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IMO: A NEW BEGINNING

By NBF News

The recent Supreme Court ruling in favour of Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State has finally brought to an end the protracted legal battle over the cancellation of the April 14, 2007 gubernatorial election in the state.

The apex court had, in a split 4 to 1 decision, upheld the appeals brought by Ohakim and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), challenging the judgement of the Court of Appeal which ordered a retrial in the suit brought by Chief Martins Agbaso, the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Walter Onnonghen, the apex court held, among others, that asking for a judicial review of the decision of INEC to cancel the poll before a court of law amounted to asking for an order of mandamus, and that in the Federal High Court Rules, such does not apply, without seeking remedies by calling on the concerned public official to carry out his mandatory and constitutional duties.

The court also held that it is when such a step is taken and it fails that Agbaso can approach the Federal High Court for a judicial review. In addition, the court said it could not exercise jurisdiction in a matter where the options for remedy open to the complainants (i.e. respondents in the instant appeal) have not been explored and exhausted.

In allowing the appeal, the court averred that it is meritorious. The ruling further noted that since the matter being complained about is a post-election matter, it should have been placed before the Election Petition Tribunal that reserves the legal right and jurisdiction to entertain it, and not the Federal High Court.

However, in a dissenting judgement, Justice Chukwuma Ene, disagreed with his learned colleagues. He argued that there were two distinct issues before the court. According to him, there were two governorship elections conducted in Imo State in April 2007. The first one was on April 14 and the second was on April 28, 2007, respectively. Ene surmised that the fact that Agbaso participated in the elections of April 14 and April 28, 2007 did not deny him the right to question the outcome of the polls.

It is good that this matter has finally been concluded. The Imo case has once again raised the issue of not having a definite time frame for resolving election disputes in the country. The current situation where such matters stretch to three years and even more is absurd and time-wasting.

That an election dispute was resolved one year to the next election speaks volumes of our electoral tribunals and the adjudication of justice in the country. Something has to be done to redress this anomaly before it becomes the norm. There is the need to have a time limit for resolving all election disputes. To avoid the ugly trend, let all election disputes be resolved before the winners are sworn into office.

There is no doubt that the legal issues that trailed Ohakim's election would have distracted him a lot. Going through 20 election disputes in three years could not have been a tea party. But the good thing about the outcome is that his mandate has been validated. Let him now prove that it is truly the court cases that have distracted him by offering superlative performance to the people of Imo State that voted him into power.

Now that the court cases are over, let him put something in place to prove that if he had not been distracted, he would have done more. Though the remaining period of his tenure is short, a focused leader can still make a difference. He should try to meet Imo citizens at their various points of need. The time is ripe for him to do so. There should be no room for excuses.

Ohakim should engage in serious reflection on the goings on in the state. This is no time for fanfare or elaborate celebration and feasting. This is the time for him to re-appraise the entire situation and ask himself questions on whether he is actually doing what Imo citizens want. Even though Ohakim has less than one year to the end of his tenure, it is still enough time for him to prove his mettle. This is the time for him to prove that he is committed to delivering his numerous election promises to Imo people through pragmatic pursuit of life-changing programmes.