INEC AND TWO CERTIFICATES OF RETURN

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John Takim writes that INEC’s role in the senatorial contest in Cross River is less than credible

Our attention as a people has not focused enough on the drama unfolding in Cross River and Abuja between Senator Stephen Odey and Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, and the INEC. Add to it the theater in the top court in the land, the Supreme Court. If we follow the drama closely, the average Nigerian will keel over with laughter to mitigate some of the horrors coming from the forests of killer demons and herdsmen.

But the most horrifying is the role of the umpire, INEC, that has decided to give confusion where there should be order. The umpire has acted as a referee in an imagined derby between Manchester United and Chelsea and decided to award the FA Cup trophy to both teams in the face of the teeming crowd whereas the final score was 2-0.

That is the situation in Cross River after the primary between both men who belong to the same party, the Peoples Democratic Party, and contested in the full glare of the media, INEC officials and party faithful. When the primaries took place in November last year, Jarigbe thought he was going to win, and so did Odey. After all, politicians, ever the overweening optimists, think bigger of themselves than the world sees them. Odey said he won the election. But Jarigbe did not accept defeat. He did not wait out the contest. He even proclaimed at the venue that INEC was not present. Thereupon INEC officials indicated their presence. But even at that INEC was only supposed to observe, not officiate.

Even at that, INEC had to wait for Odey and his men to ask the court to compel it before announcing Odey as the candidate of the PDP. After winning the polls, a new drama provoked the scene. A close offsider of Jarigbe went to court in Abuja to sue. He did not sue Odey for winning the primaries. Rather the fellow sued his man and friend, Jarigbe. The charge? That Jarigbe forged his certificate. He knew Jarigbe had integrity on that front. Consequently, the offsider was using one integrity to affirm a fraud. That is, he took it for granted that the man won the primary even though PDP and INEC had announced Odey as candidate.

He asked the court to throw out Jarigbe’s victory because he did not have a genuine educational certificate. He knew of course that the judge would agree because he did not have a false certificate. But the naïve Abuja judge then agreed that his candidacy was proper. The judge had fallen foul of cardinal principle of law 101: that ignorance is no excuse in law. The judge showed ignorance by not finding out what happened in the primary, whether PDP and INEC had actually announced him as the candidate and why the matter did not involve the man, Odey, who contested against him in the party. Jarigbe did not even join the party in the suit. It was justice as Kangaroo. It is still a mystery why INEC acquiesced in this ludicrous litigation and not with any of its lofty lawyers.

Consequently, INEC decided on the basis of that to issue a certificate of return to Jarigbe. The matter went to the court of appeal that did not ask INEC to offer a certificate of return. But the umpire issued the certificate. So, the absurd drama is before everyone’s eyes. There are two certificates of return even though we have only one seat. We have one senate and one local government in contention in this matter in Ogoja in Cross River.

Jarigbe is twirling his certificate of return, although Senate President Ahmed Lawan would not swear him in. The saving grace for Odey is that he received his certificate of return before INEC’s fingers itched it to give another to Jarigbe.

The horror of this is that INEC has no gumption or moral authority to ask Odey to return his certificate of return. It is also too lily-livered to request Jarigbe to do same. INEC is, as it were, at a point of no return.

What Jarigbe and his fellow travellers have done is to use “a good certificate to get a bad one,” to quote Sam Omatseye’s In Touch Column in The Nation. Mahmoud Yakubu, INEC’s boss, ought to come clean to the public and explain why this sort of banana republic show is unfolding on his watch.

Why did the INEC go to court with Jarigbe in a case where the PDP and Odey are not joined? The PDP has issued a statement to reject Jarigbe’s claims that he was chosen as candidate. Why has Jarigbe not gone to court to challenge Odey’s victory in the primary?

Just as it is stuck in the throats of INEC, so it is in the courts, including the Supreme Court. When the matter came before the justices of the highest court in the land, rather than rule on the substance, they rigmarole around technicalities. They became part of the absurd drama. They had asked Odey to announce its substituted service to Jarigbe about its appeal. Odey obeyed. When the matter came, they questioned their own ruling by saying Odey did not do the right thing. It was absurd for a court to rule against itself without shame.

Odey now has gone to court to prevent the court from giving any certificate to Jarigbe. All of these would have been unnecessary if INEC had done its job. It is better to correct a bad thing and lose a bit of dignity than to uphold a wrong and lose every dignity.

The job of umpire is a zero-sum affair. It is an assignment in which it does its job well when one party must be unhappy, and it must be the losing party. It does not call for mistake or suggestion of partiality or corruption. A winner is a winner. If the umpire gives it to a loser, two parties lose: the umpire and the real loser. In the end, a third party loses: the process.

INEC must not be seen to be playing with the process as it is doing. It is time for an about-face for justice and fairness. Or else, as I stated earlier, INEC’s honour for not affirming the certificate of return to the right person may have reached a point of no return.

Takim wrote from Calabar