Degi-Eremienyo: When a right to fair hearing is breached

By Offong Nsoyo

When it comes to temporal matters the Supreme Court and the judges that grace its bench are believed to be infallible. This assumption stems principally from their long training and experience on the bench and also on the trust the society places on them to be the collective conscience of the people. But of late this infallibility has come under serious scrutiny based on some judgments of the court. Recently while leading a protest against a judgment of the supreme court, popular icon of the Nigerian protest movement, Charly-boy Oputa declared that his father, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, legal luminary and Justice of the Supreme Court told him that the Supreme Court can make mistakes! This of course is a possibility given that the Justices of the apex court are humans.

In the instant case the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Bayelsa state governorship election has thrown mixed reactions. In an unprecedented move the court sacked the elected governorship and deputed governorship candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and replaced them with the candidates of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). As is usual with Nigerians this has elicited emotional reactions, with few bothering to subject the judgment to critical analysis.

The kennel of the Supreme Court judgment rests on the claim that the elected Deputy Governorship candidate of the APC, Senator Degi Eremienyo, forged his credentials and thus contaminated the election of his principal. But this is aclaim that cannot stand up to scrutiny because in dismissing the defence of Degi Eremienyo that his name in some of the institutions he attended were misspelt, which warranted the multiple affidavits and change of names, the Supreme Court also fell victim to the same misspelling of the names of Degi Eremienyo.

A careful analysis of the names written in the Supreme Court judgment will reveal that assuming that the Supreme Court were to be a degree awarding institution, then Senator Degi Eremienyo will still need to go back to the law court to swear a new affidavit to correct the mistakes or misspelling of his names in the Supreme Court judgement, as a new certificate will not be issued to him for the errors. In the said judgment, his name WANGAGHA is spelt as WANGAWA, WANAGHA and WANAGBA respectively. EREMIENYO is Spelt as ERKMIENYO. BIOBAKUMO is spelt as BROKUMO. BIOBARAGHA which is also a name spelt in error in one of his certificates is spelt as BIOBRAGHA by the Supreme Court. Now if the Supreme Court can make such typographical errors in such a crucial judgment with the array of highly trained human resources available to it, is it impossible that an underfunded an d undermanned certificate awarding institution in Nigerian cannot make mistakes?

If the Supreme Court itself can also make similar mistake in writing out the Senator’s name will it be right to also say that the judgement itself was forged because the Senator’s name was misspelled here again.

The argument has been that since Senator Degi-Eremienyo was not given the opportunity to defend himself and the institutions that awarded the certificates were not call to appear to testify at the court of first jurisdiction to ascertain the genuiness of certificate, the Apex court would have refered the matter back to the High Court.

Afterall fair trial ensures that a person can not be convicted unless the court follows just process. Fair trail is very key in any legal system, the right to fair trial is an essential safeguard of just society and its importance can not be overstated, it is an essential guarantee of the rule of law.

In a political clime where sentiments rule over objective reasoning it is easier to conclude that a victim serial institutional mistakes and incompetence should pay for circumstances beyond his, because it suits our political interests rather than insist that the right thing should be done by verifying from the institutions if the actually issued those certificates and are responsible for those errors. In its rush to conclude that the victim was indeed was responsible for misspelling his name, the Supreme Court also became guilty of the same offence of misspelling of names, further compounding the victims plight. The Supreme Court has to correct itself as the names and spellings in the judgment are not that of Senator Degi Eremienyo.

Degi Eremienyo is simply a victim of a bizarre political culture that is devoid of honour and principle. It is a culture were politics is equated with war and where pulling down an opponent is seen as right no matter how murky the weapon employed seems. Ordinarily in saner climes, once the results of an election is announced, the losers congratulate the winners and goes back immediately to the drawing board to prepare for the next election. But sadly in our own case this is not done. Every attempt is made to exploit the judiciary and find loop holes to manipulate and truncate the mandates freely given by the electorates to their choices.

Today it is Degi Eremienyo, tomorrow it will certainly be another person and the country will be the loser. Frequent intervention of the judiciary and the truncating of popular mandates, delegitimizes democracy, alienates the civic populace from the electoral process and puts a huge question mark on the integrity of the electoral process. Why go out to vote during elections when the Supreme Court can jettison the popular will for all manner of flimsy and cooked up petitions.

