In one moment, it seemed it was all over for him, and then, suddenly, he is the one with the last laugh.
That is the story of Hope Uzodinma, who has just been declared the validly elected governor of Imo State, South-East Nigeria, by the nation’s Supreme Court, thereby making Emeka Ihedioha, become the first Nigerian governor to be sacked from office after the 2019 general elections.
Mr Uzodinma, 61, would have probably had an easy ride to victory in the last year governorship election if his fellow party man and the then governor, Rochas Okorocha, were to have exhibited the spirit of sportsmanship and remained loyal to their party – the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Because, he desperately wanted his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, to succeed him as the governor of Imo, Mr Okorocha withdrew his support for the APC, after the former failed to win the party governorship primary.
Mr Okorocha threw his weight behind a relatively unknown Action Alliance (AA) where his son-in-law defected to and contested the election as its flagbearer.
“It would require God talking from heaven and telling Imo people, ‘Chief Hope Uzodinma is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’ before Imo people could consider changing their minds. If not, Imo people know those who cannot be their governor. Chief Uzodinma knows this fact and he should stop using the governor to deceive his sponsors,” Mr Okorocha was quoted to have said in December 2018 through his spokesperson, Sam Onwuemeodo.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in March, declared the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Mr Ihedioha, winner of the Imo governorship election with 273,404 votes. Mr Rochas’ son-in-law, Mr Nwosu, came second with 190,364 votes.
The candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Ifeanyi Ararume, scored 114,676, while Mr Uzodinma of the APC came a distant fourth, with 96,458 votes.
In their post-election squabble, Mr Okorocha said Mr Uzodinma was a mole in APC. He accused Mr Uzodinma of working for the victory of the PDP candidate, Mr Ihedioha, in the election.
Mr Okorocha was instructively suspended from the APC for engaging in anti-party activities.
The Supreme Court, in its judgment on Tuesday, said results in 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded during the collation of the final governorship election result in the state.
The court said that Mr Uzodinma, with the added results from those 388 polling units polled a majority of the lawful votes and ought to have been declared the winner of the election by the INEC. It accordingly, voided the INEC’s declaration of Mr Ihedioha as the winner and ordered that Mr Uzodinma be sworn-in as governor.
The PDP and its supporters have expressed shock over the Supreme Court decision.
“The Party finds it difficult to understand how Senator Hope Uzodinma/APC, who came 4th in the March 9, 2019 governorship election, with just 96,458 votes, will suddenly, by the token of the judgment of the Supreme Court, defeat Gov Emeka Ihedioha/PDP that scored 276,404 votes,” the PDP national spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan, said in a statement Tuesday.
“It is lamentable that the destiny of the people of Imo state is being taken from the governor they chose and voted for and handed over to individuals and a political party that do not have their blessing and mandate and which they rejected at the election.
“The people of Imo state are now confronted with the challenge of having a government that they cannot identify with and which cannot connect with them, having not emanated from them,” the party said.
Some Nigerians, stunned by the judgment, are also asking the same question like the PDP – how could Mr Uzodinma, from a the fourth position he previously occupied as per the result announced by INEC, suddenly emerged the winner? And the explanation from the Supreme Court, as stated earlier in this piece, is that Mr Uzodinma’s votes in 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded during final collation!
A lawyer, Kenneth Ikonne, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, has tried to explain to Nigerians how the apex court arrived at the judgment.
“What happened was this: during the governorship election in Imo State, apparently concocted results, perhaps not having any basis whatsoever in reality, but signed by INEC presiding officers, were turned in from more than 350 polling units, giving Hope Uzodinma of the APC an incredibly unassailable lead,” Mr Ikonne said in an article which is circulating on the Facebook.
“When those results were transmitted to the wards collation centres, the collation officers, who had no power in law to cancel or reject them, rejected the said polling units results, and refused to collate them, thereby effectively excluding them from the total tally of the governorship result that was eventually declared by the Returning Officer. In the aftermath of the said exclusion, the Independent National Electoral Commission declared Governor Ihedioha the winner of the election.
“The exclusion of the results of those polling units was the fulcrum of the petition presented at the Tribunal by Hope Uzodinma.
“Ever since David Mark V. Abubakar Usman, and Doma V. INEC, the law has been settled that neither collation officers nor a returning officer, has the power in law to exclude a polling unit result duly signed by the presiding officer at the polling unit; only the election tribunal possesses the power to cancel or exclude such a result.
“So, at the point of its presentation, Senator Uzodinma’s petition was potentially viable, in spite of the apparent dubiousness of the polling units results on which it was anchored, there being a rebuttable presumption of regularity and correctness, by virtue of both the Electoral Act and Evidence Act, ensuring in favour of any result declared by a presiding officer.”
The lawyer said it was “backbreaking and fatal error” on the part of Mr Ihedioha’s legal team for them not to have filed “a cross petition fiercely challenging the integrity of the suspect polling units results upon which Uzodinma was relying, and praying the election tribunal to formally nullify the said results”.
As Mr Uzodinma prepares for his swearing-in, Mr Ihedioha and his supporters are obviously feeling sad right now.
Mr Okorocha, the senator representing Imo West District, despite their pre-election and post-election squabble, Tuesday congratulated Mr Uzodinma and assured him of his support.
Mr Uzodinma’s ultimate victory is yet another interesting chapter in the unenviable history of Imo politics.