• Friday, December 08, 2023
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Enugu tribunal: Understanding why Edeoga’s forgery allegation failed

Enugu tribunal: Understanding why Edeoga’s forgery allegation failed

A lot has been said (both for and against) about the verdict of the Enugu State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal dismissing the petition of the Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate, Hon. Chijioke Edeoga, against Governor Peter Mbah’s election.

Of particular interest is ground one, which claimed that Mbah was not qualified to contest the election, having allegedly presented a forged National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) discharge certificate. Every effort is being made by the loser to disparage the panel and reduce a serious matter like forgery to pedestrian argument. For instance, the claim that NYSC’s Director General disclaimer on Mbah’s certificate on national television (not even in a court of law) was final since NYSC is the issuing authority is as absurd as saying that the aggrieved persons (including the petitioner) should never go to court to challenge INEC’s declarations since it is the issuing authority of Certificates of Return. It would mean that we all are at the mercy of certificate-issuing institutions, including our colleges and universities, even in clear cases of ineptitude and complicity.

However, given human propensity for error and mischief, the law makes provisions to cure both relying on investigations by security agencies, and trial by the courts based on oral and documentary evidence, not sheer emotions and propaganda.

In the extant case, the tribunal, relying on various authorities, including decisions of the Supreme Court such as in Oke & Anor v Mimiko (2013), held that both the petitioners and respondents failed to comply with Paragraph 4(5) (b) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022, in respect of subpoenaed witnesses, vis-à-vis their failure to frontload witness statements even when the subpoenaed witnesses were available to the parties at the time of filing the petition and response.

Also relying on various authorities, including the decision of the Court of Appeal in Ogundehin v Olubowale (2016) and the Supreme Court in Agi v PDP (2016), the tribunal held that the claim of submission of a “forged” NYSC certificate “in aid” of qualification held no water since, in the tribunal’s words, Mbah “is more than qualified to contest to the office of Governor” without an NYSC discharge certificate. More so when he made no reference to it in his Form EC9, that is, in the affidavit deposed pursuant to his submission at INEC, thus rendering the NYSC certificate an orphan by law.

Read also: Labour Party files appeal at the Supreme Court

Yes, the tribunal held that “to prove forgery, two documents must be produced, that is, (1) the document from which forgery was made and (2) the forged document”. This is a well-known standard. Ancillary to this is that although NYSC claimed that Mbah ought to have been issued a “6 series”, and not “8-series” certificate, they did not deny the existence of certificate serial number (A808297), which Mbah holds. And they could not have denied the certificates since they are printed by the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company with security features such as serial numbers, watermark, etc. So, they failed to produce the “original” certificate or alternatively an “authentic holder” of the certificate serial number other than Mbah!

But even the more compelling point, which some commentators appear to miss, is that despite the aforementioned, the tribunal still delved into the kernel of the alleged forgery, but found no merit in it.

To start with, Edeoga’s star witness/PW1, Ibrahim Abdul Muhammad (Director of Corps Certification, NYSC), ended up vindicating Mbah in his Statement on Oath. He admitted that Mbah was mobilised for service with NYSC Call Up No. LA/FRN/01/800351, was deployed to Lagos State, was initially posted to the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) for his primary assignment where he was rejected, was reposted to Udeh & Associates (a law firm), applied and got NYSC’s approval to suspend his service to go for his Bar Part II (Bar Final) programme at the Nigerian Law School, applied for reinstatement after the programme, was reinstated through an NYSC letter dated 7th May 2003 (reference number NYSC/DHQ/CM/27/20) to “continue his service from where he stopped,” and reposted again to Udeh & Associates via a letter dated 26th May.

NYSC only claimed that they could not have issued Mbah’s discharge certificate because: (1) They did not have any record to show that he actually did those remaining months after reinstatement; (2) He allegedly did not participate in the weekly Community Development Service (CDS) in those months; and (3) He did not sign the certificate collection register as other members of his set.

A simple attention to Section 153 (1) of the Evidence Act, Udoma v. Umana (2016), Abubakar v. Yar’Adua (2008), Buhari v. Obasanjo (2005), and Nwobodo v. Onoh (1984) will clearly show that where issues of criminality arise in civil proceedings, the standard of proof required is a proof beyond all reasonable doubt. There was no way Edeoga’s forgery claim could have stood on the strength of NYSC testimony/evidence.

