IMO: WAITING FOR JUSTICE
By Maximus Uba
Barring any shift in date and all things being equal, the Saka Ibeyeye led Court of Appeal sitting in Port-Harcourt, the River State Capital will be set in a few weeks time to deliver judgment in a case brought before it by Senator I.G. Araraume challenging the decision of the lower tribunal which in January 2008 confirmed Ikedi Ohakim as the winner of the 2007 governorship election held in Imo State. Already tension have enveloped Imo State with analysts making mountains of predictions as to who among the two contestants would be favoured by the Appeal Court judgment which according to the Electoral Act is the last legal bus stop as regards Governorship tussle. So how did Imo State come to this pass which has culminated in the loss of our twenty four months to tension and instability such that daily analysts keep coming up with several positions regarding who actually won the 2007 governorship election held in Imo State.
As in other States of the Federation, the Peoples Democratic Party had held its primaries to chose its flag bearers for the thirty Six States.While the outcome in other States went smoothly, that of Imo State ran into a hitch in that the man who comfortably won the primaries, Senator I.G. Araraume was sidelined and a candidate who came fourth in the exercise got picked as flagbearer of the People Democratic Party. But Senator rather than take the laws into his hands as many politicians would do preferred to approach the Judiciary and after a protracted legal battle, the Supreme Court in its infinite wisdom restored the mandate of Senator Araraume as the Flagbearer of the Peoples Democratic Party in Imo State. But Olusegun Obasanjo, the Former President would hear none of that and subsequently led an army of roughnecks and anti democratic elements to overthrow the decision of the highest court in the land. Arriving Owerri in the thick of bad weather and against meteorological advise, the former President without consulting the Party’s high command had like Pharaoh issued a directive to the fact that the Party is not on the ballot and that Araraume remains the candidate of the Judiciary and not PDP as far as Imo Governorship is concerned. In the gross darkness that followed the Obasanjo putsch, a sham election was then held on the 28 of April 2007, the result which was announced by Iwu let INEC showed that Ikedi Ohakim, the candidate of Progressive Peoples Alliance who scored a little over 500 votes on the cancelled April 14 election , a man who never had a campaign office, never campaigned even in his village and perhaps the most unknown of all the candidates was credited to have garnered over 700,000 votes and was subsequently declared winner of the April 28 Governorship election. Intrestingly, Imo State of course is not the worst offender in the attempt by humanity to insinuate themselves into the confidence of the Almighty as several other States like Edo, Ondo, Anambra, Adamawa had the opportunity of receiving that abundant Abracadabra talent which Maurice Iwu distributed generously across the country in the name of holding elections. Like in states where winners were robbed of their victories, the preferred winner of the election in Imo State Senator I.G. Araraume headed to the Tribunal to seek Justice and had come up with what many legal minds described as a flawless case which even the blind can see. But the tribunal headed by Justice Mariga would keep a blind eye on facts, on figures and on what every dick, and harry knows, that is that Ohakim was rigged into office without Papers, without results, and without regard to Principles of Electoral act. For instance the President of the Court of Appeal while inaugurating various tribunals in Abuja had harped on “Front loading” which implies that all witnesses, all documents and everything that will be used in the course of determining who is the rightful winner must be brought in ahead of time but Ohakim bluntly refused to do the simple act to the extent that even the results with which he was declared winner was brought in one week before the conclusion of proceedings and via a motion by INEC lawyer Livy Uzoukwu (SAN). Besides analysts and legal minds worry that the Imo tribunal declared Ohakim winner with results on photocopies, never called one witness, no agent, not even an INEC official except one Owete who at the time of the election was a Law School student in Abuja. On his own Senator Araraume presented to the tribunal his results on Form EC8A, frontloaded all witnesses and papers, called several witnesses both INEC and his agents and proved not just to the Justices but the entire world that he won the election. Ironically the tribunal appeared bent on declaring Ohakim and this made Senator I.G. Araraume head to the Court of Appeal in Port-Harcourt to correct the injustice.
