By Justin Chukwulozie Esq.
Forgery like similar felonies, is not just an offence against the state but one which insidiously eats up the offender with no one recognizing his insecurities. When it involves a certificate, tendered for the purpose of showing that one is who or what he’s not, thereby earning an unmerited favour, the forger or beneficiary also suffers.
Back then in the University, I knew a certain student named X, who though very bright, would hardly contribute in conversations or pleasantries between colleagues, preferring instead to be seen and not heard. Then, we attributed his behaviour to low self-esteem, lack of exposure or perhaps showing too much respect. Each time he was offended, he would retire quietly to a lonely corner of the classroom, bring out books and pretend to be reading something far more important than anything else.
Right inside the classroom, whenever a Lecturer came up with a comic relief, making everyone else to laugh, X would wear a long face and wish he finished quickly and get to real business. He was always socially withdrawn, soliloquizing and sometimes, missed classes without confiding in anyone. He had no close friend.
X’s case worsened as we progressed in class, giving everyone the impression that he might be harbouring one neurological disorder or the other. Not exactly so, as something happened in our penultimate year. That year, names of students who obtained admission with forged credentials were published and pasted on some entrance doors. To our chargrin, the dude made the ignoble list of what was entitled; ‘students whose names failed WAEC verification’.
It was then that we discovered that X had no medical condition but had all along been a prisoner within his very own self, ever agitated and worried about possible expulsion, following what he did and considering himself disentitled to happiness until he left the university undetected. That is what certificate forgery can do to the human soul.
Governor Peter Mbah who’s wasting everybody’s time at the tribunal to prove an offence he knew he committed, cannot deny ever being worried that the guy he contracted to fix an NYSC discharge certificate for him, might screw up especially when he heard about what happened to Kemi Adeosun, the former federal Minister. Then he had begun to nurse a governorship ambition and had to dismiss any such premonition on the basis of wishful thinking that he was not Kemi Adeosun.
When the whole thing later backfired, Mr Mbah hastened to the NYSC headquarters, feigning surprise and bewilderment, as though someone else hired the certificate racketeer for him after he absconded from the youth service to pick a job at the Enugu government House.
Although Peter Mbah kept a brave face while the scandal raged on, and continually reassured his supporters that there was no cause for alarm, having according to him, completed his youth service and was *honourably* discharged, he never relented in fighting the battle of his life.
From one military general to another, one northern Emir or political leader to another, pressure was heavily mounted on the NYSC to disclaim its own disclaimer on Peter Mbah. When the organization refused, leaving Mbah to do the refutation all by himself, stuttering as he did, everyone knew that the Owo born politician was in deep trouble.
Grapevine, reported that a former Governor of the old Anambra State Chief Jim Nwobodo, assured Mbah that he would use his connections to put out what was already turning into a conflagration. Jim and many others attempted but failed, following which the Director General of the NYSC; Brigadier General Ahmed Dogara, was said to have received death threats from unknown persons. The soldier, not used to tolerating threats, came out on national television to give Nwa Mbah a bloody nose.
Left without any viable option, Mbah was advised by his lawyers to sue the NYSC not necessarily to claim damages but to provide a springboard upon which he could later come up with an interlocutory application to stop the NYSC from testifying against him at the tribunal, using any possible subterfuge. The rules of most courts require that for any interlocutory application to be entertained, there must have existed a substantive suit upon which it was predicated.
The entire plot collapsed when both the Federal High Court Abuja and the Court of Appeal rejected what they saw as an outlandish application designed to suppress evidence, an exact antithesis of what the courts stand for. The Court of Appeal particularly gave the NYSC Director General a matching order to appear before the election tribunal in Enugu to give evidence as a subpoenaed witness. The NYSC did just that by not only appearing and testifying at the tribunal but also tendering evidence to show that Peter Mbah’s discharge certificate did not emanate from it.
Having failed woefully to stop the organization, Peter knew that his game was up. Nonetheless, he needed to stop any further damage by doing anything in his power to prevent the Labour Party from also succeeding in other grounds of their petition, even if ground one alone was enough to dislodge him. Consequently, the embattled governor, used the Enugu State Resident Electoral Commissioner Mr Chukwuemeka Chukwu ( he had always used) to prevent the forensic expert hired by the Labour Party to inspect the BVAS used in the conduct of March 18th gubernatorial election, including those of Owo and Ugbawka, from doing so.
