THE 9/11 JUDGMENT

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Sonnie Ekwowusi argues that the decision of the Presidential election tribunal is unfortunate

The 9/11 judgment continues to draw the ire of the public. The people are embittered about 9/11 because it is simply repugnant to equity, justice and good conscience. Eight out of the 10 top litigation lawyers I discuss 9/11 with affirm that it is a complete embarrassment to the judiciary, and, that not even Awolowo V Shagari is as embarrassing as 9/11. They shudder why the tribunal descended into the arena and manufactured a case for President Buhari and thereafter ruled that he attended courses that qualify him to seek election as president when that was never Buhari’s case (a court cannot make a case for a party).

I tell friends that what is at stake in 9/11 is neither Buhari nor Atiku. After all, Buhari and Atiku, like all mortals, will answer the call of their Maker some day and leave the stage for other politicians. What is really at stake in 9/11 is the soul of the judiciary. If the judiciary, a veritable third arm of government, is aborted our democratic experiment will equally be aborted to the detriment of the governed. That is why 9/11 will continue to provoke public outrage.

It is gladdening that some lawyers are summoning courage to expose the manifest errors in 9/11. For instance, under the title, Atiku V Buhari: Is the Judiciary on Trial? (THISDAY newspaper, 17 September 2019, pages 1-14) legal luminaries of varying degrees of weight unequivocally agreed that 9/11 is simply a fruit of compromised and emasculated judiciary and therefore completely unacceptable because it is a gateway to judicial cataclysm in Nigeria. When former Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen was summarily fired with a forged ex-parte order and replaced with Justice Mohammed Tanko the people completely lost the little confidence they had in the Nigerian judiciary. Their impression at that time (which remains same today) was that the replacement of Onnoghen with Tanko was to ensure that no court or tribunal in Nigeria delivers an independent verdict.

The 9/11 judgment seems to have proved the people right. To satiate its conscience that it was out to do justice to both Atiku and Buhari, the tribunal hypocritically embarked on a gruelling nine-hour voyage of jurisprudential discoveries (during which many lawyers following it not only fell asleep but were snoring aloud) before it finally landed where it had all along be wanting to land. Anyway, something happened to me shortly after the delivery of the 9/11 judgment.

A cheeky friend of mine who saw me from a distance started hailing me. When I turned and asked him what was in the offing, he said, “Your judiciary has shown its true colour again”. “What do you mean?” I asked feigning ignorance. “The Atiku, Buhari case now. I watched the proceedings live. Those tribunal members messed up with that case. They should not have given it to Buhari. It is obvious that Atiku won even with the certificate issue alone. What is means now is that people like me can go to court and swear to an affidavit that I have a PhD and it will be accepted”

My friend, no doubt, speaks the mind of many right-thinking members of the Nigerian public. With 9/11, many Nigerians have completely lost confidence in the Nigerian judiciary – both as a bulwark of justice and as the last hope of the common man. If you are still in doubt of what I am saying, visit the social media-Facebook, instagram, WhatsApp platforms – and will see how many small boys and girls are making a jest of Nigerian judiciary and Nigerian lawyers simply because of 9/11. Who cares a hoot about public opinion? You may ask. But public opinion matters a lot. The erosion of public confidence in any court of law undermines the nobility and integrity of that court. In Metropolitan Properties Co. (FGC) Ltd V Lannon (1968), Master of the Rolls Lord Denning said: “Justice must be rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when the right-minded people go away thinking saying: The judge was biased”.

This saying is true and worthy of full acceptance not only in the era of Lord Denning but to this day. Granted, controversial political court decisions always evoke disturbing public complaints against the court, but the grave truth is that 9/11 has steeped the Nigerian judiciary into the worst crisis, possibly the most serious since the exit of the military. The unpalatable truth is that since the inception of the Buhari government the judiciary has been falling into the swamp of uncertainty. With 9/11, the law of the land is now at a stage where the appearance of justice is probably impossible and is certainly not to be expected in our courts.

With the greatest respect, 9/11 is a laborious exercise in error of law. Overwhelming evidence was led to prove that President Buhari was not qualified for election to the office of the president because he did possess his alleged certificates. But unfortunately the tribunal deliberately chose to belittle the evidence. Pursuant to the combined effects of sections 131(d) and 318 (1)(a-d) of the 1999 Constitution a person shall be qualified for election to the office of a President of Nigeria if he possesses a school certificate or a secondary school certificate or its equivalent or even a primary school certificate or Grade 11 Teacher’s certificate.

Note that sections 131(d) and 318(a-d) viva voce stipulate that the candidate seeking election as president must provide the certificates issued to him by the relevant authorities in his educational pursuit. This is why the INEC form CF001 to be filled by the candidate has provisions for the attachment of the candidate’s educational certificates with attendant dates.

Now in filling his form CF001 Buhari claimed that he obtained a primary School Certificate, a secondary School Certificate (WASC) and Officer Cadet. He did not claim in form CF001 that he attended many educational courses or that he was educated up to primary school level or secondary school level qualifying him for election to the office of the President as the tribunal wants us to believe. He simply and unambiguously claimed in the form CF001 that he possesses a Primary School Certificate, a Secondary School Certificate (WASC) and Officer Cadet. But Buhari did not attach his academic qualifications to his INEC form CF001. Instead, he swore to an affidavit that his certificates were with the military.

Ironically both Atiku and Buhari tendered a national newspaper duly certified by the National Library wherein the military had denied as far back as 2015 that it was in possession of Buhari’s alleged certificates. Even Buhari’s first witness, Major.-Gen. Paul Tarfa (rtd), who claimed he was Buhari’s classmate, denied that he and Buhari submitted their certificates to the military. When asked if he and Buhari submitted their certificates to the military, Paul Tarfa simply responded: “We did not submit our certificates to the Nigerian Army as there was no such thing.”