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Supreme Court sacks Omehia

Posted by From GODWIN TSA and JACOB EDI, Abuja on 2007/10/31 | Views: 686 |

Supreme Court sacks Omehia


Former Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi yesterday had the last laugh when the Supreme Court ruled that he was the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the April 14 governorship election and therefore should be the governor of the state.

• Orders swearing in of Amaechi as Rivers governor

Former Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi yesterday had the last laugh when the Supreme Court ruled that he was the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the April 14 governorship election and therefore should be the governor of the state.

In a unanimous decision, the apex court ordered Sir Celestine Omehia to vacate office with immediate effect as the governor of Rivers State.

The decision of the court followed an appeal brought by Amaechi against the decision of the Court of Appeal upholding his substitution with Omehia as the PDP governorship candidate.
Reacting to the judgment, the new governor hailed the Supreme Court for its judgment, declaring that there was no victor and no vanquished.

In the lead judgment, read by Justice Aloysious Iorgyer Katsina-Alu, the Supreme Court ruled: "The starting point of this case is in the decision made by this court in the case of Araraume V. Ugwu. The simple issue decided in that case is that a political party wishing to substitute a candidate for another within 60 days to the election must give cogent and verifiable reasons to INEC for the substitution sought. In the said Araraume case, this court decided that to offer the reason frame as ‘error’ is not in compliance with section 34 subsection (2) of the Electoral Act 2006.

"In this case, the same reasons relied upon by the 3rd respondent (PDP) in substituting the appellant (Amaechi) with the 2nd respondent (Omehia) is the word ‘error’ without more. Clearly in my view the cases are similar and the same principle applies. Here, the arguments of the respondent is the fact that there was an indictment against the appellant constitutes a reason for INEC to disqualify the appellate. My reaction is that the submission is untenable because there was no indictment known to law against the appellant. No court of law pronounced the appellant guilty of criminal offences justifying his exclusion from the election.

"Indeed, he was never charged before any court. Again, it is my finding that the appellant was not substituted in accordance to the law and therefore remains the 3rd respondent nominated candidate for the Rivers State governorship election held on April 14, 2007.
"The submissions of the respondents that section 308 is to the benefit of the 2nd respondent are also untenable. The wrong upon which the appellant premised his claim had been in existence before the election.

"The court below correctly decided that section 308 did not avail the 2nd respondent and therefore unable to accept that the 2nd respondent enjoys immunity in this matter.
"The claim of the appellant at page 68- 70 of the records are declaratory and injunctive. He brought the claims so that he would not be substituted. It is my view that the candidate for the PDP for the election was the appellant. His name was unlawfully removed. In the eyes of the law, he remains the candidate and this court must treat him as such.

"My view is that the appellant and not the respondent must be deemed to have won the election. The arguments that the appellant must be held to his claim overlook the fact that this court has wide jurisdiction as to give consequential orders and to grant reliefs which the circumstances and justice of the case dictates wherever justice demands. The Supreme Court shall rise to do substantial justice without regard to technicalities.

"We cannot make orders which do not address the grievances of a party before the court. The only way to accord the appellant the recognition of his rights unlawfully trampled upon is to declare that it is he and not the 2nd respondent must be deemed to have won the April 14 governorship election.
"The cross-appeal by 2nd and 3rd respondents fails. The appeal succeeds. The decision of the Court of Appeal is hereby set side. I make no order as to cost.

"I declare the appellant as the one entitled to be in the governorship seat of Rivers State, being the lawful candidate of the PDP.

"It is ordered that the 2nd respondent (Omehia) vacates the seat of the governor of Rivers State immediately.

"It is also ordered that the appellant be immediately sworn-in as the governor of Rivers State. I give my reasons on January 18, 2008."

Justice Katsina-Alu’s judgment got the blessings of six other justices of the apex court, including George Oguntade, Darihu Musdapher and Tanko Mammud.
Immediately after the judgment, supporters of Amaechi went wild into jubilation as others broke into songs of victory as their spirit led them. The majority of them rolled on the floor of the court in appreciation of the judgment, while the Commissioner of Information in Omehia's cabinet, Mr. Emma Okah, said: "We have fought a good battle."

Earlier in his submission, Amaechi's lawyer, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), had asked the court not to allow fraud, saying that the claim that there was an indictment hanging on the former speaker was a fraudulent ploy to dispossess him of his mandate.

He submitted that there was a similarity between Araraume's case and the present one, urging the court to follow the same line of argument used in the former case to determine the instant one. He said that election was not an event but a process and that in the case of Rivers, the process did not start with just the election but from the nomination of a candidate which already breached the provision of law, adding that the court would be sending a wrong signal if the appeal was dismissed.

According to him, "it was another opportunity for the court to inject sanity into the system. I am sorry to say this: the conduct of INEC is shameful. I urge the court to hold that it was the appellant that won the election since the people voted for the party and he should be declared."

INEC counsel, Amaechi Nwaiwu (SAN), after adopting his briefs, urged the court to send the matter back to the tribunal, saying there was already supervening circumstances. He urged the court not to invoke section 22 of its Rule to declare Amaechi as the winner because doing so would occasion injustice.

Both Nwaiwu and counsel to the PDP, Joe-Kyari Gadzama (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the appeal for lacking in merit and that the court should go ahead and uphold their cross appeals.
The twin issue of immunity and indictment was all the point counsel to Omehia, Joseph Daudu (SAN), latched on for almost an hour to persuade the court to keep his client in power.
Daudu contended that the issue that the case was pending in court prior to the election was a misapplication of law as the principle of liz pendens was applicable only to property matters and not to political issues.

Reacting to the judgment, in a statement issued on his behalf by former Rivers State Commissioner for Information, Mr Magnus Abe, Amaechi said the Supreme Court’s ruling was a landmark and historic. He said that his faith in God and confidence in the integrity and character of the Supreme Court sustained him all through the difficult and challenging trial.

Amaechi said the judgement would further deepen and strengthen democracy in the country. He said nobody should see his struggle as a personal one, but a quest for justice and fairness to all Rivers people, adding that as far as he was concerned, there was no victor, no vanquished.

The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Lady Ime Essien Udom, declined to comment on the Supreme Court ruling. She, however, said that a statement would be issued today after a meeting of the party’s national caucus.

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Comments (3)

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Abieyuwa(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Otasowie means evening life is better than morning life. There is an error in your “evening life is better than evening life”?

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Naija g(Houston, Minnesota, US)says...

Sokari doesn’t mean joy. Joy is Biobela. Go to the village and ask the meaning of the name.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.