As the battle for the political soul of Imo State between Governor Emeka Ihedioha and some of the governorship candidates in the last election shifts to the Supreme Court, Associate Editor, SAM EGBURONU, reports on the effects of the ripples that have defined the political texture of the state since after the elections
Since last week’s Tuesday when the Court of Appeal in Abuja upheld the ruling of the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which dismissed the petitions filed against the victory of Gov. Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State, the political theatre of the Southeast state has assumed fresh flavour.
The appellate court had dismissed the petition filed against Ihedioha by three political parties, Action Alliance (AA), All Progressives Congress (APC) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) alongside their governorship candidates, Uche Nwosu, Sen. Hope Uzodinma and Sen. Ifeanyi Ararume respectively.
They had appealed to the Court to nullify the election of Ihedioha, alleging that “he was unlawfully declared as the governor of the state by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).”
The Court of Appeal had dismissed the appeals challenging the declaration of Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as lacking merit. For example, it described Nwosu’s appeal as ‘incompetent.’ Pointing out that the “the tribunal cannot be faulted for striking out the petition of the petitioner,” it also dismissed Uzodinma’s appeal. As for Araraume’s appeal, the court held that “the appeal is a failure and dismissed accordingly.” It therefore awarded N500, 000 costs against each of the three appellants who had challenged the emergence of the PDP candidate as winner of the March 9, governorship election on the grounds that the election was marred by irregularities.
The court held that the three appeals challenging the declaration of Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lacked merit.
It would be recalled that at the end OF the March 9 Governorship Election INEC announced that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Emeka Ihedioha, won the election and therefore declared him the Imo State governor-elect. According to INEC, he polled 273,404 votes to defeat 69 other candidates including his closest rivalS, Uche Nwosu of Action Alliance (AA), who scored 190,364 votes, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate Senator Ifeanyi Ararume who, polled 114,676 and All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Senator Hope Uzodimma, who scored 96,458 votes.
While many prominent sons and daughters of Imo have been celebrating Ihedioha’s victory at the election, at the tribunal and at the appeal court, some of his political opponents have sworn that the battle is not yet over. Whereas the PDP described the victory as triumph for Imo people, Action Alliance’s Nwosu, in his reaction, directed his legal team to file an appeal at the Supreme Court, alleging that Ihedioha is holding power illegitimately.
Even before the governorship election and the ongoing post-election battles, Imo political theatre has been quite enthralling as the bigwigs battled for the soul of the state. At first, the heat was mainly within the APC where the then governor, Rochas Okorocha, battled with his disillusioned former political associates over his determination to crown his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, as the party’s governorship candidate without going through without carrying along other members of his political family. At the last minutes, Nwosu, with open support of Okorocha, dumped APC and picked up the ticket of Action Alliance (AA). Primarily because of that political family battle, APC lost the election to PDP as PDP’s candidate, Ihedioha, dusted both AA and APC to emerge the state governor.
But that was not the end of the power show. Besides the initial muscle flexing between the supporters of Okorocha, the then outgoing governor and supporters of Governor Ihedioha, the battle shifted to the courts. Those who knew the doggedness of these two political leaders prophesied that it would be a hard-drawn battle.
As predicted, the legal battle has been as intriguing as the political maneuvering that trailed the last governorship election in the state. It for example became most complicated in August when, at the peak of the election petition battles, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered INEC to remove the name of Uche Nwosu as a governorship candidate in the last election held in the state. Considering that Nwosu, as the second runner-up in the governorship election, is considered to be a major stakeholder in the political battle, observers have been curious to see how the ongoing ripples would be finally resolved.
Justice Inyang Ekwo voided Nwosu’s candidacy on the grounds of “double nomination by two political parties, the All Progressives Congress and the Action Alliance, in violation of section 37 of the Electoral Act.” He upheld the case of the plaintiffs, the Action People’s Party and its Deputy National Chairman, Mr. Uche Nnadi, to the effect that Nwosu’s governorship candidature was null and void on the grounds of multiplicity of nominations as the governorship candidate of both the APC and AA.
In the judgement, Ekwo said “There is no controversy that, on October 6, 2018, the 2nd defendant (Nwosu) had himself nominated as the governorship candidate of the APC.
“Furthermore, there is no controversy that, to secure his nomination by the APC, the 2nd defendant on October 9, 2019, obtained an order of the High Court of the Federal High Court which subsists having not been set aside.”
He added that “Nwosu, through his lawyers, failed to offer any valid rebuttal to the plaintiffs’ evidence that he was nominated by both the APC and the AA, while INEC filed no papers in the case.”
He therefore ruled that “It is illegal in the eyes of the law. No one is allowed to benefit from an illegal act.
Explaining the fuel that has powered the power play in Imo, Dr. Nwachuku Nwosu, a political scientist, told The Nation that “what happened in Imo during the last governorship election was more than a simple election. It was a political revolution that is poised to sweep out a political clique which thought it has captured the state’s polity for keeps. So, everybody who witnessed the charade that happened in Imo in the last eight years expected this kind of battle.
“When Ihedioha won the election and expressed determination to recover all alleged looted state resources from Okorocha, everyone knew it would be a long battle. We are not surprised; we all expected this and are eager to see the end.”
CONCERN OVER TENSION
But some concerned Imo patriots have expressed worry that the long battle will ultimately affect governance in the state and the people. They therefore called on the politicians to cease fire and support the new governor in the interest of the people and the state.
Unlike in some states where post-election grudges have been relatively contained, the tension in Imo has remained very high. According to Nwosu, “Perhaps, only the final ruling by the apex court in Nigeria will help douse the tension in Imo. Since the election, political rivals in Imo have failed to swallow their pride and come together in the interest of the state. Every observer of Imo State politics can perceive the seemingly irreconcilable disagreement over the economic realities of the state when Okorocha left office. You will recall that Okorocha alleged that he left over N42 billion for Ihedioha’s government. But Ihedioha’s political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in its reaction to the claim through the state Publicity Secretary, Damian Opara, accused Okorocha of leaving the state with a liability of N300 billion. This has been a source of bitter disagreement.
Reacting to the decision of the three governorship candidates to proceed to the Supreme Court, a group, Rebuild Imo Coalition, described it as an attempt to blackmail the judiciary, wondering if it was not designed ‘to pull down the entire roof to have their way,’ adding however that “the matter at hand is about the supremacy of the law. We also have comfort in the fact that the facts are clear. Therefore, no amount of blackmail of the judiciary would change the facts of this case.”
Other Imolites, like Chidi Obinna, a research scholar, said the political leaders should stop this prolonged battle as it is bound to tell on the people and on governance in the state.
Steve Osuji, the Special Adviser, Media to Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State, in his reaction to the development told The Nation that “Inasmuch as it is the prerogative of petitioners to seek legal redress, we are worried about the peculiar Imo situation.
“70 contestants ran for the Imo guber election; four have been in court and three are pursuing their matter right up to the Supreme Court.
“This is a lot of time, energy and resources being thrown out, not to mention the crippling distraction it has brought on the incumbent.
“For a state left in utter ruins by the immediate past governor, Imo people are the ultimate losers. If this is about the people then we appeal to the litigants to have a rethink and join the rebuild process. There is no other state in Nigeria embroiled in this manner ruinous and licentious litigation,” he said.