 polling units, especially having regard to the following facts: (a) that only 28 polling unit agents out of the 388 polling units testified (b) that the respondent, INEC who legitimately conducted the election, denied the existence of those result sheets and tendered their documentary evidence.
Apparently, the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubts that need to be satisfied under the requirements of section 179(2) (a)(b) of the Nigerian Constitution, also the application of Section 53(2) of Electoral Act 2010, before arrival at the decision that Senator Uzodinma should be sworn-in as the new Governor of Imo State, was not met.
The gross of public outrage against the judgment points to the statistics contradictions where the total number of registered or accredited voters cannot be reconciled with the alleged votes obtained by the APC, to upstage the overwhelming votes of the PDP’s candidate, Emeka Ihedioha. Further, on who got what votes in the State Assembly elections, among the various political parties, the petitioners’ party APC, in the election that was held on the same day as this governorship election in question, in the same polling stations, did not produce a single win. PDP won 13 seats, AA 8, APGA 6, and APC won 0 seat out of a total 27 seats. On this premise, the popular request for the Supreme Court to revisit its judgment therefore sounds cogent and most necessary to restore our faith in the Judiciary as the last line of hope. Justice is above all indeed.
The learned Justices of the Supreme Court know where this anomaly is heading and also know that Nigeria’s future in their hands is at an all time lowest ebb, but will they have the courage to turn the ship on the right path?No doubt, the Judges are not mechanized robots and cannot claim the wide known fact that humans are not infallible. Judges are humans and humans are bound to make mistakes. Mistake once made has to be given a chance for correction as well. So, why not, when justice is at stake?
It has been widely argued that there is no power in the Supreme Court to set aside or review its own judgment given in the same case, with exception as it relates to correction under the slip rule. Yes, under Order 8 Rule 16 Supreme Court Rules, the Supreme Court may revisit its judgment to correct clerical errors or omissions or gabs to give meaning to the judgment. This is however without prejudice to the inherent power of the Supreme Court to set aside its judgment in appropriate cases, when the judgment is obtained by fraud or deceit, either on the court or by any of the parties. Such judgment can be impeached or set aside.
Such power is not alien to some countries too. The Constitution of India grants the Supreme Court an exclusive right to review its own judgments in the cases under Article 137, for instance to correct grave evidence overlooked or some mistake that couldn’t have possibly been foreseen. Cases where the Nigerian Supreme Court revisited their own judgment abound. In Olorunfemi v Asho the Supreme Court set aside its judgment delivered in January 8, 1999 on the ground that, it failed to consider the respondents cross–appeal before allowing the appellant’s appeal. When it is obvious that the court was misled into giving judgment under a mistaken belief, it may not be above the purview of the Supreme Court. For example, the case of Johnson v Lawanson (1971) 7 NSCC 82 is regarded as the trailblazer case in which the Supreme Court exercised the power to overrule itself. The court then ordered that the appeal be re-heard de novo by another panel of Justices of the Supreme Court.
It is also known that Dr Andy Uba approached the Supreme Court to set aside its earlier judgment and revalidate his alleged victory at the April 14, 2007 governorship election,under the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi. Though he may not have succeeded, but same may be a viable option on a good case.
The merits of this recourse, is that it fosters stability,assures equality of treatment for litigants similarly situated, finally it offers the law a desirable measure of predictability that no one comes with deceit to obtain misguided ruling, and will generally ensure correction of widely perceived miscarriage of justice. A rethink and a second opinion should, therefore, not be out of question.