Opinion: Imo and the arithmetic of injustice – By Olusegun Adeniyi

There is a famous scene in Tunde Kelani’s movie, ‘Ti oluwa Ni ile’, which speaks to a time like this in our country. At his meeting with the two young men who were trying to co-opt him into the deal to sell a piece of sacred land which belongs to the entire community, Oloye Otun (the inimitable Kareem Adepoju aka Baba Wande) felt he was being short-changed.

He had been offered N50,000 out of the N200,000 he was told the land would be sold for. In assuring him that each would take N50,000 while the remaining N50,000 was reserved for a lawyer, it became very clear that the whole transaction was centred on the use of court process to legitimise what was not only fraudulent but also against tradition. And the community title holder who ordinarily should be a custodian of that tradition was central to the plot.

We can easily draw parallel between that scene and the judgement delivered on Tuesday by the Supreme Court on the Imo State gubernatorial contest. The man allegedly at the centre of the unprecedented judicial assault is a deputy police commissioner who authenticated ‘results’ dismissed as spurious by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials and were considered strange to all the other candidates except Senator Hope Uzodinma who conjured it.

Yet at the end of the day, that was what the supreme court relied upon to hand the governorship of Imo State to a man who came fourth in the election.

We must recall that gubernatorial elections were held across the country on 9th March 2019. According to the results declared by INEC for Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha polled 273,404 votes followed by Uche Nwosu who garnered 190,364 votes and then Ifeanyi Araraume who secured 114,676 votes. Hope Uzodinma came fourth with 96,458 votes.

But with the addition by the supreme court of contentious votes from 388 polling units, Uzodinma’s tally now reached 309,753 while the votes by others remain unchanged. But the absurdity of that judicial arithmetic was brought to light yesterday on Twitter by @dondekojo:

“Just ran the numbers again. According to @inecnigeria website. This is the total results for Imo State. With 823,743 accredited voters and 714,362 votes. With the new number from the Supreme Court, the votes go up to 948k which is accredited voters. More votes than accredited voters.”

If the supreme court based its judgment on a tally of votes higher than the total number of accredited voters, then the Justices stand accused of mimicking the vices they are meant to correct in the society. Even the drama surrounding the composition of the panel that sat on the case is a compelling story on its own.

On Monday, following his announcement that one of the Justices (who turned out to be Justice John Inyang Okoro), was ill, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Mohammed suspended sitting until the next day.

Meanwhile, on the panel was Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta who has been having a running battle with the State Security Service (SSS) and would be sitting on such a panel for the first time since his travails begun.

And then there was Justice Aminu Sanusi who is due for retirement in the next couple of weeks. Instructively, it was on the basis of his imminent retirement that Justice Sanusi was believed to have been recused from another election panel on 17th December last year. But he was allowed to sit on the Imo panel!

At the end, it didn’t matter that Uzodinma’s All Progressives Congress (APC) did not even win a single seat in the Imo State House of Assembly, despite the fact the election was held on the same day.

Let me be clear here. It is an open secret that Emeka Ihedioha is my friend. But my concern in this matter goes beyond friendship. Democracy is about the people deciding who rules them. While it is the responsibility of the court to settle disputes, including on electoral matters, it is wrong to render the votes of the electorate ineffectual on the basis of reasons that are difficult to understand.

And when such is done in a manner that leaves question mark on the integrity of those who preside over the temple of justice in the country, it should worry all of us. I have interrogated this issue in the past.

For instance, in my column on 17th March 2016 titled, ‘Judicial Black Market: Anambra as Case Study’, I wrote that “it is not only elections that are rigged in Nigeria, many judgements, especially on election petition matters, are now also traded.”

For a long time in our country, when many politicians go for elections, part of the preparation has always been the plot to use the tribunal to upturn the verdicts of the people in the event that the results do not go their way.

Whatever may therefore be the merit of election tribunals, it should worry critical stakeholders that Judges are replacing the electorates to determine who win elections. That has encouraged all manner of electoral petitions. According to INEC, over 1,689 cases were filed in different courts in connection with the 2019 general election.

The commission said about 890 of the cases were pre-election matters arising from the conduct of political party primary elections, while 799 were election petitions at the various tribunals across the country. Of the contested 1,490 federal and state legislative seats, about 776 (52.08%) were decided by the courts.

Meanwhile, for those who have been calling me to ask after Ihedioha, he is in good spirits. He is obviously disappointed by the judicial outcome on which he has no control but Ihedioha is a strong character. He will be fine. I was with him for much of yesterday so I can attest to that.

But the greater implication of what happened is the danger it poses to our democracy as it has further expanded the manuals of election rigging. From the Supreme Court judgement on Imo State, neither those who cast the ballots nor those who count them now matter in Nigeria. That message will not be lost on our politicians.

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