Last week and to the expectation of Imo People the court of Appeal concluded hearing on the matter after over twelve month deliberations and stated it would communicate a date for Judgment. What this implies therefore, is that the Court of Appeal is set to determine the real winner of the April 24 2007 Imo Governorship election taking into consideration the submission of Senator Araraume’s lawyer, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) who submitted and is seeking clarification as to why Ohakim failed to tender a copy of the results that showed he won the election. As noted by Fagbemi, it is strange for somebody who claimed to have won an election not to have copies of booth results or Form EC8A showing where he won. Chief Fagbemi further submitted that the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) which conducted the controversial election could not produce original documents it tendered before the tribunal in Owerri and rather submitted photocopies of results which were not certified by a proper INEC official. The learned Senior Advocate also averred that INEC never invited or called a single presiding officer from any of the nine local government councils in dispute not even in the other Eighteen Councils to establish that election took place. Chief Fagbemi to buttress his case cited the case of Amgbare VS Sylva who was unable to tender booth results entered on Form EC8A. He also cited the case of Prof. O. Osunbor VS Adams Oshomole in which the Benin court of Appeal discountenanced the victory of the former on the basis of available results and declared the later winner. Chief Fagbemi then prayed the Appeal Court to do Justice in Imo State by declaring Senator I.G. winner as he won convincingly in Eighteen Local Governments which represents two thirds of Imo State. Ironically both counsels to INEC and that of Ohakim had no answers to the posers of Fagbemi rather they took the path of anger and annoyance. While Uzoukwu admitted INEC results came on photocopies, Bon Nwakanma counsel to Ohakim had nothing to say. In the end it was obvious that Justice is perhaps the only option left for the Appeal court Justices to do in the vexous matter.
Instructively several Lawyers have been voicing their opinion on the outcome of the Port-Harcourt Appeal which just concluded sitting. E.J. Njeribeako described the outcome as something that even God had long sanctioned. “It has little to do with Fagbemi’s legal prowess but more with God doing Justice. You can see how both Uzoukwu and Nwakanma could not utter a meaningful word, if in the end Araraume gets this judgement I will give my life to Christ, he enthused. He is not alone, Goke Giwa, a Port Harcourt based lawyer was more apt “I listened to the proceedings, it is obvious this man never won election, INEC would have done overdose here, infact it is even bad enough that to note that Iwu’s brother is part of Ohakim administration, now with what I heard in court today, I’m convinced Ohakim was posted to Government House Owerri to serve some interest, I doubt if he was truly elected by the People” Interestingly several groups also came to the venue of the legal firework injured and suing for Justice from the Appeal Justices. One of the groups, the Owerri Amalgamated trade union has since 2007 had it rough in the hands of Ohakim administration. At will several task forces some legal, others illegal have been taking their undue pound of flesh from the petty traders impounding their wares, knocking down their stalls and using police to harass them. There were also students from tertiary institutions in Imo particularly the Imo State University who in the last three months or so had not attended classes because their teachers are on strike and a governor who should care has since withdrawn his own children to schools abroad. Not left out among the surging road were indigenes of Owerri as well as some residents who have had their ancestral homes, shops and residences knocked down by Willy Amadi led gang of rough necks without any form of compensation; while lands appropriated from them now have new owners among the Ohakims and his co-travelers. Even at the risk of being spotted, some civil servants still thronged to Port-Harcourt Appeal Court to see to an end of a heartless regime who refused them salaries, withdrawn all manner of incentives and is threatening to cut emoluments to service the political class. There were also pensioners who because they did fasting and praying for good governance in Imo State had their entitlements stopped on the orders of Ohakim, incidentally the Governor had not worked either at the Private or Public sector before drafted by Obasanjo and Iwu to rule Imo State. Perhaps the greatest puzzle of Portharcourt is the case of Okada men who rode motor cycles from Owerri to Port-Harcourt to join the clamour in getting the Lord Justices end the tyranny and inhumanity as well as the wickedness by a man whose children used to go Federal Girls College Owerri on Okada before he came to power, it was even said that but for Okada riders his family would never go church, market, hospital as the case may be since the man abandoned his home to the comfort of Hotels in Owerri. Inevitably, the Court of Appeal Judgment therefore targets to correct not just the injustice against Senator Araraume, but that which majority of Imo People have been subjected to since 2007 that Ohakim took power. Indeed there are many weighty points of law and common sense yearning for expert dissection which the Port-Harcourt Appeal Panel must use this case to address for the democratic development in Nigeria.
We need not say that in the gross of darkness as it is presently plays out in Imo, the eminent Justices have a duty to enthrone light over darkness. As it is today Imo People are yearning for Justice so that in future they can have the freedom to choose their representatives as they did on April 28 2007 yes anything to the contrary will amount to denial of their God-given sovereignty. We need not say more.
-Maximus Uba, Lives in Mbaise Nigeria.