The Tribunal sitting in Enugu has reserved judgment on the matter brought by the governorship candidate of Labour Party (LP), Chijioke Edeoga challenging the victory of Peter Mbah, candidate of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the March 18, 2023 gubernatorial poll in the state declared by the Independent National Electoral commission (INEC).
Justice Murayo Akano-tribunal, after taking the final addresses of the petitioners and respondents reserved judgment for a date-to-be communicated to the parties.
Governor Mbah, Wednesday, picked holes in the allegations of forgery of his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) discharged certificate, over-voting, and falsification of results.
There was also a drama in court as the Respondents – Mbah, PDP, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)- opposed application by the petitioners to amend their prayer in their final written address seeking to be declared winners of the Rivers State governorship election rather than Enugu gubernatorial election.
In adopting his final written address before the Justice M.K. Akano-led tribunal, Mbah, through his counsels led by Wole Olanipekun, SAN, described the petitioner’s reliance on NYSC discharge certificate as of “no moment.”
His lawyers held that not only should the issue of NYSC discharge certificate not have arisen in the first place since it is neither a qualification for the position of governor as listed in Section 177 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) nor an educational qualification, which could be considered as a document required in aid of qualification, the petitioners also failed to prove a case of forgery against him.
“The fact that NYSC certificate is not a requirement for contesting election to the office of governor is one that has been judicially settled. And in this regard, we refer your Lordships to the Court of Appeal decision in Obi-Odu v. Duke (2005).
“The gross and net effect of the legal reality that NYSC certificate is not a requirement for qualification to hold office as governor is that the mens rea (knowledge/intention) of the alleged offence as pleaded has not been proven and also that the entire point is non sequitur,” they stated.
Furthermore, citing several judicial authorities, the final written address equally argued that NYSC certificate, not being an educational qualification or a qualification for the office of Governor, Dr. Mbah did not refer to it in the affidavit he deposed in the submission of his INEC form and therefore could not be counted against him.
“Thus, where no reference is made at all to a document, even if accompanying an affidavit, that document is indeed an orphan, and sadly so,” they held.
Mbah’s counsels pointed out that the petitioners’ witnesses from the NYSC testified against the petitioners in favour of Mbah by admitting that the NYSC mobilised the governor for national service, approved his suspension of service to go for his Law School programme, and also reposted him to Udeh & Associates to complete his service after the Law School.
They held that having fulfilled the obligations, it was mandatory on the NYSC to issue Mbah with a certificate, hence the case of forgery could not have arisen.
“The fact that the petitioners themselves tendered a certified true copy of the said certificate certified by NYSC themselves, puts a lie to the claim of forgery, because prima facie shows that they hold a copy of it and that NYSC is the custodian.
“NYSC certified a true copy of what is in its custody. PW1 (NYSC Director) tried to put forward a narrative that the discharge certificate was not issued because the Respondent (Mbah) allegedly did not participate in Community Development Service (CDS), suggestive of the fact that withholding the certificate was a penal action, yet, no document of a formal report of absence at CDS, a query to the Respondent, a trial or investigation, and formal communication of sanction to the Respondent was tendered.
“Section 2 of the NYSC Act mandates the NYSC to issue a certificate of national service, using the word ‘shall’. See Bamaiyi v. Attorney General of the Federation (2001) on the mandatory implication of the word ‘shall.’
“Therefore, it cannot be reasonable in a situation where proof must be beyond reasonable doubt to state that such mandatory statutory responsibility was not performed because of a punitive measure, yet no formal record of same was tendered before this honourable tribunal. This is a massive hole in criminal allegation of forgery being advanced by the Petitioners.
Read also: Dare you dare politics?
On the allegation of falsification of results, the Respondents said: “Although the petitioners made allegations of falsification of election results with respect to 24 Polling Units (19 Polling Units in Udenu and 5 Polling Units in Igboeze North), they only presented witnesses with respect to seven 7 Polling Units.
“Whereas in paragraphs 104 – 114 (pages 28 – 32) of their petition, the petitioners alleged over-voting in a total of 16 Pulling Units (7 Units at Owo, 3 Units at Ugbawka, 1 Unit at Enugu East, and 5 Units at Igboeze North Local Government), the petitioners only presented witnesses in respect of 13 Units.
“The effect of this is clear on the strength of a plethora judicial authorities, including Abubakar v. INEC (supra) at page 125 Paragraphs 125 D – H that the petitioners have abandoned their case with respect to a whopping 20 units in respect of which no witness was presented. That is half (20 Poling Units out of the 40 Polling Units complained of) of the Petitioner’s case abandoned without explanation.
“May we also mention here that contrary to the claim of the Petitioner that Ward results in Ward 05 of Udenu LGA and Umuozi VII of Igboeze North LGA were falsified, it is clear on the face of both exhibits that the results were signed on behalf of the 2nd Petitioner (LP).
“The law is now settled in the case of Gundiri v. Nyako (2014) and Alamu & Anor v. Rijau & Ors that the signature of a political party’s agent on the face of the election result sheet authenticates the result.”