The Court of Appeal on Tuesday affirmed the victory of Emeka Ihedioha as the governor of Imo State.
A five-member panel of the court led by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye delivered the judgement on Tuesday following the appeals filed by the Action Alliance, All Progressive Grand Alliance and the All Progressives Congress challenging the election of the governor.
The appellants had argued that Mr Ihedioha did not obtain the constitutionally required one-quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, as provided under Section 179 of the Constitution.
The appellants, therefore, asked the court to set aside the decision of the election petition tribunal and declare them the winner of the election or in the alternative order a rerun.
The three Appeals
The three appeals filed against the judgment of the Imo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which upheld the election of Mr Ihedioha, include that of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and its candidate, Ifeanyi Ararume; Action Alliance (AA) and its candidate, Uche Nwosu and that of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and its candidate, Hope Uzodinma.
The different appellants asked the Court of Appeal to void the election of Mr Ihedioha on grounds that he did not obtain the constitutional one-quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, in line with Section 179 of the Constitution.
In their various submissions by their counsel, they asked the court to set aside the decision of the tribunal and declare them the winner of the March 9 governorship election or in the alternative order the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election into the office of Governor of Imo State.
The three-member panel of the tribunal had in a unanimous decision delivered on September 21 held that Mr Ihedioha was lawfully declared the winner of the governorship election by INEC.
The panel led by Justice Malami Dongondaji had in the judgment dismissed Messrs Ararume, Nwosu and Uzodinma’s petitions for lacking in merit on the grounds that they failed to prove the allegations made in their petitions.
Apart from claims that Mr Ihedioha did not obtain the constitutional one-quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, in line with the provisions of the law, the petitioners had also alleged substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act and Guidelines, including other irregularities.
But the tribunal in its judgement held that the case of the petitioners was unmeritorious because they failed to call relevant witnesses and that evidence of witnesses called were based on hearsay.
The tribunal, in addition, rejected documents tendered by the petitioners in support of their claims on the grounds that those who led evidence in the documents were not the makers of the documents.
In his appeal, Mr Ararume urged the appellate court to upturn the decision of the tribunal on the grounds that the lower court erred in law when it arrived at the decision that his case and that of his party lacked merit and accordingly dismissed it.
The appeal which was predicated on 22 grounds was argued by his lead lawyer, Awa Kalu, while that of Mr Nwosu and AA, was argued by Niyi Akintola. That of Mr Uzodinma and APC was argued by Damian Dodo.
They all urged the panel to allow the appeal and grant all the relief sought by the appellants.
However, lead counsel to Mr Ihedioha and the Peoples Democratic Party, Onyechi Ikpeazu and K.C.O. Jenna respectively urged the court to dismiss the appeals for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
The respondents submitted that the appeal of the AA and Mr Nwosu in particular constitute a waste of precious time of the court since the Supreme Court, in a judgment delivered on October 22, had already struck out the name of Uche Nwosu as the candidate of the AA in the March 9 governorship election in Imo State.
The respondents also claimed that the appeal of Mr Nwosu lacked merit going by a recent judgment of the Court of Appeal which nullified the candidacy of Nwosu in the governorship election.
Appeal court decision
On Tuesday, the court commenced the hearing with the appeal of Mr Nwosu of AA but later upheld the preliminary objection by the PDP and Governor Ihedioha that the appeal was faulty.
According to the court, it ought to ordinarily dismiss the appeal but in line with the Supreme Court’s guidelines, it decided to go ahead and determine the appeal.
After listening to and resolving all the issues raised by Mr Nwosu and the Action Alliance against the PDP, Justice Omoleye ordered him to pay N500,000.
Determining the appeal filed by Mr Uzodinma and the APC, the court held that the tribunal had looked at the evidence loophole placed before it and that it is settled law that hearsay evidence is not admissible in court.
Consequently, issues 1,2,3 and 4 were resolved against Mr Uzodinma and the APC.
On issue three which bordered on the dismissal of documents, the appeal court resolved it in favour of Mr Uzodinma.
The court said the tribunal went out of its jurisdiction to resolve the issues but that notwithstanding, the appeal was lacking in merit and was, therefore, dismissed.
Consequently, a cost of N500,000 was awarded against the appellants.
However, a member of the panel, in a dissenting judgment, rejected the cross-appeal filed by the governor and ordered him to pay N1 million to Mr Uzodinma and his party.
The court also dismissed the appeal filed by Mr Ararume and APGA and equally awarded a cost of N500,000 against the appellants.