The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a suit filed by Celestine Omehia, a former governor of Rivers State, challenging the election of his successor, Rotimi Amaechi.
The court quashed the decision of an appeal court which gave Mr. Omehia a temporary win that suggested he may oust Mr. Amaechi after seven years in office.
In the ruling Friday, Justice Muhammad Muntaka-Coomassie, who read the Supreme Court judgement, said the Court of Appeal in Abuja erred in law to have ruled in favour of Mr. Omehia, whom the judge said had no stake in the case he filed in court.
The long-drawn case dates back to 2010.
Mr. Omehia was removed from office in October 2007 after holding office for five months. The Supreme Court at the time ruled that he had usurped Mr. Amaechi’s ticket for the election, and accordingly handed Mr. Amaechi the top job.
Given past court rulings on similar cases, Mr. Amaechi would have been expected to leave office or stand for a re-election in October of 2011, the same month he took office.
But the governor appeared to have opted to run in April of that year during general elections alongside other governors.
Analysts said the decision was to ensure Mr. Amaechi’s election was not held after a president, in this case, Goodluck Jonathan, would have emerged in April 2011.
With the likelihood of a strained relationship between the two men, analysts suggested an October election for Mr. Amaechi would have allowed the president the leverage to influence the outcome, should he chose to.
Mr. Amaechi and President Jonathan have long fallen apart.
Ahead of the 2011 election, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Cyprian Chukwu, asked a Federal High Court in Abuja to interpret the Supreme Court judgment on Mr. Amaechi’s tenure.
The court was to specifically decide whether Mr. Amaechi can stand election in April of 2011, or should wait to the expiration of his tenure in October.
In his ruling, Justice Abdul Kafarati affirmed that the governorship election in Rivers State must hold during the general election of April 2011.
Mr. Omehia, not related to the case, accused the PDP man, Mr. Chukwu, of being a front for Governor Amaechi; and promptly appealed to the Court of Appeal to make him a party to the suit, to enable him appeal the judgment.
Through his lawyer, Lateef Fagbemi, Mr. Amaechi kicked against the appeal arguing that Mr. Omehia had nothing from start to do with the case.
Mr. Omehia however responded that since he was a party in the Supreme Court judgment that had given the governorship to Mr. Amaechi, he was affected by the new decision and deserved to be heard.
He also told the court that as a prospective governorship candidate in future election in the state, he had a stake in the matter.
The Appeal Court agreed, while Mr. Amaechi appealed to the Supreme Court.
In its ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court upheld Mr. Amaechi’s appeal and declared that Mr. Omehia had no case on the matter.
The judge that read the ruling, Mr. Muntaka-Coomassie, said Mr. Omehia should not have been joined in the suit since he was not a party to the initial suit that culminated in an appeal.
Mr. Omehia’s Counsel, James Ezike, expressed his dissatisfaction with the ruling, and insisted that under Section 243 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, his client was an interested party in the suit.
Mr. Omehia, he said, was “a person, who is affected or likely to be affected by the outcome of any proceedings at the apex court’’.
The Rivers Government, however, said it was pleased with the outcome.
“As a government, we believe that the court remains the last hope that we can go to. We thank God for the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the state commissioner of information, Ibim Semenitari, said.
Also, the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC, which Mr. Amaechi now belongs, said the ruling “should serve as a warning to all those who insist on the way of the moving train known as Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.”
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