Tension in Imo as Supreme Court sits on Ihedioha’s review suit today

There was tension in Imo State on Monday ahead of today’s (Tuesday) sitting by the Supreme Court on an application filed by the immediate past governor of the state, Emeka Ihedioha, seeking a review of the apex court’s judgment on the state 2019 governorship election.

The state police command deployed armed policemen to the streets of Owerri, the state capital, to forestall any clash between supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress. It also banned any form of protests.

As the police beefed up security in Imo State, the PDP in a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice  Tanko Muhammad, asked the CJN and six other justices of the apex court to recuse themselves from the hearing of the application by Ihedioha.

The opposition party said the justices of the Supreme Court were likely to be biased if they participated in the hearing of the application.

In the application, Ihedioha asks the apex court to set aside its January  14, judgment which annulled his election and declared the APC candidate in the 2019 election, Hope Uzodinma, as the winner of the poll.

A seven-man panel of the apex court led by the CJN had  in its January 14, 2020 judgment removed Iheodioha as the  Imo State governor  and declared Uzodinma as the winner of the last governorship election in the state.

Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, who read the lead judgment, had upheld Uzodinma’s appeal, ruling that the votes polled in 388 out of the 3,523 polling units were excluded in the final results declared by INEC in the state.

The apex court held that Uzodinma emerged winner of the election after the addition of the excluded votes.

But Ihedioha, through his lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), a former Attorney General of the Federation, had on February 5, 2020 filed an application before the court seeking “an order  setting aside as a nullity” the January 14 judgment.

He argued in the application anchored on Section 6 (6) of Nigerian Constitution and Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act 2004, that the judgment was obtained by fraud or deceit.

On Monday, there was heavy deployment of policemen in Owerri, 24  hours before the Supreme Court sitting on Ihedioha’s application.

The police spokesperson in the state, Orlando Ikeokwu, told one of our correspondents that the command had banned protests in the state.

Ikeokwu said that the decision to ban protests until further notice was to ensure that lives and property were protected.

He said that the protests being embarked on by various groups since the Supreme Court gave its judgment  on January 14, were “life-threatening”.

Ikeokwu said,  “We have banned further protest in the state. We have an intelligence report that some people want to hijack it and attack others.  We are being proactive instead of reactive.”

Policemen and their vehicles were stationed at various strategic points in the state capital.

The PDP spokesperson in the state, Damian Opara, said that the party was hopeful that the Tuesday’s Supreme Court review would go in favour of the party.

But  his APC counterpart, Enyinnaya Onuegbu,  said that the party was confident that Uzodinma would remain as the governor of the state after the Supreme Court review.

In Abuja, the PDP asked the CJN, Justice   Tanko Muhammad, and six other Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from hearing the application of Ihedioha.

The CJN and  Justice  Sylvester Ngwuta; Justice Olukayode Ariwola; Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun; Justice Amin Augie; and Justice Uwani Abba Aji were members of  the apex court panel, which sacked Ihedioha.

The PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, and the PDP National Secretary, Senator Ibrahim Tsauri, in the letter to the CJN, said the justices were likely to be biased.

The PDP, therefore, asked  the CJN, to reconstitute a new panel to review the judgment to ensure that fairness and justice were not only done, but seen to have been done.

The review judgment is slated to be heard on Tuesday.

The letter to the CJN read in part, “We request that their Lordships, The Chief Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, Justice Nwah Sylvester Ngwuta, Justice Olukayode Ariwola, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Justice Amina Adamu Augie, and Justice Uwani Musa Abba Aji, recuse themselves from participating in hearing the application for setting aside their earlier judgment in the above case, on grounds of likelihood of bias, that is, fair hearing.

“We further demand that a new panel be set up by the Chief Justice of Nigeria to hear the new application for setting aside the above judgment, excluding all the Hon Justices that participated in the earlier case.”

It noted that the judgment sought, which it wanted  to set aside  had been crtitcised not only by lawyers, but members  of the public.

It said, “As our patriotic duty to hereby humbly request that your Lordship constitute a different panel of this great court (other than the one that delivered the judgment) for the purpose of hearing this application. My Lord, our request is founded on Section 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which guarantees fair hearing to every citizen or entity in the determination of his rights or obligations. Furthermore, the time honoured and tested principles of natural justice, particularly that no man shall be a judge in his own cause is particularly relevant to this solemn request.

“Allegation of bias or likelihood of bias goes to the root of fair hearing. Denial of right to fair hearing is a logical consequence of bias in any proceeding before a court or a tribunal. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as Amended (Constitution) guarantees the right of an individual to fair hearing. An individual’s right to fair hearing includes the right to have his/her rights and obligations determined by an independent and impartial tribunal. The above is clearly enshrined in Section 36 (1) of the Constitution, which provides as follows: “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality…

“The right to an independent and impartial tribunal is a major factor in determining if   fair hearing has been observed by a court. The relevant question on the issue of bias is what an ordinary man on the street would think about the fairness of the proceedings conducted by judges accused of likelihood of bias.  We may even be wrong on the allegations made against the learned justices of the Supreme Court that sat on the case in question. We may have been bitter about the clearly observed inadequacies in that judgment, but this is now beside the point. The relevant question is: can any reasonable person who heard the press conference and several protests by the party, PDP, the civil society organisations and Nigerians generally, all over the country, including foreign embassies, the involvement of even the international community, feel that the same panel that has been the subject of these allegations, rightly or wrongly by the party, can sit and deliver impartial justice on the same case on review? We think not.”

It stated that  Section 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, guarantees fair hearing to every citizen or entity in the determination of his rights or obligation and guarantees an independent and impartial body for such determination.

The party also stated, “In other places in the commonwealth and jurisdictions around the world, it is always the practice that whenever the highest court of the land has to sit to look again at its earlier decision a different panel of the court would be constituted to do that. This, as your Lordship is very much aware of, is to ensure that the integrity of the judiciary and the fair appearance of justice is maintained in the eyes of the public.”

The PDP cited  Pinochet Case (R (Pinochet Ugarte) v Bow St Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate) case to back its claim.

Disregard PDP, Ihedioha’s application, protesters tell  Supreme Court

But a group of protesters on Monday took to the streets of Abuja to oppose the call for the Supreme Court to reverse itself  on the judgment where it declared  Uzodinma as the duly elected governor of Imo State.

The group under the banner of Dependable Patriotic Alliance frowned upon what it called sustained blackmail of justices of the apex court.

The group, which first occupied the Federal Secretariat in Abuja, marched to the Ministry of Justice where it submitted a letter to the Attorney general of The Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).

 Addressing journalists, the co-convener of the group, Mr Nwosu Butches, urged the minister to stop politicians from blackmailing the justices of the Supreme Court for cheap political scores.

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