By Ekpedeme Obong
The recent raid on the homes of some judges across the country brings to mind some of the cases that were delivered in the recent past and one wonders if everything possible was done to ensure justice in court or if the D.S.S. is justified in its actions.
It is obvious from all the allegations that are being levelled against some judges that something is wrong with the judiciary and it is only proper to address the situation. However, what happens to victims? People who may have suffered due to cases of miscarriage of justice? I am of the view that while the system is being looked at holistically, some cases should be reviewed as a way of righting past wrongs.
One case that readily comes to mind is that of Chief Inibehe Okori, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial Zone in the 2015 elections. Okori contested against the former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Godswill Akpabio and in that election, the former governor was declared winner. Okori was not comfortable with that result due to what he noted as irregularities in the election and he approached the court, which is considered the last hope of the common man, to seek redress.
A suit was filed by Chief Inibehe Okori with the National and State Elections Tribunal for Akwa Ibom state, which sat in Abuja. The tribunal was headed by Justice G.I. Anunihu with Justices O.A. Adebusoye and A.M. Lamido as members. At that tribunal, the petitioner’s suit was dismissed on the grounds that the issues raised in his petition were not substantiated by ‘credible evidence’.
The petitioner’s case from the tribunal and up to the Court of Appeal was that:
1. The 1st Respondent, Chief Godswill Akpabio was not nominated by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party to contest elections in the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial district. (That is in the Ikot Ekpene senatorial district). Rather, as shown by two officially prescribed documents of nomination, which were admitted as evidence in court, he was nominated to contest elections in the Akwa Ibom North-East Senatorial district (That is Uyo Senatorial district). .
2. There was clear issue of Over Voting as the result sheets for the elections showed that a total 444,505 votes were allegedly cast while only 205,519 persons were accredited to vote.
In 1. above, the evidence of wrong nomination was contained in Chief Akpabio’s affidavit of personal particulars (FormCF 002C), submitted to his party and the PDP National Assembly Primary Election/Nomination of National Assembly Aspirants Form PD 004/NA/2014. These were admitted during the trial as Exhibits P13 and P14 respectively. These are documents which are clearly and specifically designed by INEC to enable political parties identify the candidates they have nominated to represent them in specific elections in specific district. These documents are backed by the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act. Whenever a document is required by law to be reduced into writing, no other evidence, oral or otherwise, of that transaction is admissible.
Both exhibits state Akpabio’s senatorial district as Akwa Ibom North East, rendering him an illegitimate contestant in the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial elections.
The statutory consequence of having an ‘illegitimate’ winner is that the 1st runner=up in the said election is declared winner.
Interestingly, the tribunal ruled that the contents of these documents were not conclusive proof of their content and as such the documents couldn’t be relied on nor their contents harnessed. Rather, the tribunal ruled that it could rely on the testimony of the National Secretary of the PDP who claimed that it was an ‘error’. It then decided to decipher and interpret the contents of these INEC documents (including Akpabio’s form CF 0002C) to mean that the respondent was qualified to contest in the said elections.
How is it possible that a candidate would not get the senatorial zone which he hopes to represent right? And even if it is termed as an error, what procedure should be adopted to correct such a mistake? Was this procedure followed? Without an instruction from the political party to INEC, does INEC (or anybody else for that matter) reserve the right to independently correct perceived errors in a political party’s submission of names forms?
Finally, is a document not conclusive proof of its contents and can oral evidence be used to contradict the clear contents of documentary evidence?
For those familiar with the Evidence Act, Section 132(a) of the Act holds: “It is settled that oral evidence cannot be allowed to add, to subtract from or alter or contradict a written document.”
In 2. above the petitioner, with the support of INEC documents, showed that although only 205,519 persons were accredited to vote in the senatorial district, a whopping 444,505 votes were alleged to have been cast. Meanwhile, there is absolutely NO RECORD of failure of Card reader Machines in the district as in ‘incident forms’ which could possibly have provided the basis for manual voting, which could have subsequently accounted for the over-voting. The statutory consequence of over voting is nullification of results.
Some lawyers may hold a thin-line opinion on proof of non-compliance but there is no thin line here. How can 205, 519 persons legitimately cast 444,505 votes? However, the tribunal, after admitting the INEC document as evidence, this time without urging by any of the parties to the petition, still chose to discard this particular exhibit. A most baffling decision!
The matter was subsequently filed at the Appeal Court where Justices M.A. Oredola (presiding justice), Y.B. Nimpar and B.A. Georgewill, upheld the ruling from the tribunal. It is worthy of note that in buttressing the above argument, the appellant showed many cases where the Supreme Court repeatedly decided in favour of the above principles. It is therefore curious that the panels at the tribunal and the Court of Appeal could rule the way they did.
Were they in some way unduly influenced? Could the rumours of millions of dollars exchanging hands be true? Could this be one of the reasons that the D.S.S. decided to raid the homes of some these judges?
Though this episode may be considered to be in the past, it is important that the matter be reviewed in view of the fact that by setting aside pertinent provisions of the Evident Act as well as critical sections of the Electoral Act, these Judges have not only carried out a travesty of justice but they have also set a very sad precedence for future political cases as this in the Nigerian legal system.
The judiciary which used to be adjudged the last hope of the common man must do something to regain the confidence of the people and one way of doing that is for the relevant authorities to take steps to address errors of the past. A good way to start is by taking a second look at the Inibehe Okori’s case
Ekpedeme Obong, a public analyst wrote from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State