Thousands of protesters, most of them dressed in black, ignored the olive branch extended by Imo Governor; Hope Uzodinma and took to the streets of the state capital Owerri, on Sunday, to show their dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court judgement that replaced Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who finished fourth in the March 9, 2019 governorship election. Uzodinma, in his speech shortly after his inauguration last Wednesday, said he would run a government where every citizen of the state would have a say and be recognized, calling on his opponents to join hands with him to move the state forward
He said, “My government shall be a faithful covenant between the people and the government. We shall put in place an efficient Imo State factory room of good governance for the ceaseless production of economic prosperity, accountability, justice and equity. Our doors are wide open to all, including my political opponents. We all have equal stake in the new Imo. So, I invite everyone to join hands with me; so that in truth and love, we can work together to make life better for our people and make Imo the pride of the nation.”
The apex court had, in a unanimous judgement on Tuesday, ruled that Uzodinma was validly elected governor of the state, saying the lower court erred in law when it rejected evidence tendered before it that votes due to from 388 polling units were not credited to APC and Uzodinma. The court also ordered the immediate swearing in of Uzodinma as lawful winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Imo State.
But the judgement, according to the protesters, was a travesty and miscarriage of justice. Protesters, who wore black attires, carried placards with various inscriptions such as “Reverse the injustice now”; “Ihedioha won landslide”; “Tanko must go”, amongst others. They were also singing sorrowful songs to explain their agitations. The protesters therefore called on the Apex Court to reverse the judgement on the grounds that it had made a mistake. The protest shut down the state capital for hours while security forces were on ground with over 15 truckloads of policemen accompanying the protesters to forestall breakdown of law and order.
In his reaction to the judgement, Ihedioha insisted he won the election without any malpractices. He claimed that the Supreme Court verdict would not strengthen Nigeria’s democracy. “It is not about Emeka Ihedioha, it is not about Imo State,” Ihedioha said, adding: “It is about tomorrow. Do you go into an electoral process without having an idea? It has to be resolved one way or the other. We are waiting for answers, and I believe there will be answers. The verdict will not reduce my patriotism and commitment to democracy.”
However, Uzodinma, favoured by the judgement, said the judgement reinforced his belief in the capacity of the country’s judiciary. But it was a show of anger and outpouring of vituperation at the 87th National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the PDP as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, party elders and stakeholders called on Nigerians to protest against what they described as “threats to Democracy.” This came after PDP national chairman, Uche Secondus, alleged that the APC was plotting to arm-twist the Supreme Court to make next Monday’s judgement to be against the PDP governors of Sokoto and Benue and favor the APC governors in Kano and Plateau states.
Speaking at the NEC meeting, Atiku, who made a U-turn as he had earlier asked Ihedioha to accept the verdict, called on the party to mobilize against what he described as “threats to democracy.” “Our party governed very well from 1999 up to 2015. As true democrats, we conceded power to the opposition in the hope that it will further entrench democracy, development and unity. But alas, Nigerians have been proved wrong by the governing APC…But what cannot wait is that we should not take what has been happening in our democratic process from the role of INEC, security agencies and the judiciary for granted. If we take all these roles for granted, that will be the end of our hard earned struggle including our founding members who are today not alive. What can we say we have done to their struggles as they lay in their graves? Therefore as long as we are alive, it is our responsibility to reincarnate the struggle they led that brought about the democracy of today that the APC governing party is threatening”, Atiku stated.
Also piqued by the January 14 verdict, civil society organizations (CSOs) have called on Nigerians to rise up and defend the country’s democracy, as they plan to protest against the ruling tomorrow. The International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), Democracy and Good Governance, and the Civil Liberties and Rule of Law have declared the sack Ihedioha as a tragedy, and the Supreme Court’s decision a conspiracy. In the same vein, Human Right, Liberty Access and Peace Defenders’ Foundation (HURIDE) advised Nigerians to prepare for a massive protest tomorrow in Owerri, Imo State, against the judgement. HURIDE Chairman, Uzor A. Uzor, told journalists yesterday in Awka, Anambra State, that the judges showed that they could not be trusted by Nigerians as “the last hope of the common man”.
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of Intersociety, Emeka Umeagbalasi; head of Democracy and Good Governance, Chinwe Umeche; and head of Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Obianuju Igboeli, declared that the judgement moved from “hawkish plots to satanic prophesy; ending with judicial execution.” In a statement in Awka yesterday, they said the apex court ended up enthroning a new governor in Imo through the window, using strange, erroneous and politically-motivated “Judico-Mathematical Salami Technique.”
Meanwhile, the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) has described the statement credited to the PDP leaders that the Supreme Court judgement on the Imo governorship election was ‘procured’ as contemptuous and disrespectful to Nigerian democracy. A statement Saturday by PGF Chairman and Governor of Kebbi state, Atiku Bagudu, said the allegations were depressing coming from supposedly democratic leaders who should ordinarily be in the forefront of protecting and defending the judiciary institution as the sanctuary of our democracy.
He stated: “It is contemptuous and disrespectful to our democracy. This is most unfortunate and condemnable. We call on Nigerians and all lovers of democracy in the country to rise to the defence of our democratic institutions, especially the judiciary. We must prevail on the PDP leadership and all politicians to exercise restraint by demonstrating unalloyed loyalty and respect for our democratic institutions, particularly our judiciary, which is the most important pillar of democratic governance. To allege that a judgement delivered by Supreme Court Judges is “procured” simply because it does not favor the PDP is an invitation to anarchy.”
Bagudu noted that APC members had lost many cases, and even though their views differed from the judgement delivered, the ruling party did not disparage the judiciary. Bagudu said that the case of Zamfara where APC won the election but the Supreme Court in its wisdom nullified all its votes and declared PDP candidates as winners was another experience. The APC governors therefore declared their abiding faith in the judiciary, stressing that it would at all times respect all decisions of the Judges at all levels no matter the circumstances. Bagudu stressed that the ruling party and its members believe in the sanctity of the judicial institution as the last hope for justice for the people. He unequivocally stated the APC governors resolve to work with all democrats in the country to ensure adequate protection of democratic governance by respecting all judgements from the courts.