ABIA Election Tribunal : Spoilation And The Search For Justice
Last Sunday, it was reported that the INEC office in Obingwa local government area has been burnt down by unknown elements. It does appear the new mantra of the PDP is “ If at first you don’t succeed ,destroy all evidence and blame it on your opponent. That members of the PDP will be quick to blame Dr Otti and APGA as the culprits for the burning down of that office is the most irresponsible and assanine accusation I have ever heard. As usual nothing they did in the past and have continued to do so as to hold on to power surprises me anymore.
These are the same people who during the electioneering campaigns accused Dr Otti of dressing up a couple of men with military uniforms to invade his residence and supposedly to kill him. The same people whose thugs tore up Otti’s billboards , attacked his campaign events in Ikwuano and elsewhere and claimed the damage and attacks were perpetrated by APGA agents.
Again after the elections were held and a few INEC officials caught with Card readers and other election materials, the PDP shamelessly once again claimed the men who were caught were working for Dr Otti and APGA, despite overwhelming evidence that the contrary was the case. Just last week after an attempt was made unsuccessfully on Alex Otti’s life in Abuja, Dr Ikpeazu and his band of media liars characteristically jumped on the matter accusing Dr Otti of making up the story so as to generate public sympathy even after the Police authorities had confirmed the incident. So with their recent accusation about the fire incident, I simply ask, what else is new ?
I think this time they have finally outdone themselves. This time they have actually shot themselves in the foot. Having failed in all their other previous efforts to derail the tribunal case, the most recent being their failure to get Dr Otti’s petition dismissed they finally decided to destroy evidence. Evidence that was supposed to be brought to the court premises on August 10, for forensic examination by Alex Otti’s team. Lets not forget that both the PDP and INEC previously conspired together to refuse Alex Otti’s legal team access to those materials at Obingwa, Ossisioma and Isialangwa North despite the Judge’s order to grant them access. So far they have gotten away with almost everything they have done. Lets see if they can get away with this one.
I am not a lawyer but I know that there is in the practice of law, the “theory of spoliation”. In a layman’s language the theory says, ‘that when a party destroys evidence, it may be reasonable to infer that the party had “consciousness of guilt” or motivation to avoid the evidence’. Therefore the factfinder or in this case the tribunal judge may conclude that the evidence would have been unfavorable to the spoliator and as a consequence may impose a fine, or dismiss the case against the guilty party, while rendering judgement in favor of the opposing litigant. Even though not all spoliation inference may be warranted depending on the circumstance. In this instance the concept of spoliation can be linked to the tampering of evidence which is usually the criminal law version of the same concept.
A good example of the application of this concept was a case here in the United States in the state of Texas in 2013. It was a case named Brookshire brothers Ltd VS Aldridge 2013 . As reported Jerry Aldridge had taken the bookstore to court for an injury he had sustained in the store when he slipped and fell. Mr Aldridge with the assistance of his attorney discovered that the bookstore which had earlier refused them access to video footage of the incident , destroyed some and withheld from them another video footage. The judge found that the evidence destruction and the refusal to provide the additional video constituted spoliation and as a consequence the jury awarded Mr Aldridge $1million in damage. Even though not all spoliation inference may be warranted depending on the circumstance, in this particular instance of the burning down of Obingwa INEC office resulting in the destruction of evidence, spoliation inference can rightfully be made
To any discerning mind there is a similarity between what this bookstore did and what INEC and the PDP had done earlier when they refused Dr Otti’s legal team access to these evidence materials which have now been burnt. This burning is an act which violates due process. It is an intentional destruction of evidence that would have incriminated the 1st,2nd and 3rd respondents. Evidence that were exculpatory to the case by Dr Otti. To accuse Dr Otti’s team of committing this heinous crime is to say the least preposterous. What do they think the Abia people are? How would they expect any true son or daughter of Abia state to believe that Dr Otti who has been fighting to gain access to these materials, materials he needs to examine so a to prove his case against the PDP will turn around and burn down the place, just after the judge had issued an order to INEC to produce the voting materials.
The question now is that what must have pushed them into going to this extreme .I guess the answer can be found in what happened last Friday when the Ikpeazu team lost in their effort to get Dr Otti’s petition dismissed . In trying to achieve this objective they had filed as many worthless motions as possible, cite every legal precedent they could lay their hands on to get the case dismissed. All three respondents were so much in agreement with this last strategy that even INEC did not hesitate to join in the motion in which they argued, albeit unsuccessfully that Dr Otti’s petition was incompetent due to glaring irregularities or omissions. But as God will have it, the court in its ruling and Justice Bwala in his wisdom held that the petition processes which the respondents attacked were proper and therefore needed to be heard. Their hopes of getting the case thrown out on the bases of technicalities was therefore dealt a devastating blow.
