Uzodinma VS Ihedioha – Can There Be A Review? By Paul Ojukwu Okoro, Esq.
Since the decision of the Supreme Court in the Imo State Governorship Election involving the then Governor of Imo State, Ihedioha and the present Governor, Uzodinma, a lot have been said by lawyers and non lawyers on the propriety of the judgment and the call for the Apex Court to review or reverse the judgment based on what people perceived as obvious irregularity in the judgment.
Many senior lawyers who believe that the Supreme Court can review its previous decision placed heavy reliance on the evergreen dictum of Oputa JSC (as he then was) in Adegoke Motors Ltd vs Adesanya (1989) 13 NWLR, PT 109,, 250.
This case has been used as an authority to suggest that the Supreme Court can review /set aside its judgment when it is found that such judgment was given in error. Having read plethora of argument in support of such view, I beg to differ.
Before I venture into my analysis, it will be prudent to reproduce this classical statement in Adegoke Motors Ltd. vs Adesanya (supra). In that case, Law Lord held as follows:
“Now, to issue 4.3 at page 2 of the Appellant’s brief whether there is a conflict between the Supreme Court cases of Skenconsult v. Ukey and Ezomo v. Oyakhire? My simple answer is that, it is not part of the jurisdiction or duties of the court to go on looking for imaginary conflicts. We are final not because we are infallible, rather we are infallible because we are final. Justices of this court are human beings capable of erring. It will certainly be short sighted arrogance not to accept the obvious truth. It is also true that this court can do inestimable good through its wise decisions. Similarly, the court can do incalculable harm through its mistakes. When therefore it appears to learned counsel that any decision of this court has been given per incuriam, such counsel should have the boldness and courage to ask that such a decision be overruled. This court has the power to overrule itself (and has done so in the past), for it gladly accepts that it is far better to admit an error than to persevere in error. Learned counsel has not asked us to overrule either Skenconsult or Ezomo (Supra). If that was what was wanted the briefs should have said so specifically and the Chief Justice of the Federation would have gladly empanelled a full court.”
From the above dictum, it is palpable that what was in issue before the Supreme Court in that case was not for it to overrule its previous decisions in Skenconsult and Ezomo. Basically, the case bothers on the propriety of a Writ issued and served outside Jurisdiction of the court without the necessary endorsement pursuant to the Sheriff and Civil Process Act.
Now, back to the discussion. Does the above authority create a blanket rule suggesting that the Supreme Court has powers to review its decisions? The answer is No. Those trying to use the case as a talisman are viewing the case in a narrow perspective. While it is correct that the Supreme Court can overrule its previous decision(s) in appropriate circumstances, the Supreme Court lacks the powers to review its previous judgment once decided. The Supreme Court in Alao v. ACB Limited (2000) LPELR-408 (SC) puts it succinctly thus:
“ In Adigun vs Attorney General Oyo State No. 2 (1987) 2 NWLR, PT 56, 197, this court sitting as a full court held that sub-section(6) of section 6 of the 1979 Constitution which provided that the judicial powers vested in the courts extended to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court law did not empower the court to review its own decision. It Further held that there is no constitutional provision for the review of the judgments of the Supreme Court by itself and that where the court has decided an issue and the decision of the court is truly embodied in some judgment or order that has been made effective, then the court cannot reopen the matter and cannot substitute a different decision in place of the one which has been recorded. This provision gives a stamp of finality to the determination by the Supreme Court. There is no constitutional provision for the review of the judgments of the Supreme Court by itself. If there were, it would constitute an appeal into which category the application falls. But as the Constitution and the law stand, there cannot be an appeal questioning the decision of the Supreme Court to itself or anybody. This is good for the integrity of the court as there must be finality to litigation when a matter has undergone two, three or four appeals. ”
This case of Alao v. ACB (supra) presents a classical scenario which portrays that those who believe that the Supreme Court can still review its decision in Uzodinma v. Ihedioha are merely fantasizing. In Alao’s case, the Applicants brought an application predicated on several grounds seeking the Supreme Court to set aside its judgment and rehear the appeal on the grounds stated on the motion. They relied on the inherent powers of the court. In its unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court made it clear that its decision if final;, that it does not have jurisdiction to embark on such adventure. See A.R.C of Nigeria (No4) In Re O.C Majoroh v. Fassassi (1987) LPELR, 540 (SC)
In Adigun v. A.G. Oyo State (No2) (supra), the Supreme Court did not mince words when an application was brought to it to review its previous judgment. The court made it clear that its decision in a case is final. The exception created in Order 8 Rule 16 of the Supreme Court Rules is only limited to clerical errors or accidental slip not a window to rehear or review an appeal. ESO, JSC (as ha then was) puts it thus:
“The decision of the supreme court is final. Final in the sense of real finality in so far as the particular case before the court is concerned. It is final for ever, except there is legislation to the contrary, and it has to be legislation ad hominem. The Supreme Court, and it is only the Supreme Court, may depart from the principles laid down in their decision in the case in future cases but does not alter the rights, privileges, detriments to the parties concerned arising from the original case”
From the forgoing analysis, it is beyond argument that the Supreme Court does not entertain a review of its decisions in a matter it has decided. The Supreme Court, being a super court deliberately made so by the organic law and manned by justices that are supermen created by statute must at all times shun any attempt to dilute its exalted realm by refusing to review her judgment.
