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Legal Pundits React To Supreme Court's Rejection of Amaechi vs. Omehia Judgment

* A Judicial Revolution - Barr. Tamuno

* Amaechi Should Have Refunded All Monies, But… - Barr. Boms

* S’Court Did Not Reverse Itself - Barr. Efik

Reactions have continued to trail the admission by the Supreme Court of Nigeria that it erred in the 2007 ruling in the Amaechi Vs. Omehia case which replaced then Governor, Sir Celestine Omehia with Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi who never campaigned nor contested the 2007 Governorship election in Rivers State.

This latest position of the apex court followed its ruling in the case of Abdulrauf Abdulkadir Modibo Vs. Mustapha and 2 Others over matters arising from the rightful contestant, winner and actual representative of Yola North-South/Girel Federal Constituency in the Federal House of Representatives.

According to Port Harcourt based legal practitioner, Barrister Chima Boms, the Supreme Court of Nigeria should be commended over its ruling in the Abdulrauf Abdulkadir Modibo Vs. Mustapha and 2 Others case which implied that the apex court faulted when it ousted former Rivers State governor, Sir Celestine Omehia and replaced him with Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi in its controversial ruling 12 years ago.

The lawyer in an interview with National Network on Tuesday affirmed that the court's decision in the Modibo case which he said, is consistent with provision of Section 141 of the Electoral Act, is for the benefit of the polity.

He said the precedent established with the Amaechi Vs. Omehia case had promoted political rascality whereby political parties could literally do anything and get away with it.

“You can imagine a situation where parties would make rules and not live by the rules and it just didn't matter.  They can always get away with it, whatever will be the outcome, they will always be the beneficiary. 

“Beneficiary in the sense that the courts were now vested with the power that if there is a pre-election matter, that pre-election matter can determine the outcome of an election.  It can even nullify an election and throw up a total stranger who did not participate in the election and make him the beneficiary of the election”, he posited.

He said the provisions of Section 141 of the Electoral Act ensured that the proper candidates who emerge from party primary become the beneficiaries of a general election.  He stated that the contrary would amount to waste of public resources in an election that had already been conducted.

Citing the case of Morhta Vs Hembe where the Supreme Court ordered that the proper candidate who participated in the entire process should be sworn in.  He said the Supreme Court decided that Hembe was not the proper candidate and that he should refund all the monies he collected as a legislator.

Asked if under the circumstance of the Amaechi Vs Omehia case, former governor Amaechi should refund all the monies he collected as Governor of Rivers state to Omehia, Boms said:

“You know Omehia is a very senior lawyer and a very brilliant one at that.  He is a true Christian, one that you will be attracted to if you meet him for the first time.

“Let me go philosophical by saying that I see the hand of God in all of this believing that God wanted Amaechi to be Governor at that time.  That much as Amaechi would be the governor, Omehia would be the one that dominate the stage, and be celebrated before Amaechi as you can see today”, he declared.

Barrister Boms regretted that whichever way one views the scenario, the political parties remained the ultimate beneficiary under the Amaechi and Omehia case.

His words: “But with the Modibo decision of the Supreme Court, the parties would now be very circumspect on how they apply their rules. Internal democracy would now be enthroned in the parties. 

“Where they do not do so and a candidate that is not liked emerges and is short-changed, by this decision if that candidate goes to court and is successful at the end of the day, you would no longer be beneficiary of your own wrong doing.  It is the next person with the highest lawful votes cast in the election that would be the beneficiary which is another party and not your party”

The legal practitioner reasoned that if Section 141 of the Electoral Act had been operational in 2007 when the Amaechi Vs Omehia case was decided, the judgment would have been delivered in favour of the candidate with the second highest vote case, which could probably have gone to defeated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which produced Sir Celestine Omehia.

Similarly, Barrister Golden Tamuno, a Port Harcourt based legal practitioner  has described the recent Apex court's admission of its controversial judgment 12 years ago, in a legal tussle involving Sir Celestine Omehia and Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, both now former governors of Rivers State, as a monumental judicial revolution in the annals of Nigeria's political history.

He made the disclosure in an interview with the National Network newspaper at his Law chamber located at Isaac Boro Street in Port Harcourt. He opined that the highest court in the land needed to reverse self in order to avoid a negative precedent. According to him, it is rare for the Supreme Court to reverse itself because the provisions required to do that were not available.

But he acknowledged the fact that, “by our legal system it is very rare for the apex court to overrule itself. The provisions required to do that were not there.''

