From Eric Ikhilae, Abuja
In a six-to-one judgment, the Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed former Imo State Governor Emeka Ihedioha’s application for a review of the January 14 judgment, which ordered his removal.
The highest court ordered the swearing-in of All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate Hope Uzodimna, but Ihedioha and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) asked the apex court to reverse the verdict.
Dismissing the application, the Supreme Court held that its decision is final.
Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, who read the judgment, held that the Supreme Court lacked the jurisdiction to review its judgment.
But, in a dissenting opinion, Justice Centus Nweze held that the court could change its mind on any decision, having done so in the past.
According to him, the Supreme Court did not resolve a portion of the Court of Appeal judgment, which struck out Uzodinma’s petition.
Ihedioha’s lawyer, Kanu Agabi (SAN), prayed the court to set aside the judgment and restore the Court of Appeal’s verdict, which the Supreme Court voided.
He argued that the apex court was misled, adding that it was better to correct the error by reviewing the judgment rather than retaining it.
Uzodinma’s lawyer, Damian Dodo (SAN), prayed the court to retain the judgment on the grounds that there was no error that required correction.
Justice Ariwoola held: “The judgment is a final judgment of the court as prescribed in Section 235 of the Constitution.
“The appeal was adjudged meritorious and was allowed, and the judgment of the lower court (the Court of Appeal), which affirmed the judgment of the Governorship Election Tribunal was set aside.
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“Generally, by the provision of the Rules of this court, it shall not review any judgment once delivered by its save to correct any clerical mistake or some errors arising from any accidental slip or omission or to vary the judgment or order, so as to give effect to its meaning or intention.
“A judgment or order shall not be varied when it correctly represents what the court decided nor shall the operative and supportive part of it be varied and a different form substituted. (See Order 8 Rule 16 of the Rules of this court).
“The general law is that the court has no power to alter or vary a judgment or order after delivery, except (a) so far as it is necessary to correct errors in expressing the intention of the court or (b) to correct clerical mistakes or some errors arising from accidental slip or omission, that is the slip rule or (c) an order which is a nullity owing to failure to comply with an essential provision, such as the service of process, can be set aside by the court which made the order and (e) a judgment or an order made against a party in default (may also be set aside.).
“It is settled law that this court has no power to change or alter its own judgment or sit as an Appeal Court over its own judgment.
“There is no doubt that the court has inherent powers in respect of matters within its jurisdiction. It certainly has no inherent power to assume jurisdiction in respect of the matter not within its jurisdiction.
“It is clear from the tone and the wording of the instant application that what is being sought is asking the court to sit over its own judgment already delivered and executed. That is certainly beyond the competence of this court.”
The Supreme Court said it derives its jurisdiction from the Constitution and an Act of the National Assembly.
Justice Ariwoola added: “There is no constitutional provision for the review of the judgment of the Supreme Court by itself.
“Therefore, once it delivers its final judgment, the Supreme Court, subject, of course, to the slip rule principle, it becomes functus officio in respect thereof.”
Justice Ariwoola recalled that on February 26, the court was confronted with similar application in relation to the judgment it gave on February 13 on the Bayelsa governorship dispute.
He noted that the Supreme Court, in rejecting the application, relied on its Order 8, Rule 16, which prohibits a review of the apex court’s judgment.
Justice Ariwoola held that the implication is that the court “does not have the competence and lacks the required jurisdiction to review its own judgment, except, as earlier stated, in the circumstances set out in the Rules of this court.”
He noted that the court has held in cases that “the finality of the Supreme Court is entrenched in the Constitution”.
“Therefore, once the decision of the court is clear, it is final in the sense that the thrust of the ratio decidendi is manifest in it.
“Inherent powers of the court can only be invoked if there is a missing link in the main body of the judgment. And some steps must be taken to fill in the gap or ambiguity so that the justice of the issue will be clear.
“That is why this court can sometimes be called upon to dot the Is and fill in the gaps in the slip apparent in the judgment. Otherwise, the court cannot, under any guise or so-called inherent powers, alter or has to clear an unambiguous judgment once given,” the Justice said.
Justice Ariwoola relied on another earlier judgment of the court where it was held that the finality of the Supreme Court decision in civil proceedings is absolute unless specifically set aside by later legislation.
He added: “The justices that man the court are of course fallible, but their judgments are, as the Constitution intends, infallible.
“Therefore, any ingenious attempt by counsel to set aside or circumvent the decision of the Supreme Court will be met with stiff resistance.
“Without any further ado, this application is considered lacking in merit and is liable to be dismissed.
“To ask us to set aside the judgment of this court delivered on the 14th of January 2020 is an invitation to ask us to sit on appeal over our own judgment. We cannot do so.
“To set aside the judgment in this circumstance is to open the floodgate for applications by parties to review the judgments of this court. To do that will, to say the least, bring the court to disrepute and ridicule.
“In the circumstance, this application is accordingly dismissed.”
Justice Ariwoola declined to award cost against any party.
Other five members of the panel who agreed with the lead ruling are: Chief Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, Justices Sylvester Ngwuta, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Amina Augie and Uwani Abba-Aji.
In his dissenting ruling, Justice Nweze said there was a number of reasons for the court to have granted Ihedioha’s application.
He agreed with Agabi that the Supreme Court was without the necessary jurisdiction when it sat and considered the appeal on which its January 14th judgment was given.
He held that the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which struck out Uzodinma’s petition at the tribunal for being incompetent, was still subsisting because it raised the issue of jurisdiction, which the Supreme Court did not resolve in its judgment.
Referring to the court’s past decisions in Adegoke Motors vs Adesanya, Johnson vs Lawanson, among others, Justice Nweze disagreed with the majority decision.
“This court has the power to overrule itself and has done so in the past,” Justice Nweze said.
He also held that it was wrong for the court to have awarded electoral victory to Uzodinma, who had argued that the election was a nullity on grounds of non-compliance.
Justice Nweze also faulted the results Uzodinma claimed at the tribunal and wondered why he omitted to present the scores of the other candidates in the election.
He added: “Having thus failed, neglected or omitted to bring the scores of other candidates in the election, this court wrongly declared him as duly elected.”
Justice Nweze was also of the view that the Supreme Court ought not to have upheld the results claimed by Uzodinma because he had, while testifying at the tribunal, admitted that the results were more than the number of accredited voters and that he compiled the results.
He held that Uzodinma misled the court to accept the “ubiquitous and fake results” which he admitted that he compiled.
Justice Nweze noted that, in accepting the results claimed by Uzodinma, the court was misled into coming out with total votes in excess of the total number of accredited voters, which was 823,743.
He also held that the court was misled in declaring Uzodinma the winner when it did not find that the APC candidate met the constitutional requirement to be so declared.
Justice Nweze upheld Ihedioha’s application, granted his reliefs, and set aside the Supreme Court judgment sacking him.