Now, taking into cognizance that these supermen in the super court are not infallible, it is settled law that the Supreme Court may in appropriate cases overrule itself. This is entirely different from calling on the court to review its decision. The word “over-rule” has been defined by the Blaeck’s Law Dictionary 9th Edition to mean “to overturn or set aside (a precedent) by expressly deciding that it should no longer be controlling law.” The Supreme Court has power to overrule its previous decision if same is brought to the attention of the court that such a case was previously decided per incuriam. This means, where a previous decision of the Supreme Court was decided in ignorance or omission of a relevant statute or the decision was reached contrary to the provisions of such statute. See Adisa v. Oyinwola (2000) LPELR, 186 (SC) The Supreme Court does not merely overrule itself on fanciful or cosmetic argument. The error in the previous argument must be patent and properly presented to the court. See Odi v. Osafile (1987) 2 NWLR, PT 57,510.
The Supreme Court has ample jurisdiction to depart from its previous decision or decisions if such previous decisions are erroneous on point of law or inconsistent with the constitution or if their application to further cases will perpetuate or occasion miscarriage of justice. The Supreme Court will also depart from its previous decisions where such decisions are impeding the proper development of the law or have led to results which are unjust, undesirable or contrary to public policy. See Tewogbade v. Obadina (1994) 4 NWIR, PT 338, 226 at 351 and Egbe v. Yusuf (1992) 6 NIOLR, Pt 245, 16.
This onerous duty of overruling itself is always undertaken by the Supreme Court in a very cautious manner. To do so, the Supreme Court must be constituted by a full court of seven (7) justices. The court must consider in detail, the grounds upon which the party seeking it to overrule its previous decision predicted his application. If the Supreme Court accedes to the request, the new position of the court becomes the law as against the previous decision. The decision that was overruled will no longer be cited as precedent.
By the position of the law stated above, which is in conformity with the Section 235 of the Constitution, it is therefore futile and an action laced with mischief the protest organized against the decision of the Supreme Court in Uzodinma v. Ihedioha. Courts of law are not moved by sentiment. Protest is definitely not one of the ways of getting the court to overrule itself. One may now ask, is it possible for the Supreme Court to overrule itself in Uzodinma v. Ihedioha. The answer is in the firm affirmative. If in the appropriate circumstances, the attention of the court is drawn to the fact that the decision was reached per incuriam or that the decision is perpetuating injustice or inconsistent with the Constitution the Supreme Court has jurisdiction in such circumstances to overrule itself. See Oshoboja v. Amida (2009) LPELR-2803; Rossek & Ors vs ACB Ltd (1993) LPELR-2955
Some may be tempted to ask if by stroke of luck the Supreme Court overrules its decision in Uzodinma vs Ihedioha, will Ihedioha be made governor of Imo State again? Will Uzodinma be sacked? What will be the fate of the parties in that judgment? These questions were answered by the Supreme Court in Adigun v. A.G. Oyo State (supra) The fact that a case was overruled does not take away the rights, privileges or liabilities imposed or conferred by that judgment. When a case is overruled the court only corrects and error for future reference and to avoid further similar errors. The previous order made by the court cannot be impeached even though the reason for arriving at such conclusion was wrong.
There must be an end to litigation. That is what makes the decision of the Supreme Court final in line with Section 235 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended. No matter how we feel about the decision of the Supreme Court in Imo State and Zanfara State, it is final and must be respected.
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