It would be recalled that , the apex court used the case of AbdulRauf Abdulkadir Modibo vs Mustapha and two others  which came up to address matters arising from the rightful contestant, winner and representative of the Yola-North/Griel Federal Constituency in the Federal House of Representatives to put the matter to rest by reversing itself

He noted that it was possible for the court to have seen the circumstances around the judgment and decided to out rightly overrule itself “You remember that a lawyer asked for such, he went to court for that judgment to be reviewed, he was lambasted.”

When asked what he felt may have necessitated the controversial verdict, the Barrister reasoned that the judgment may have been compelled by the outcome of a verdict in the case of Imo governorship election, in which Senator Ifeanyi Ararume was declared winner by the court, but same candidate got expelled from the party less than 24hours of the delivery of judgment. “The Supreme Court saw the move as effrontery of the executive, executive rascality of the highest order. I believe the Supreme Court came to the conclusion in that rare Amaechi versus Omehia case to forestall a repetition of Imo situation in Rivers State.” He said that since then, the highest court may have been looking for a way to wriggle itself out of the matter.

He reasoned that, if former governor had been given a favourable judgment in the first place, the same party he belonged, the People Democratic Party, PDP would have expelled him. He added that the Section 141 of the electoral law, which now made a provision, was a direct opposite in the case of former governor Amaechi. 

He stated that, the court cannot give you what you did not ask for.'' And, while responding to the question about if the former Governor Omehia have the right sue the apex court or seek redress, Barr. Tamuno said that this is impossible because, the Supreme Court acted as a court, not as an individual. He also speculated that the judgment may be seen as political because those who constituted the court were part of the society.”The judiciary cannot isolate itself from members of the society, even though they are guided by law”.

He advised politicians to always do what is right even when it is adverse to them. He said by the circumstances surrounding the Amaechi versus Omehia case, the latter is now” the monumental judicial precedence in our history that is what Omehia has become.” He said that it is the highest judicial price to be paid in the nation's history

And, 12 year after, he said the lessons for politicians remain to avoid using their powers to circumvent justice, in order to avoid being at the receiving end of their actions

Meanwhile, contrary to speculation that the Supreme Court has reversed itself in the landmark judgment 12 years ago that sacked former Governor Celestine Omehia as the Rivers State governor, after five months on the saddle, a Port Harcourt based lawyer Barrister Samuel Efik, said the apex court did not reverse itself but rather based its recent decision with regards to the Abdulrauf Vs Mustapha & ors case on the amended electoral law.

Speaking exclusively with this medium, “What the Supreme Court said was that the position of the law when they decided Amaechi/Omehia case has changed to what it is now”.

He stated that the present day constitution and in particularly Section 285/subsection 13 of today's constitution as amended as well as section 141 of the Electoral law nobody, tribunal or court shall declare any person the winner of an election who did not participate in all the stages of the election.

The legal luminary was at a loss however like many Nigerians how the court granted former Governor Amaechi what he did not pray for.

“What I had expected the Supreme Court to do was to have ordered INEC to re-conduct the election with Amaechi as the candidate of PDP as at then, adding that it takes two entities to contest election, the party and the candidate”.

He stated further that the by-election result would have gone either way as it is possible that the electorates must have voted the person of Omehia considering his track records.

On whether he thinks the decision of the Supreme Court then was political, Barr. Efik said it is possible considering the attitude of the PDP hierarchy then against the judiciary.

“You would recall the case between Ugwu Vs Ararume, the Supreme Court gave a decision to allow one party as a rightful candidate but PDP government under President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to comply.

During that same period, the issue of local governments in Lagos State came up and Supreme Court ordered a release of the funds to them but the FG refused to comply”.

Barr. Efik further stated that it is possible that the judiciary was trying to hit back at the executives with those curious judgment.

He disclosed further that there are some curious decisions made out of knotty legal situation which they will therefore advise not to be cited as a precedence serve as precedent.   

On whether there is any window of opportunity for former Governor Omehia, Barr. Efik said there was none except of course asking for compensation in place of allowances that could have accrued to him throughout his tenure.

“There is nothing Governor Omehia can do in this circumstance. He cannot go to court to say give me compensation or restore me to my office”, he stated.

The Managing Solicitor of S.J. Efik & Associates made it clear that the law is subject to perceptions to anyone who is involved, but that even if the Supreme Court had admitted that they were wrong in the 2007 judgment, it will not remedy the situation or compensate Omehia, adding that is what is called the tyranny of judicial indiscretion.