Enugu Guber Election: Lawyers, Analysts, CSOs, condemn tribunal verdict

• Say Judgment violates Constitution, Supreme Court decisions

Enugu Guber Election
• Task judiciary on protection of NYSC from political assault, destruction
• Tribunal erred in law when it failed to recalculate figures awarded to the PDP- Ejike
The nation’s judiciary has been tasked to guard against alleged plots by the political class to use it to rubbish the gains recorded by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), since the past 50 years of it’s existence.
This call was made yesterday by a coalition of lawyers, political analysts and members of the civil society organizations who spoke to New National Star in Abuja. They recalled how the former Nigerian military Head of State General Yakubu Gowon used the introduction of the NYSC to quell the rising division among the tribes and religions in the country few years after the end of the Nigerian civil war that caused serious tribal and religious divisions in Nigeria
Citing the recent tribunal judgement on the Enugu state governorship election, as well as the case of the minister of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, Ms Hanatu Musawa, the advocates urged the judiciary to remain firm and not to allow itself to be used as an agent to destroy the nation’s lasting legacies such as the NYSC
Reviewing the judgment of the Enugu state gubernatorial election petitions tribunal, a renowned legal practitioner, Barr. Chukwudi Ezike, stated that the judgment of the Enugu State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, which affirmed Peter Mbah as the duly elected governor, was made in total disregard of the constitution and precedents set by the Supreme Court.
He described the judgment as a travesty of justice. Citing several Supreme Court judgments to buttress his arguments, Barr Ezike said the tribunal decided to favour the defendant in clear violation of the letters of section Section 182 (1)(j) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution ( as amended).
He said it was wrong for the tribunal to equally rule that a petitioner has 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.
A three-member panel of judges headed by Justice Kudirat Akano, had on September 21st, dismissed all the grounds of the petition filed by the Labour Party gubernatorial candidate in the state, Hon. Chijioke Edeoga, against the declaration of Mbah of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
According to Barr. Ezike, “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 Tribunal at page 103 of the judgment summarized the evidences of the five witnesses of the petitioners thus: “The testimony of the petitioner’s witnesses who testified in support of this ground that is PW1 (the NYSC Director, Corps Certification), PW2 (Mrs. Mary Nneoma Elijah, the lawyer who wrote to the NYSC to verify the alleged certificate), PW3, Pw4, Pw26 and Pw30, to the effect that the 2nd respondent’s (Mbah’s) NYSC Certificate No A808297, is forged, as same was not issued to him by the issuing authority, that is NYSC, on the ground that he did not complete the mandatory one year programme.
“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 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.
Barr. 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.
“Simplified, section 182 says that presentation of forged certificate by any candidate of any political party for the purpose of contest of governorship election in Nigeria will be disqualified, not withstanding that the person is qualified under section 177 of the constitution”.
He went further to say that a candidate who approaches the court under such a ground cannot be deemed to be pursuing a pre-election issue for two reasons that only candidates, not aspirants, contest elections and so, they would only have issues to contest when they submit to INEC a forged certificate for an electoral contest.
“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.
“Counsel and the Courts, as the Apex Court (Nnaemeka-Agu, JSC) admonished in Ojibah v. Ojibah (1991) 6 S.C. 182; (1991) 6 SCNJ 156, (1991) LPELR- SC. 128/1988, should avoid the temptation of relying on ‘the established legal jingles and catch-phrases’, without fully asking how well they fit into the particular facts of their cases”.
He added that the facts of the case of Oke V. Mimiko heavily relied on by the tribunal to arrive at its decision that evidence of subpoenaed witness must accompany the petition is distinguishable with the facts of the case under review and cannot stand on appeal.
He noted further that the next leg of the case which is that the result of the election in 20 polling units in Igbo-Eze North and Udenu Local Government Arears alleged to be wrongly computed in favour of the PDP and against the LP, the court should have analysed the figures entered in Forms EC8A and EC8B and calculations presented, rather than dismiss the testimony of Ward Collation Agents as not fit to testify on the polling unit result because the witness did not sign polling unit results.
“The decision of the Tribunal rejecting the evidence of the rest of the witnesses called to prove the miscalculation of results in the rest of the polling units and the document tendered through them is a violation of Section 60 of the Electoral Act and paragraph 50 of the INEC Regulation and Guideline for the conduct of election issued in 2022.
“The introduction of BVAS in our electoral system, section 137 of the Electoral Act 2022, came to cure the requirement of oral evidence in proof of infraction of the Electoral Act, such as over voting and the rest.
“Also, Order 3 Rule 3 (1) of the Civil Procedure Rules of the Federal High Court and Paragraph 4 (5) of the 1st Schedule to the Evidence Act are in all fours to serve the same purpose,” he stated.
Another legal practitioner Barrister Chukwudi Igwe said Section 137 of the Electoral Act provides, “It shall not be necessary for a party who alleges non-compliance with the provisions of this Act for the conduct of the elections to call oral evidence if originals or certified true copies manifestly discloses the non-compliance alleged”.
