Mr. Amaechi, Speaker of the state Assembly between 1999 and 2007, had won the party’s primaries in the state but was dropped at the eleventh hour by PDP leadership.
He hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as a landmark and historic, while Sir Omehia called for calm.
The PDP declined to comment on the matter for now. But in Port Harcourt it was mixed reactions from residents with some, especially settlers at the waterfront, jubilating over the removal of Omehia. Omehia had planned to demolish the area.
President Umaru Yar’Adua in his reaction asked the people of the state to accept the court’s decision.
The apex court said Omehia was not the candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which won the gubernatorial election held in the state on April 14, 2007.
The court said Omehia held the office in error and illegally and ordered the immediate swearing-in of Amaechi.
The apex court said Amaechi was the lawful candidate of the ruling party (PDP) that won the election in the state and by extension should be the occupant of the exalted office.
The unanimous verdict came after three hours legal arguments by counsel to all parties in the case.
The arguments touched on the interpretation and intendment of section 34 (2) of the Electoral Act 2006 and when section 308 of the 1999 constitution could avail a sitting governor from court actions.
Justice Aloysius Katsina Alu headed the seven-man panel of the apex court that heard and summarily decided the case.
He said the panel would give fuller reasons for its judgment in the matter on January 18, next year.
He said: “I must start by thanking counsel in this case for the arguments they canvassed. The issue in this appeal falls within a narrow compass. The starting point is the decision made by this court in Ugwuh and Araraume that a political party wishing to substitute its candidate for another within 60 days to the election must give cogent and verifiable reasons to INEC for the substitution sought.
“In the case of Araraume which this court decided, to offer a reason ‘error’ is not in compliance with section 34 (2) of the Electoral Act 2006.
“In this case, the same reason relied upon by the 3rd respondent in substituting the appellant with the second respondent is the word ‘error’ without more. Clearly, in my view, the two cases are similar and the same principle applies.
“In arguments by counsel, it was submitted that the fact that there was an indictment against the appellant constituted a reason for INEC to disqualify the appellant. My reaction is that the submission is untenable because there was no indictment known to law.
“No court of law pronounced the appellant guilty of any indictment justifying his exclusion from election.
“Indeed, he was never charged before any court. It is my finding that the appellant was not substituted in accordance with the law and, therefore, remains the candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that contested the gubernatorial election held in Rivers State on April 14, 2007.
“Since the appellant was not substituted in accordance with the law, it would, therefore, be wrong for the 3rd (PDP) respondent to nominate the second respondent for the April 14 governorship election in Rivers State. The issue that section 308 enures to the benefit of the 2nd respondent is also untenable.
“The grounds upon which the appellant premised his claim had been in issue before the election and I am unable to accept that the 2nd (Omehia) respondent enjoys any immunity in this matter.
“And to the appellant's claim on pages 68 and 70 that the reliefs are declaratory and injunctive, he brought the claim so that he would not be substituted.
“It is my view that the candidate of the PDP in the election was the appellant. His name was unlawfully removed. In the eyes of the law, he remains the candidate and this court must treat him as such.
“The appellant and not the respondent must be seen as having won the election.
“The argument that the appellant must be held to his claim overlooks the fact that this court has the wide jurisdiction to give circumstantial orders and grant reliefs which the circumstances and situation dictate.
“This court shall rise up to do substantial justice without regard to technicalities. We would not make an order which does not address the grievances of the party before this court.
“The only way to accord recognition to his right not to be trampled upon is to declare him and not the 2nd respondent to have won the April 14 gubernatorial election.
“The cross appeals by 2nd and 3rd respondents fail and the appeal succeeds. The decision of the Court of Appeal is hereby set aside. I make no orders as to cost.
“I, therefore, make the following orders: (1) I declare the appellant the one entitled to be in the governorship seat in Rivers State since he was the lawful candidate of PDP.
Orders immediate swearing-in of Amaechi
(2) It is ordered that Celestine Omehia vacates the seat immediately and that the appellant be immediately sworn-in in his place.
“I will give my full reasons to the judgment on the 18 of January 2008,” he added.
Rivers guber seat not vacant by May 29, 2011
By implication, Sir Celestine Omehia, yesterday ceased to be governor of Rivers State after illegally occupying the exalted seat for about five months.
By the intendment of the judgment of the apex court in Peter Obi Vs Andy Uba, the term of office of Rotimi Amaechi would start running from the day he takes his oath of office as the governor of Rivers State.
By implication, the office of Rivers State governor would not be vacant by May 29, 2011 since the four year term of office of Amaechi would still be running.
He would be expected to vacate office for whoever would take over from him in October 2011 if he does not retain his seat in the next general election.
The judgment of the apex court handed down has also rested varying interpretations to the provision of section 34 of the Electoral Act 2006.
It has also defined the powers of political parties and INEC in substituting of candidates.
The judgment has also enriched the nation’s jurisprudence by the reason of its pronouncement on when section 308 can avail a serving governor from civil or criminal actions.
After Amaechi’s name was forwarded to INEC with an accompanying affidavit indicating that he had fulfilled all the constitutional requirements for the election, speculations started flying that his name was about to be substituted by PDP.
