The judgement as rendered by the Enugu state Governorship Election Petition Tribunal can at best be described as a miscarriage of justice and a fundamental jurisprudential flaw that we are very hopeful will be corrected at the Court of Appeal, Labour Party governorship candidate in Enugu state, Barrister Chijioke Edeoga, has declared.
At the end of the March poll, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Barrister Peter Mbah as winner.
The PDP candidate had polled 160,895 votes to defeat his closest challenger, Mr Edeoga, who scored 157,552 votes.
But dissatisfied with the outcome of the poll, the LP candidate and his party headed to the tribunal to challenge INEC’s decision.
Before the tribunal, the petitioners had contended that Mbah ought not to have contested in the election in the first place because he allegedly presented a forged NYSC certificate to INEC.
Also, Edeoga had further prayed the tribunal to nullify the election Mbah on the grounds that there were irregularities bordering on over-voting and non-use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System during the election in Nkanu East local government area, where the governor comes from.
Some of the exhibits tendered before the tribunal include a charge sheet from the Federal High Court Lagos where Mbah (then as Chief of Staff to the governor) and three others were alleged to have, in a 29-count charge, collaborated with the then Enugu state governor, Chimaroke Nnamani to conceal the origin of some money part of which was the N1.4billion Excess Crude Oil Funds meant for local governments in the state in 2005.
Also, following the request by The Principal Partner, Omas & Partners on the status of the governor’s NYSC certificate, the corps in a letter, dated 1st February, 2023, replied thus: “We are pleased to inform you that the Certificate of National Service belonging to Mbah Peter Ndubuisi with Certificate Number: A808297 forwarded to for verification was not issued by the NYSC.”
The letter was signed by Director Corps Certification Ibrahim A Muhammad.
But after some legal fireworks from counsels to both the defendants and the petitioners, the tribunal upheld Mbah’s victory, with both Edoga and his party promising to appeal the ruling.
My case – Edeoga
Speaking to Blueprint at the weekend, Edeoga, a former House of Representatives member, said the judgement was far from addressing the issues raised in the petition.
He said: “Yes, every discerning mind can readily see some gaps in the judgement by the tribunal. It is a fact that the judgement never in any way reflected the contentious issues raised in our petition. Is it not shocking that the tribunal did not see any valid case in this clear forgery of NYSC certificate? My background as a former lawmaker and lawyer tells me this is a miscarriage of justice.
“I wish to commend our supporters for the show of maturity displayed thus far since the judgement was delivered. It shows they are people who believe in the rule of law. But I must tell you in very clear terms that as a firm believer in the nation’s judiciary, , my party and I will do everything legally possible to ensure justice is done in this case. The people of Enugu have their faith in me and my party and this, they demonstrated during the March 18, 2023 polls.
“It is on record that the Labour Party made a good show at both the National and State Assembly elections, and the evidence is there at both levels of the legislature. So, my consolation is God is on our side because the people are with us, and that’s why I strongly believe the Court of Appeal will give the people of the state the justice they crave for.”
…Legal mind wades in
Also weighing in, a renowned legal practitioner, Chukwudi Ezike, faulted the judgement, saying it was delivered in total disregard of the constitution and precedents set by the Supreme Court.
He said Section 182 (1)(j) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, clearly spells out the sanctions that go with forgery, no matter the status of the culprit.
Ezike also said the tribunal erred in law by failing to recalculate figures awarded to the PDP.
According to him, it is a travesty of justice where the court decided in favour of someone who is in clear violation of the letters of Section 182 (1)(j) of the Constitution, citing several Supreme Court judgments to buttress his arguments.
The legal practitioner further said it was wrong for the court to equally rule that a petitioner needed to produce a certificate he did not make and equally faulted the tribunal for describing evidence of witnesses subpoenaed by the courts as incompetent, “because the witness statements were not filed at the time the petition was first submitted to the court.”
Citing some legal landmarks to back his claim, Ezike said: “In the case of Agi vs PDP, the Supreme Court had defined forgery as bringing or presenting or attaching or submitting a document not made by the agency which is purported to have made such a document.
“In proof of this leg of the petition, Hon. Edeoga and the LP, petitioners at the Tribunal, called five witnesses which included a Director from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in-charge of Corps Certification and a Managing Partner of a law firm, who applied to the NYSC under the Freedom of Information Act, to verify the authenticity of the NYSC certificate which Peter Mbah, the governorship candidate of the PDP presented to INEC.”
“The finding of the Tribunal that the said forged certificate was not submitted in aid of the qualification of Mr. Mbah to contest election is not what the law and the Supreme Court say.
“The other leg of the judgment that the NYSC certificate is not a requirement to contest governorship election or that both the forged and the original document must be presented before the court, is pure travesty of justice.
“The court was also wrong to hold that the said NYSC certificate having not been referred to in the Form EC9, affidavit of personal particulars, is therefore a merely attached document and shall be of no consequence to the qualification of the 2nd respondent, is a wrong legal finding,” he said.
Ezike added: “Section 177 of the constitution provides the qualification for the contest of the governorship election in Nigeria.
“Anybody who is qualified under section 177 can be disqualified under section 182(1) if as stated in subsection (j), presented a forged certificate to the INEC.”
Citing another case to buttress his position, Ezike said: “The Supreme Court in the case of Ucha v. Onwe (2011), ALL FWLR (PT 580) 1227 @ 1295; (2011) 4 NWLR (PT 1237) 386 @ 427, which is similar to the Edeoga vs Mbah case, upheld the provision of Section 66(1) (h) of the 1999 Constitution as a disqualifying factor, and it says it all.
“Sub-paragraph (h) did not classify the type of forged certificate that can disqualify a candidate.
“The Tribunal therefore cannot be right in its finding that the NYSC Certificate is not envisaged in Section 66(1)(h) of the 1999 Constitution.”
…Governor’s legal team kicks
However, in a contrary view, Uchenna Mbaeke, a member of Governor Mbah’s legal team, said “the judgement represents the spirit and letters of the law.
“They decided it as it is. First it is important to know that election petitions are sui generis, it is in a class of its own, and it is not enough for someone to allege forgery without proof. Once you say a particular certificate was forged, it goes beyond that, you must prove it beyond reasonable doubt to satisfy the court that the particular certificate was forged. I must commend the governorship tribunal for their industry and the time invested. I totally agree with the judgement.
“By Section 285(5) election petitions are time-barred. You have the time within which to commence and to start and time to complete. By virtue of first paragraph 4 sub paragraph 5(b) of the first schedule to the Electoral Act 2022, it provides that the election petition must be compulsorily accompanied with the list of witnesses, with the position of witnesses, and copies of documents the petitioner intends to rely on. This is mandatory.
“The petitioners in this case failed to frontload the depositions on oath of some witnesses, including that of the NYSC witness Ibrahim Abdul Mohammed. His statement on oath was not frontloaded alongside the petition. So, the tribunal, relying on the Supreme Court decision in Oke and Mimiko which was later affirmed in the judgement of Ogba and Vincent, saying that statements on oath which did not accompany the petition are incompetent and are liable to be struck out.”