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Five days after, the judgment of the Supreme Court on the March 9, 2019, gubernatorial contest in Imo State continued to reverberate with negative drumbeats. Partisans of the Peoples Democratic Party and ordinary citizens of Imo and other states took to the streets to protest the judgement with placards and other tools. It was a first for the country as it raises questions why the decision has been so controversial.

The Supreme Court ruled on January 14 that INEC should withdraw the certificate of return issued to Emeka Ihedioha of the People’s Democratic Party as the winner of the contest and thus Governor of Imo State and hand same over to Hope Uzodimma of the All Progressives Congress. It asserted that Uzodimma scored the highest votes and should immediately take the oath as governor.

Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun read the lead judgement of the unanimous verdict of the court. The Supreme Court based its ruling on the evidence brought by a police officer DCP Husseini that testified at the Appeal Court as PW-54. DCP Husseini brought election results from 388 polling units that the court said were excluded unlawfully from the overall collated results. Votes from the 388 polling units amounted to 213 295 and they all went to Mr Uzodimma.

INEC records show that Imo State had 3, 523 polling units. Its initial result credited Uzodimma with 96, 458 votes from 3, 135 polling units. Kekere-Ekun directed the addition of the 213, 295 votes from 388 polling units to the 96, 458 votes earlier accredited to Uzodimma. It then took Uzodimma’s tally to 309, 753.

The result posed a significant challenge, however. With the new calculation by the Supreme Court, Imo State then had the dubious distinction of an election result ordered by the Supreme Court where votes allotted exceeded the number of accredited voters. It remains a sore point and source of embarrassment regarding the Supreme Court’s decision.

We find other aspects of the judgement troubling. The Supreme Court gave probative value to the proof of evidence of PW-54, a police officer, thus relying on an uncertified public document Form EC8A. The electoral law recognises only INEC and its staff for certifying election results. The Supreme Court overruled INEC and the lower courts and admitted the document brought by a witness who ordinarily does not qualify to present election results.

There are many ramifications of the Supreme Court ruling. For one, it means that public documents do not need certification for acceptance in transactions, with the Supreme Court judgement as evidence. It means an investor may lose his real estate investment because someone or group came up with a Certificate of Occupancy without certification from the Lands Registry on it. Such a scenario could happen even if the investor holds the original document. Has the Supreme Court opened the door for lower quality of documentary evidence to be admissible in our courts? Or will they ring-fence the Imo judgement so that no one can cite it?

Note that this judgement is against the backdrop of the reduced credibility of Nigerian documents in the international arena. It is more so for people dealing with investors from other countries. There are implications for business dealings, contracts and foreign investments. We hope that when the Court gives its reasons, it will clarify this matter.

INEC must speak to this judgement where an officer of the Nigeria Police Force brought documents INEC had rejected only for the Supreme Court to now accept it. What is the view of the election manager and regulator?

We also note that the Supreme Court handled the Imo electoral dispute before it in one day only. Such supersonic speed is unusual in handling a matter of such significance for citizens and the polity. The preceding and others are troubling matters arising from the Supreme Court on Imo State gubernatorial dispute. Citizens need an explanation.

BusinessDay – Editorial

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