In determining whether or not Mbah actually completed those four months upon his reinstatement, NYSC never referred to Udeh & Associates where Muhammad’s Statement on Oath admitted he was reposted to. NYSC did not also dispute the clearance letters dated 26th June, 29th July, and 8th September 2003 issued to Mbah by Udeh & Associates in respect of those months and the final clearance dated 16th September 2003 for issuance of his NYSC certificate. Many commentators are not even aware that NYSC also paid Mbah’s allowances for each of those months on the strength of those letters. Udeh & Associates was equally in court to affirm not only the clearance letters exhibited, but also that Mbah served till September and showed his discharge certificate in gratitude. So, which other records could NYSC be looking for when they paid him for those months?

Read also: Labour party rejects tribunal judgement, to announce next move

Again, Section 11 of the NYSC Act is clear that the NYSC “shall” on the completion of service issue every Corps member a certificate of national service. “Shall” in law means “compulsorily”. But here is NYSC giving the impression at Paragraph 14(i) of Muhammad’s Statement on Oath that it did not fulfil that statutory obligation to Mbah as a penal measure. Yet they did not tender any record/register to show that he missed any CDS session. They did not also tender any evidence of query, investigation, hearing, report, indictment, and communication of any sanction whatsoever in that regard to back their claim!

Furthermore, NYSC failed to exhibit the said certificate collection register that Mbah purportedly did not sign. Even at that, common sense dictates that Mbah could not even have signed the same register as his mates since they had long completed their service and left before he returned from the Law School to “continue from where he stopped.”

Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that a court does not establish forgery in isolation of investigation by a security agency, and the court is also not an investigative institution. In this instance, the Department of State Services (DSS) investigation and findings as contained in the Statement on Oath by the agency’s Deputy Director of Operations and Strategy, Mr. Yahaya Isa Mohammed (DW2), seriously indicted NYSC and recommended that it withdraws all disclaimers of Mbah’s discharge certificate.

Perhaps the most significant revelation is that this same NYSC lost Mbah’s file at a point and had to create a temporary one for him. Whereas NYSC’s response to his application for suspension of service to go for his Bar Part II programme bears file number LA/10/1532, the agency’s response to his application for reinstatement bears file number LA/01/1532/T, with “T” standing for “temporary”. Ineptitude!

Again, perhaps in a bid to cover up their ineptitude or complicity or both, NYSC had claimed at Paragraph 14 (c) (k) (ii) of Mohammad’s Statement that they did not issue “8 series” certificates (where Mbah’s certificate falls) to Corps members in Lagos in that year and batch. But DSS’s investigations showed that NYSC indeed issued “8 series” certificates, not only in Lagos, but also in other states!

Significantly also, DSS avowed that NYSC could not account for 12 of their “8 series” certificates, namely A808297 to A808308. They could not trace to whom or in which state/states they were issued. No. A808297 is Mbah’s certificate. As earlier stated, the existence of Mbah’s certificate number was the more reason NYSC should have produced the original copy if what Mbah holds is a forgery or produced the “authentic” owner of that certificate number if Mbah was not the authentic holder.

NYSC could not equally produce the purported “6 series” certificate, which they claimed was Mbah’s correct certificate serial number. Rather, they claimed in Muhhamad’s statement that they had shredded/destroyed it, a claim the DSS seriously faulted.

Read also: Labour Party fails to prove majority votes says tribunal

Little wonder the DSS Statement avowed that “the failure of the NYSC to maintain a proper record keeping system was the cause of its inability to trace Peter Ndubuisi Mbah’s initial certificate”, saying “it would be wrong for the NYSC to blame Peter Ndubuisi Mbah for their own failure in record keeping”.

In fact, the only discharge certificate produced in court by the petitioners amidst all this hoopla was a copy of the certificate number A808297 (which Mbah holds) ironically certified by the same NYSC. The certification alone negates/destroys forgery allegation, as NYSC could not have certified what was not in their custody!

In a case where standard of proof is a proof beyond reasonable doubt, are the naysayers by any means saying that those were not sufficient doubts to have decided that ground of the petition against the petitioner? Res ipsa loquitur (the matter speaks for itself).

. Sir Okereke lives in Enugu