The corrupt REC, it was gathered, alerted the PDP of the proposed inspection and which instantly mobilized thugs to the state INEC headquarters, causing enormous commotion and stopping inspection of any kind from taking place within the premises, even when the Labour Party had a court order authorizing it to do so. This impunity lasted for days until the tribunal ordered a substituted service on the REC to appear in court with the BVAS in question, for inspection in the open court.
Even then, the heavily compromised Enugu REC sent a representative who appeared in court without the specific BVAS requested, while deliberately failing to bring along those of Owo and Ugbawka where monumental over-voting reportedly took place. The overall game plan was to frustrate the inspection since the day being a Sunday, was the very last the Labour Party and Chijioke Edeoga had to close their case.
When asked why, the Enugu REC’s representative, one Ezeokafor, told the court that he did not come with the specific BVAS contained in the subpoena, due to unavoidable constraints occasioned by the coding of the machines. On why the ones brought to the court could not be opened, the official responded that they needed activation before use.
At the end, Peter Mbah and his partners in forgery and election manipulation, succeeded in frustrating the inspection of the BVAS but not without leaving a huge impression on the judges that something was being desperately hidden in complicity with the INEC.
As Peter Mbah closes his defence, the questions are; how has his primitive battle to suppress evidence helped his case? What really did he achieve spending billions, buying individuals and institutions including the INEC, just to stifle evidence ?
MBAH’S CHANCES ON GROUND ONE OF THE PETITION
Subject to the authority of the tribunal to make its findings and reach a decision, most observers are unanimous in their conclusion that Chijioke Edeoga and the Labour Party have strongly and successfully proved ground one of their petition by showing that the 2nd Respondent, Peter Mbah, is constitutionally disqualified from contesting the governorship election conducted on 18th March 2023. The combined effect of section 182(j) of the 1999 constitution and section 134 of the Electoral Act, 2022 makes that inescapable.
The physical appearance at the tribunal by an NYSC witness who not only testified against Peter Mbah but also tendered documents against him, is considered by many as a novel coup de grace.
Despite this clear reality, some layabouts have gone to town claiming that the stamp of the NYSC having been affixed on Mbah’s forged certificate, gives him a fighting chance since it implied that the NYSC, despite their negative evidence, approved of the certificate. This narrative which obviously originated from one of Mbah’s frustrated lawyers during cross examination, is hollow and ludicrous.
For the benefit of laymen, certification of a public document connotes custody and not authorship or approval. As a secondary evidence, when tendered in court, a document certified by a public institution as a public document, only shows custody of the original copy at the material time and nothing else.
The INEC for example is a case in point. It takes delivery of documents submitted to it by politicians, and gives them out in certified copies to whoever might request for them, in accordance with the provisions of both the Electoral Act and the Freedom of Information Act. The certified documents it gives out cannot therefore mean that they were made, authored or approved by the INEC as an organization.
MBAH’S CHANCES ON OTHER GROUNDS
As to the other grounds of the Labour Party’s petition, which could be proved by evidence obtained from the BVAS and which was not produced, the law is not silent on the matter. The principle of withholding evidence clearly states that evidence which could be produced and not produced, is presumed to be unfavourable to the party which witholds it. For the INEC to consistently defy court orders to produce the BVAS which only it has custody, and eventually bringing wrong ones which could not even be opened for inspection, there is absolutely nothing preventing the tribunal from invoking the principle in respect of the other grounds of the petition.
Mr Ezeokafor who appeared in court to represent the INEC following a court order, made a fatal admission and one which has made any further proof of ground two and three of the Labour Party’s petition, a mere supplusage. His evidence actually made nonsense of all the energy and resources put in by Mbah to prevent access to the BVAS.
Under cross examination by Chijioke Edeoga’s counsel, the INEC officer admitted as follows;
COUNSEL ; witness, since you did not bring the correct and complete BVAS as ordered by the court for inspection and the ones you brought cannot be opened, having not been activated according to you, is it right for the court to presume that the content of the BVAS are the same as the ones contained in the certified true copies the petitioner supplied?
With the above admission, the two other grounds of Chijioke Edeoga’s petition succeeds with ease as there’s nothing remaining to prove.
Finally, the Labour Party from all indications have delivered on all the three grounds and expected to succeed eventually, legal and evidential burdens, having been dutifully discharged. The election tribunal is expected to take judicial notice of Peter Mbah’s protracted attempts to obstruct justice. The court should thus rise to the occasion by upholding justice without fear or favour. Only then, will democracy make sense to Ndi Enugu.