However the not so discerning minds amongst Ikpeazu’s supporters have been all over social media whining, why the case was not dismissed as they had hoped for and as they mourn their loss of the first two rounds of the case. The first being when the court ordered INEC to produce before the court all election materials in the aforementioned local government areas for forensic inspection. However one Ugochukwu Uwaoma in reporting his own skewed version of the court proceedings concluded by asking for God’s help. My question is, when did God get into the business of helping out people who steal what does not belong to them.? Maybe Mr Uwaoma never read in the bible where it says, ‘Thou shall not use the name of the lord thy God in vain’. In retrospect I have come to realize that our people have become very adept at invoking God’s name tirelessly without provocation, without necessity and without justification, perhaps pre-emptively. In an effort to ease their pain and disappointment, the answer to their question can be found in the words of this Roman aristocrat Marcus Tutllius Cicero when he said and I quote, “For there is but one essential truth which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. The law is ‘right reason”, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whosoever neglects this law written or unwritten is unjust”. Justice Bwala had the “Right Reason” to refuse the respondents motion for dismissal since in the judgment of the court they could not find a good reason not to, even on the technicalities Ikpeazu’s lawyers had hoped for.
Long before the Abia tribunal started sitting, many in the opposing camp had wondered why Alex Otti would not let bygones be bygones and go on with his life. My answer to that is yes, he could have done that, but it would have been ,letting down the thousands of Abia citizens who voted for him and had their mandate stolen. The truth also is that even though Dr Otti is the one who filed the petition, the real people behind the petition filling are Abia citizens. In doing so Dr Otti must have harkened to the words of Ellie Wiesel, the Jewish holocaust survivor and hunter of German World war 2 criminals who once said, ‘There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we must fail to protest”.
To which Martin Luther King lent these words,” Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice , requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle, the tireless exercise and passionate concern of dedicated individuals’. Dr Otti is a tireless crusader for justice , but let the word should go forth, loud and clear that he does not struggle alone . There are thousands of Abia people both at home and here in diaspora who are with him, who believe in him and his cause because his cause is theirs as well.
Here in the United States the kind of support and followership Dr Otti’s quest has generated is like none that I have ever seen or experienced in my lifetime and I doubt if there will ever be anything like this ever again. These are people who believe that even though only a few will have the greatness to bend history ,each of us can work to change a small portion of events, hence their commitment to this fight. Human history have always been shaped from numberless diverse acts of courage as exemplified by Dr Otti, and each time a man like him stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice , he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope which in time builds a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice.
It is said that the cry of the poor is not always just, but then, the reality is that if we don’t listen to it, we will never know what justice is. There is a reason why thousands of Abia citizens are crying and yearning for justice, for the reclaiming of their election mandate. There is a reason why they agonized and continue to agonize this loss by trooping out to the tribunal venue each time it is sitting. To them as the hearings progresses, let the truth be the aim and true justice the outcome, not just victory alone. Ours over the years have been a country where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails and where one class is made to feel they have no chance before our justice system and to feel that society is on organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them.
Ours is a country where for too we talk about election rigging. Something whose negative impact we recognize and condemn. An act which those who participate in it enjoy, those in power ignore and we the citizens acknowledge but tolerate. Our collective tolerance for election rigging is amazing but when we see a set of justices who seek the truth and stand by the law and who are determined to do what is right, it gives us hope.
Thankfully Abia state is blessed with election tribunal justices who are beckoned not to see the world through a one-way mirror and whose memories does not struggle to rescue the truth and who believe that peace is only possible with justice and information that gives them the power to act justly. Truth that can only be garnered by witness testimonies and listening to the testimonies of INEC officials whose conscience will not let them conceal the truth. As the case progresses we will hope and pray for justice , as justice is the first virtue of social institutions, the same way truth is of a system of thought.
A wrong cannot be made right, or allowed to stand, if it is unjust. Everyone one of us possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of a society as a whole cannot override. Therefore as the legal jurist, John Rawls once wrote, ‘In a just society, there must be liberties of equal citizenship and the right served by justice are not subject to political bargaining or the calculation of social interest”. True justice must be served at the tribunal, hence there must be no inclination to give a wrong ruling so as to ensure societal peace or to avoid social unrest.
For years, Nigeria have come to be a country where rather than justice for all, we are evolved into a system of justice for those who can afford it. We have people who are not only too rich to be jailed, but too big to be held accountable for their crimes. No one expects Dr Ikpezu to go to jail for rigging an election, maybe he should, but the point need to be made for future politicians that if you rig your way to victory there is very good chance that your victory will be taken away from you by a tribunal. Those who had committed the crime of burning down the Obingwa INEC office must be made to pay for this crime.
If and when it is proven that this was an act committed by PDP agents, the tribunal justices must apply the theory of spoliation whether or not it is part of Nigeria’s case law. Common sense and the principle of fair play demands that the culprits be punished by awarding victory to Dr Alex Otti without further hearings .In conclusion I would urge for reinforced security for the honorable justices as well as the court premises. These enemies of justice are ruthless and are very determined to hold on to power. In Abia tribunal justices we trust and in Dr Alex Otti we pledge our unshakeable support and commitment.
Nnanna Ijomah Bsc, MA (International Relations) is an Abia State New York City resident.