It is sad that the crux of the Bayelsa State governorship election petition was not determined based on the integrity or lack of, of the election itself but on the integrity of certificates which Senator Degi Erimienyo, as the Supreme Court has ably demonstrated, had no control over. Senator Eremienyo was not present when those certificates were being prepared to avert his names being misspelt.

It is curious that a man who has been in the public glare for a long time was not availed of the opportunity to defend himself. More curious still, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) the body vested with the powers to screen and clear citizens for elections was not ordered to investigate the names on the certificates with various issuing institution to verify the consistency of the names on the certificates with the names on the archives of the institutions. There were so many things the Supreme Court should have done to ensure fairness and justice, but choose to go a different route.

The Supreme Court alluded to fraudulent certificates even when nobody has come forward to lay claims to any of the names Sanator Eremienyo has deposed to over the years, a situation which ordinarily would have proven fraud. The various names he claimed over the years all stem from his Nembe traditional system and origin.

As a grassroots politician who started from the very cradle in Bayelsa State politics, Degi-Eremienyo has run the entire gamut of the political spectrum in the State as a Ward Councilor, Vice Chairman and later Chairman of Nembe Council. At no point his political career were these names an issue. they were also not an issue when he was appointed the state’s Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Commissioner for Health and presently, a serving Senator of the Federal Republic before contesting as the deputy governorship candidate of the APC in the last governorship election.

Equally, at the Federal level, he has served as Executive Secretary for Human Resources and administration, at the Federal Road Maintenance and Emergency ( FERMA) and member of the Governing Council of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

Law abiding citizen, Senator Eremienyo is deeply disturbed that human errors arising from the mistakes in the spelling of his names may have given a wrong impression about his person and dented his image politically and in the eyes of the law. To him, most of the errors attributed to his various names were sometimes due to typographical errors. A process many Nigerians may have been victims of due to outright mix up in their names.

Senator Degi in an attempt to right the institutionally induced mistake had secured relevant affidavit as well as publish same in a reputable national newspaper being a requirement for the process of change of name in the country, but that was not good enough in the eyes of the law.

The predicament of Senator Degi-Eremienyo has taught Nigerians new lessons that the only authority competent to correct anything on Certificates or any other document is the issuing authority and of course we all know how cumbersome this process will be..

Contrary to what is being practiced by most Nigerians, the Supreme the court has ruled that the Affidavit of Correction of Name does conform to the proper manner of changing name or correcting a name on a Certificate, and that it is only by Deed Poll, and not by mere deposition that a name on an official Certificate can be effected.

According to the new learning, the procedure necessarily affects official Record and Archives of the nation and that it is after the Deed Poll that the deponent approaches the Nigerian Civil Registry to have the change published in the official gazette.

Because these procedures were not followed, the judicial loopholes were used to disqualified Senator Degi-Eremienyo and the governorship candidate from being sworn-in as governor and deputy governor of Bayelsa state

The judgment of the Supreme Court against the APC governorship candidate, Mr. David Lyon and Senator Biobarkuma Degi_Eremienyo , was not a case of forgery of credentials. The complaint was about a mere variation in his name which changes were not properly documented.

Even though Senator Degi never had the opportunity to defend himself with relevant witness at the court of the first jurisdiction, none of the institutions that awarded the certificate had come out to disclaim any of the certificates.

There is no evidence that Degi is not educated up to school certificate level or its equivalent. He has a duly sworn affidavit to the variants in names and published in a national daily.

Biobarkuma Degi had his early education at Agada Primary school close to Wangaghakiri where he was born in 1959. Degi Eremienyo holds a Bachelor Degree in Agric Economics and Master of Business Administration in Management. He is a chattered Human Resources Manager and a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management.

After a brief stint with banking, precisely the Pan African Bank, Degi Eremienyo started his political exploit in 1990 when he contested as a councilor and won in the old Rivers state under the option A-4 open ballot system.

He rose rapidly as a grassroots politician and manned all executive offices at the council level until 1999 when he became the second elected local Government Council Chairman of Nembe council area.

He has served as Commissioner for Local Government, Rural Development and Chieftancy Affairs, under the administration of Goodluck Jonathan as the governor of Bayelsa state. He also served as Commissioner for Health.

He has also served as member governing council, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta-Ogun state. He was also the Executive Director Human Resources and Administration Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) Abuja

Elected and installed a chief in 200 as Chief Eremienyo, he has remained committed to the socio-economic and spiritual wellbeing of his people. He is a strong advocate of social order, discipline and communal culture of respect for seniority and elders.

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