As the legal fireworks begin at the Enugu Elections Petitions Tribunal, particularly in the case between the Labour Party Governorship candidate for the 2023 elections, Barr Chijioke Edeoga, and the PDP candidate, Peter Mbah, observers are keenly waiting for what looks to be yet another test of the integrity, forthrightness, and consistency of the Nigerian judiciary.
Mbah, who was declared the winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been enmeshed in a plethora of scandals over alleged forgeries especially his discharge certificate from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
In their 35-page petition to the tribunal, Edeoga and the Enugu State chapter of the Labour Party, among other things, are praying the Tribunal to disqualify the PDP candidate for the alleged certificate forgery.
But in his reply, Mbah rather than deny that he committed the forgery chose to state that the NYSC certificate is not a compulsory requirement for contesting election to the office of the governor of a state in Nigeria.
But searching through the statute books of the country, we can establish irrefutable judicial precedence proving that Peter Mbah’s claim is wrong and leaves him with the slimmest, if nonexistent, chance for victory.
One of such previously settled cases is between SALEH V. ABAH & ORS (2017) reported in 12 NWLR (PT.1578) 100; (2018) ALL FWLR (PT933) 944. The court had held that “… the burden placed on a person who asserts that another presented a forged certificate to INEC is proof that the said certificate was forged and consequent presentation to INEC of the said forged certificate. It is not difficult to agree with learned counsel for the appellant that in proof of the said presentation of the forged certificate to INEC what duty the person asserting the positive needs deal with is not the guilt of the person who made the presentation of the forgery but that he made the presentation in the first place and that the proof of the certificate being forgery has been made beyond reasonable doubt.”
Yet in another case IBE & ANOR. IGBOKWE & ORS (2012) LPELR – 15351(CA), the court was even more explicit, especially given that the matter was about the relevance and importance of the NYSC discharge certificate. It was held that the election petitions tribunal “was wrong when it held that the NYSC Certificate is not envisaged by … the 1999 Constitution as amended… The Tribunal cannot be right in its finding that the NYSC certificate is not envisaged in … the 1999 Constitution… I am therefore of the firm view that NYSC Certificate is one of the forged certificates envisaged by … the 1999 Constitution which if presented to INEC will disqualify a candidate in an election.”
Speaking broadly on the challenges of certificate forgery to the country, another court (MAIHAJA V. GAIDA (2018) 4 NWLR (PT.1610) 454; (2017) 6 – 7 S. C (PT. I) 47) had, in its judgment asserted that, “The intention of the Constitution is that anyone who had presented a forged certificate to INEC should stand disqualified. No decent system or polity should condone, or through judicial policy and decisions, encourage the dangerous culture of forging certificates with impunity to seek electoral contest. This Court must take the lead in righting the wrongs in our society, if and when the opportunity presents itself as in this appeal. Allowing criminality and certificate forgery to continue to percolate into the streams, waters and oceans of our national polity would only mean our water are, and will remain dangerously contaminated. The purification efforts must start now, and be sustained as we seek, as a nation, to now ‘change’ from our old culture of reckless impunity.”
With such solid judicial foundation, many observers hope there is overwhelming wisdom to conclude the petition expeditiously to avoid swearing in Mbah wrongly on May 29.