Amaechi then approached a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to stop PDP from substituting his name or disqualifying him from participating in the governorship elections except in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2006. The court said his action was speculative and declined to grant the reliefs sought.
However, on February 2, 2007, PDP forwarded the name of Celestine Omehia to INEC as substitute for Amaechi, as earlier speculated by Amaechi.
In the application forwarded by PDP to INEC to substitute Amaechi’s name for Omehia in line with the provision of section 34 (1) of the Electoral Act 2006, the PDP did not give any cogent or verifiable reason for its action.
Although one of the alleged reasons why PDP substituted the name of Amaechi was because EFCC might disqualify him on the grounds that he had been indicted for corruption, no such indictment was available at the time and there was no reason given.
Immediately PDP applied to substitute his name, Amaechi’s counsel, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), approached the high court again to report the development and stress the fact that it must grant his reliefs including:
The trial judge, Justice Binta Murtala-Nyarko set aside the substitution of Amaechi’s name with Omehia by INEC.
She described the substitution as reprimandable in view of the fact that the case was on at the time the substitution was done by PDP.
But the judge refused to declare him as the candidate of the PDP for the election in the state.
Rotimi Amaechi, however, went to the Court of Appeal in Abuja to declare him the substantive PDP gubernatorial candidate for Rivers State.
But before the Appeal Court could sit on the issue raised by Amaechi, PDP issued a statement claiming that it had expelled him from its fold.
The Court of Appeal, based on Amaechi’s expulsion from PDP, struck out Amaechi’s substantive appeal for want of jurisdiction to entertain it. Amaechi appealed the verdict of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court rejected the request.
According to Justice Katsina Alu who read the lead judgment on May 11, 2007: “I think we have the shortest judgment in history. Having heard all arguments of learned counsel from all sides, I hold that the Court of Appeal was in error in declaring jurisdiction to hear the appeal and cross appeal on their merits.
“It is now ordered that the matter be remitted to the Court of Appeal Abuja to hear the two appeals expeditiously. No order as to cost,” he added.
When the matter got to the Court of Appeal, Omehia brought an application to stay proceedings in the case to enable it seek clarifications on the judgment of the Supreme Court.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi, frowned at the conduct of the justices of the Court of Appeal and gave an administrative order that the case be heard by the court.
The Court of Appeal panel hearing the case eventually took back the case-file and began sitting on the matter.
But while hearing was on-going, the Court of Appeal said except some applications before the Supreme Court by the parties were withdrawn, there was no way it could go ahead with the hearing of the case.
Both Omehia and Amaechi had to return to the Supreme Court where justices of the apex court had harsh words for the justices of the Court of Appeal with a stern warning that the matter must be decided expeditiously.
When the case was eventually heard by the Court of Appeal, the panel of justices that heard the case dismissed Amaechi’s appeal on the ground that his name was substituted because he was indicted by EFCC for corruption.
Although the court admitted that PDP did not state the reason in its application to INEC, it said his indictment was a public knowledge and that INEC knew of it and acceded to the substitution.
Aggrieved by the decision, Amaechi went before the Supreme Court again with a request to reverse the verdict and unseat the Governor of River State, Sir Celestine Omehia.
Yar'Adua to Omehia: Accept judgment in good faith
President Umaru Yar’Adua has enjoined the people of Rivers State to accept the ruling of the Supreme Court removing Governor Omehia from office in good faith.
Special Adviser to the President on Communications, Mr Segun Adeniyi, who addressed State House correspondents said the president had directed all relevant agencies to ensure that the Supreme Court ruling was implemented.
President Yar’Adua said his stand was premised on his “avowed commitment to upholding the rule of law at all times.”
The president further urged all “concerned parties to respect and abide by the ruling of the nation’s highest court on this matter and enjoins all residents and citizens of Rivers State to accept the judgment in good faith.”
No victor, no vanquished — Amaechi
Moment after the court’s ruling yesterday, Mr. Amaechi described the ruling as a landmark and historic judgment. He said his faith in God and confidence in the integrity and character of the Supreme Court sustained him all through the difficult and challenging trial.
In a statement issued on his behalf by Mr Magnus Abe, Commissioner for Information in the Odili administration, Amaechi said the judgment would no doubt further deepen and strengthen democracy in the country.
The new governor said nobody should misunderstand the struggle as a personal struggle, but was about justice and fairness to all Rivers’ people, stating that as far as he was concerned, there was no victor, no vanquished.
He noted that rather than for anybody to sob because of the judgment, the judgment should serve as a unique opportunity for all Rivers people to return unity and togetherness in order to move the state toward peace and progress.
Amaechi noted that he was extending his hands of fellowship to all Rivers people, both those who stood by him all through the trial and those against him.
Omehia appeals for calm
Sir Celestine called on the people of the state to remain calm and not to take the laws into their hands.
In a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Paulinus Nsirim, he said he was yet to be briefed on the judgment by his lawyers. The statement: “Sir Celestine Omehia has called on the people of Rivers State to remain calm following today’s (yesterday) Supreme Court judgment. As law-abiding citizens no one should take the laws into his hands.”
The statement said the governor was waiting to be briefed on the development at the court by his lawyers at the end of which he would address the people of the state.
PDP declines comment
The National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Lady Ime Udom declined to comment on the issue.