Justice Centus Nweze, And The Epiphany Of Minority Opinion!

By Ikenga Chronicles March 28, 2020

Justice Centus Nweze, And The Epiphany Of Minority Opinion!

— By Kenneth Ikonne

Once again, our Lord, Centus Nweze, JSC, has delivered an incisive minority decision. In the application by the All Progressives Congress to the Supreme Court to set aside its earlier decision disqualifying the candidates of the Zamfara APC and enthroning those of the PDP, on the ground of defects in the primaries from which the APC candidates emerged, his Lordship departed from the majority opinion, and held that the judgment was riddled by a fundamental mistake, and could therefore be set aside, and therefore proceeded to set it aside in a well reasoned minority opinion.

As I pointed out last time, our Lord, Nweze JSC, is a soaring intellect, unsurpassingly bold, a jurist who cherishes honour and justice above all other qualities. Presently, he is, arguably, the Supreme Court’s most erudite jurist. His greatest assets are his penetrating intellect with which he goes with ease right to the bottom of the most complex of issues, his keen philosophic capacity, and a literary sense so urbane and Augustan in style and depth.

In IHEDIOHA V. UZODINMA, his Lordship stated the principle correctly, but arrived at the wrong conclusion. Every court of law, including the Supreme Court, has inherent jurisdiction to set aside its own judgment given in any proceedings in which there has been a fundamental defect, such as one which goes to the issue of jurisdiction and competence of the Court. Such a judgment would be a nullity, and any person affected by it would therefore be entitled, in the interest of justice, to have it set aside. That is the time honoured principle, and our Lord was right in restating it.

However, in IHEDIOHA, his Lordship’s conclusion was wrong only because his premise for setting aside the judgment was FRAUD. The law is that if a judgment is allegedly obtained by fraud, a fresh action must be instituted to impeach that judgment and if the fraud is established, the judgment would then be set aside. The fraud must be tried as a distinct and positive issue by evidence properly taken and directed to that issue and wholly free from any of the matters originally tried. But this did not happen in the review application in IHEDIOHA V. UZODINMA, and our Lord, Nweze, JSC, despite having stated the principle correctly, was therefore wrong in setting aside the judgment on the ground of fraud, or deceit, for none was established, and could not have been established by the mere address or arguments of Ihedioha’s counsel.

Ironically, in IHEDIOHA, the majority opinion arrived at the right conclusion, but stated the principle wrongly. Therefore, applying the principles rightly stated by NWEZE JSC in IHEDIOHA, the fundamental question in the ZAMFARA review application would then be whether the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to declare the PDP, which was not a party to the suit filed by a faction of the APC against another faction of the same party, the winner of the election by operation of law.

The majority opinion in the judgment delivered today did not answer that question, because their Lordships felt themselves hamstrung by the very mechanical precedent the Supreme Court had already established in IHEDIOHA. But one can surmise, judging by the mood of the electors in both Imo and Zamfara, that CENTUS NWEZE’s approach, though not infallible, is more in accord with the demands of justice. Such is the genius of his Lordship!