According to him, it is worthy of note that the Petitioners relied on the results and the CTC of the BVAS Reports of the affected polling units while proving over voting. “Going by the provision of the said section 137 of the Electoral Act, the Petitioners proved over voting by the instrumentality of the CTC of the result and the BVAS Report tendered at the Tribunal by competent witnesses who were eye witnesses to the non-compliance.
“There is no law in our legal jurisprudence that says that it is only accredited agents that are credible witnesses in an election. A voter or member of a political party present in a certain polling unit and competently testify and tender documents as to what he saw on ground.
“You don’t need to be appointed by INEC to act as an agent. Political parties are at liberty to remove or replace any agent at will even on the election day”, Igwe stated
In a similar development, a Civil Society Organization – Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), has called on Nigerians to fulfill their core patriotic duty by defending public institutions, particularly the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
CLO said that the call has become pertinent following the latest attempt by the ruling political class in Nigeria to undermine the independence and sanctity of public institutions due to their primitive and unpatriotic desires.
CLO National Treasurer, Comrade Halima Ibrahim, in a recent media briefing in Abuja, decried that some public office holders in the country, who occupy offices of public trust are involved in forgery of public documents, including educational results and NYSC discharge certificate.
CLO said it was more worried that some powerful individuals were challenging anyone, including the courts who dare to question their nefarious actions.
Comrade Ibrahim further regretted that in the last six months, the country has witnessed two festering cases which are yet to be resolved.
According to her, one of the cases involved the current Governor of Enugu State, Mr. Peter Mbah and the other, a serving Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ms. Hannatu Musawa.
She said: “The case of the Minister of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, Ms. Musawa, is disturbing. She is currently a serving Corp member before her appointment as a Minister by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Her case has instigated unnecessary debate by some lawyers and Nigerians who are now sharply divided.
“Some lawyers who are defending her appointment relied on the provisions of Section 147 of the 1999 constitution, particularly Sub-Section 5, which states that no person shall be appointed as a Minister of the Government of the Federation unless he is qualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives.
In the Enugu Governor’s case, she said the NYSC has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that the certificate the Governor parades was not issued by them, “yet Nigerians have watched as the Governor keeps launching orchestrated judicial onslaughts and media campaigns of calumny against the NYSC”.
“As citizens are treated to this macabre drama orchestrated by Governor Mba against the NYSC, the CLO wishes to draw public attention to a settled case as espoused recently by the Supreme Court in Oyetola Vs Adeleke that it is only the issuing authority of a certificate that has the sole authority to validate or repudiate the certificate issued by that authority.”
Comrade Ibrahim added that if the judiciary on whose doorsteps the matter lies fails to deliver substantial justice in the case and allows Mbah to walk away a free man without convincing proof of how he obtained his NYSC certificate, it will signpost the death of NYSC scheme.
In his contributions, the CLO National President, Comrades Igho Akeregha, said the media has a critical role to play in stopping the issue of certificate forgery by politicians. He reiterated the need to nip the problem in the bud before it becomes a normal occurrence
“Over the years, NYSC has demonstrated exemplary courage and fairness in the discharge of its duties and responsibilities, and has in all cases, refused to be cowed by the barbaric intimidations of politicians”, he said.
In a similar plea to the judiciary, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), expressed displeasure over the Enugu governorship election Petitions position of a status of the National Youth Services Corps (NYSC) certificate in the contest of electoral offices in the country.
While weighing in on matter, HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, at a press briefing in Abuja, argued that if the NYSC certificate was not a prerequisite for contesting an election then the scheme should be abolished, because, according to him, it was a waste of resources.
“The decision of the Tribunal has ominous implications for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) itself. If this judgment is upheld by the Appeal Court or Supreme Court, it effectively undermines the significance of the NYSC certificate, suggesting that anyone can simply present any certificate without consequences since in the first place, it bears no qualifying relevance as interpreted or argued by this panel of judges in the Enugu gubernatorial election petition tribunal. It puts into question the very relevance of the NYSC institution in Nigeria”.
Onwubiko said that the Enugu Guber election judgment was a gross miscarriage of justice that undermined the principles of fairness and sent a what he called “a distressing message that political aspirants can manipulate their qualifications with impunity precisely because the Tribunal deliberately failed to address that aspect of the petition but rather played around flowery language to deodorize the panel’s decision to unleash injustice.”
Onwubiko suggested an urgent reforms in the country’s electoral and judicial systems, insisting that transparency and the rule of law should prevail over political expediency.
Ezeocha Nzeh

Techrectory with Agency Report.

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