By Malachy Uzendu
The two names have made a bang on the nation’s legal jurisprudence, albeit under different but unarguably controversial circumstances. The common denominators are that the two gentlemen are politicians, candidates at different levels at our national elections (and it does not matter if one is the flagbearer or the stick bearer), they belong to same political party, both were declared winners or were part a winning ticket, both have credentials that evoke controversy.
It must be stated that while issues surrounding their credentials attracted huge attention, the later was more surreptitious and attracted less attention, in that the public had concluded that nothing will come out of it. There was “interest lag”. But with the court’s verdict, the Supreme Court had approbated and reprobated in the matter, so, nobody can correctly predict the outcome of embarking on such a path in the future. After all, which is the precedent to be cited? The body of intellectual as well as the Float Sam and Jet Sam of the society are confused.
Victim of such inconsistencies have remained the hapless ordinary citizen; people who have never really benefited from the outcomes; the political left-behind, who are only good when it’s time to cast ballot. The citizenry have been at the receiving end, lamenting why they made the choices they made since their plight have even got worse. To them, what really does it matter with the Bayelsa verdict? The Imo conundrum has not left them any better.
Looking at the facts, on November 15, 2019 the Supreme Court declared that President Muhammadu Buhari, then candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was eminently qualified to contest at the February 23 presidential election. The court said his qualification, and academic credentials which the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and his party had latched on to ask for the annulment of Buhari’s victory, was a non-issue, as Buhari had satisfied all the constitutional requirements to contest at the election.
Same court in making its decisions known on the petition filed by Sen. Diri Duoye of the PDP against the election of Mr. David Lyon of the APC, held that there should be no dispute about the credentials submitted by a candidate at an election, unlike what it decided in respect of the presidential election.
In determining the suit against Buhari by Atiku, the apex court stated that Atiku’s petition revolve around sections 131 and 318 of the constitution, deciding that Buhari had proved that he possessed the minimum academic qualification (education up to secondary school level), adding that mere attendance in a school up to secondary school level qualifies one to contest for the office of President of Nigeria.
On the allegation of giving false information to INEC in Form 001, the apex court said such allegation is rooted in criminality and must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. On the issue of the discrepancies in the name ‘Mohamed’ and ‘Muhammadu’, the apex court held that Buhari’s sole witness was able to establish that the two names, ‘Mohamed’and’Muhammadu’ belong to the same person.
A panel of Justices of the Supreme Court in a unanimous judgment held that neither the Constitution nor the Electoral Act requires a candidate to attach any certificate to the INEC Nomination Form CF 001.
But a different scenario played out in the matter involving Mr. Lyon of Bayelsa state. Last week, same apex court reversed itself on issue of proof of criminal allegation and its proof in an electoral matter; inclusion and attachment of academic credentials to the INEC Form 001, as well as the implication of differences in names contained in such credentials.
Duoye had argued that Lyon’s running mate, Degi-Eremieoyo, presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from the evidence in his Form 001. Duoye’s contention was that since discrepancies exist on the certificates presented by Degi-Eremieoyo, he had committed perjury, a criminal offence, over which he demanded that his joint-victory with Lyon be upturned.
In a unanimous decision of the apex court, it was held that Form CF 001 which Degi-Eremieoyo submitted to INEC for the purpose of the November 16, 2019, governorship election in Bayelsa, contained false information of fundamental nature, which gave the APC erstwhile deputy governor-elect multiple names.
His First School Leaving Certificate bore Degi Biobaragha, his West African Examination Council GCE Certificate was issued in the name Adegi Biobarakumo, his Rivers State University of Science and Technology, B.Sc degree certificate is bearing Degi Biobarakuma, among others, and all were adjudged a bundle of contradiction.
The court held that he should not present personal identification or documents of qualification in names different from his known or official names supplied by him, without any evidence of change of names. The Court declared that “the documents bearing such different names on their faces and real value contain false information. The said affidavit of correction and confirmation of name (supplied by the APC running mate) does not conform to the proper manner of changing or correcting a name”.
In adjudicating on the presidential election, there was no affidavit of correction of name filed at any stage in respect of Mohamed, Mohammed or Muhammadu. Before the tribunal and Supreme Court were certificates with different names, and evidence of one of Buhari’s classmates. The Supreme Court said the evidence of the classmate was enough and dismissed Atiku’s arguments.
With the obvious contradictions on what should constitute evidence, criminal issue in an electoral dispute, and what is need to be attached to the INEC Form 001, is the Supreme Court therefore leaving Nigerians to pick and choose on such legal points and then leave the verdict to the whims and fancies of judges handling such matter? If it is so, it could lead to anarchy, except we decide that the latest pronouncement is now the acceptable judicial precedent? Our Supreme Court must, as the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa stated, reassure the citizens that justice are not only done, but are really being dispensed on all matters. Detracting from this injunction would invite a resort to self-help, which will breed anarchy. We must avoid such situation and remove this tendency to making our judiciary the laughing stock and appear incredible.