By Emeka Ugwuonye
What is the natural course of cases in Nigeria? The course of justice in Nigeria has not been a straightforward journey in the direction of truth. Rather, the quest for justice in Nigeria unfortunately starts by a detour from the truth. It veers off in the opposite direction of truth. It meanders through the bushes and backwaters of corruption, tribalism, intimidation, all manner of atrocities, all in the opposite direction from the truth. Then, gradually, the course begins to stall. By forces of internal contradictions, the perverted and corrupt course begins to self-resist because it cannot sustain itself. Gradually, the course changes and despite the delays, it finds its way to the point of truth. The Enugu Governorship election tribunal is not different. Indeed, it exemplifies that absurdity and pervasion of justice.
You have to take a step back and ask yourself: How did we get to the point where the courts play greater role in choosing our leaders than the electoral commission and the peoples votes? That is the question you must ask yourself first. Once the courts took over our leadership-selection processes, the Judges became gods and politicians mingled into one. The process that was used to get INEC to manipulate the result of an election can always be, even more easily, used to manipulate the judges to give any outcome they like.
The justice of Edeoga’s petition is yet to come. I never expected the tribunal to rule in favour of Edeoga at this stage. I just didn’t want to publicly accuse a tribunal still sitting on a case of being corrupt. Also, I did not want to demoralize the millions of people who support Edeoga and who had hoped that justice would come straight without further manipulations. But today’s judgment is clearly a pervasion of justice. It would have been irresponsible for me to tell you that these judges were corrupt and would take bribe, while they were still seating. I had to rather state the positive possibility that they would be fair men of conscience. I had to talk about their places in history. I knew they would have been staring at billions in exchange for their judgment. I just wanted to divert their minds to the value of honor and integrity rather than the value of money. Apparently, I was not successful in that.
But for those of you who have been following my writings, I did draw your attention to something else. I told you about the controlling effect of the judge’s duty to rationalize his opinions (judgment). I told you that the greatest disciplinary control a judges faces is that he is required to explain in his judgment the facts presented to him, the law he considered and the evidence tendered as well as the arguments of both sides. I told you that the duty to rationalize makes it difficult for judges to play god. That is because in the end, the judge has to be subjected to a trial and the question would be: Given the facts, given the law, given the evidence presented, does this judgment reflect the highest standard of justice under law?
Those of you who have read the judgment of the tribunal in Enugu today would immediately see that the judges failed in their duty to rationalize their opinion. There is no connection between their conclusion and the facts and evidence before them. Indeed, these judges totally dodged that duty to rationalize in the most shameful way possible. For instance, the issue of the minimum educational qualification of a governorship candidate was never in contention. It has been a straightforward constitutional position that the minimum educational requirement is school cert or its equivalent. So, Edeoga never suggested that an O/Level certificate holder is not qualified to run for election as governor. That was never contested.
The issue was whether a forged certificate was tendered by a candidate. It doesn’t matter the certificate. Even if it was a driver’s license or birth certificate. If it was forged, then it disqualifies the candidate. That was it. Sufficient evidence was adduced to show that the NYSC discharge certificate tendered by Mbah was forged. That was the sole point. The judges jumped it totally. They claimed that a copy of the certificate Mbah gave to INEC which Edeoga tendered was tendered in an uncertified form. That is not true. But even it was true, the fact was that Mbah had opportunity to controvert that. He had the opportunity to show the version of the certificate he gave INEC if the one Edeoga produced was not the right one. But Mbah admitted that the certificate Edeoga obtained from INEC’s file on Mbah was the certificate he, Mbah, gave INEC. Besides, INEC was a party in the suit.
When a document is tendered and you did not object to it, it is admitted. And when the issue is that the certificate tendered is different from the one you submitted, you have a duty to show the one you submitted. As regards the certificates, the burden of persuasion rested on Mbah for him to show the tribunal any other certificate he had. It is shocking beyond belief that these judges would do this. So, they lacked the intelligence to find a smarter way to help Mbah?
The judgment is a perfect case for appeal. Indeed, the judges gave a judgment that is so easy to reverse on appeal. I had indicated that regardless of today’s judgment, the case would go on appeal. What I did not know was that the judgment would be so porous that it is practically begging for appeal: It is like shouting: “Please go on appeal, I am a useless judgment!”
This is the power of money and effect of corruption. The true victims of all this are the people of Enugu, the ordinary Nigerian citizens who will never have justice if this kind of thing continues to happen in Nigeria.