Judicial Independence: What Governor Fayose Should Know About The Akwa Ibom Governorship Election Petition
On Monday February 1, 2016, the embattled Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Peter Fayose, in a press statement issued through his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, in response to the innocuous comments on the judiciary credited to President Muhammadu Buhari, made a very desperate effort to scandalise the judgment of the Court of Appeal which nullified the locally and internationally condemned sham gubernatorial election held in Akwa Ibom State on April 11, 2015.
Ordinarily, one would have ignored the offensive outburst made by Fayose given his notorious penchant for mischief and mindless controversies. However, given the curious timing of his statement, which is coming less than 48 hours to the hearing and possible judgment by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the Akwa Ibom State gubernatorial election appeal cases pending before the apex court, one is tempted to respond to the unsubstantiated and premeditated insinuations made by Fayose.
President Muhammadu Buhari had said on Sunday, January 31, 2015, in Addis Ababa that the ongoing fight against corruption in Nigeria can be effectively tackled with the strong support of the judiciary. Speaking at a town hall meeting with Nigerians living in Ethiopia, the President said far-reaching reforms of the judiciary remained a key priority for the present administration.
Buhari said among others:
"On the fight against corruption vis-à-vis the judiciary, Nigerians will be right to say that is my main headache for now."
In his response to the innocuous comments by the President, Fayose tactically embarked on a voyage and deviated from the crux of Buhari's solemn and general statements and attempted to discredit the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Akwa Ibom State governorship election petition.
In the statement widely reported in the media, Fayose stated thus:
"When your own men are corrupting an institution like the judiciary just because they needed to win back states like Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Taraba and others that they lost at the polls, thereby causing the courts to give conflicting judgments, it is morally wrong for you to go outside the country and complain about such a judiciary."
From the wordings and tenor of the above statement, it is beyond dispute that Mr Fayose is saying that the judgments of the Election Petitions Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, as the case may be, which nullified governorship elections in the three States; Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Taraba States, were given based on inducement and compromise.
However, I will restrict my response to the case of Akwa Ibom State because of its peculiarity. The Supreme Court has already given its judgment on the Rivers State governorship election appeal, though the reasons for same has been reserved to a latter date. No date to my knowledge has been fixed by the apex court for judgment in the Taraba's case.
President Buhari never made remarks bordering on the election petition cases arising from the 2015 general elections. Buhari never accused the judiciary of partisanship or compromise in the discharge of its constitutional mandate. Specifically, there was no express or implied reference by Buhari to the case of Akwa Ibom State.
It is difficult to comprehend why a high public office holder in the position of a State Governor will make such blanket and asinine derogatory remarks against the judgment of the Election Petitions Tribunal and the Court of Appeal in the Akwa Ibom gubernatorial case.
There is reasonable basis to infer that Fayose's pre-judicial and diversionary commentary is intended to blackmail the Supreme Court of Nigeria to reverse the widely applauded December 18, 2015, epochal judgment of the Court of Appeal which ordered a fresh election in the whole of Akwa Ibom State in consonance with the law, the facts and the uncontested evidence corrupt practices and substantial non-compliance adduced by the Petitioners in the case.
It is possible that Fayose may have missed the compelling facts of the Akwa Ibom State governorship election petition. A governor who dissipates most of his time at beer palours and markets; distributing pomo, rice and other ingredients of stomach infrastructure may not be conversant with the hard facts of the Akwa Ibom's case. What baffles many Nigerians is why the pre-occupation of a State Chief Executive should be unprovoked and uncensored attacks on the presidency as if that is the hallmark of responsible opposition.
It is apposite to advert the mind of Mr Fayose to some settled facts in the Akwa Ibom State governorship election petition.
Both international and local observers, including the European Union, the United States Embassy and the Nigerian Civil Society Election Situation Room, returned independent and unanimous verdict that the April 11, 2015 election in Akwa Ibom State was a complete sham and demanded its outright cancellation. Security agencies who also monitored the so-called election, particularly the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in their separate reports on the election detailed cases of killings, kidnappings, violence, ballot box snatching and other electoral malfeasance that characterized the make believe election. The NSCDC particularly stated in their report that "INEC seem to have had a close dealing with the sitting authority in the State." The reports of the NSCDC and the Police were tendered and admitted at the Tribunal and marked Exhibits 12 and 337, respectively.
During the trial of the petition filed by Mr Umana Okon Umana and the All Progressives Congress, APC (Petitioners), several facts were never contested by the Mr Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC (Respondents).
While the polling unit by polling unit Card Reader Accreditation Report (Exhibit 317) showed that only 437, 128 persons were accredited, the VOTERS REGISTER for all the polling units in Akwa Ibom State (Exhibit 13A - 313B) had a different figure of 448, 307 as the number of persons who were accredited. In what could be described as the "8th wonders of the world", INEC arbitrarily declared a phantom vote of 1, 222, 836 and awarded "victory" to the PDP.
The case of the Respondents as stated in their pleadings (Replies to the Petition) was that "there was no sustained malfunctioning of the Card Readers" and that recourse was made to manual accreditation through the filing of Incident Forms in instances where the Card Readers failed. The PDP actually caused subpoena to be issed on INEC to produce the alleged Incident Forms. Seven bags purportedly containing Incident Forms allegedly used in the 31 LGAs of Akwa Ibom State were brought to the Tribunal. Instead of tendering the alleged Incident Forms as promised, the Respondents developed a cold feet and refused to tender the Incident Forms despite being reminded by the Tribunal.
Beyond the fundamental issue of over voting, the Petitioners presented irresistible evidence that there was no collation both at the State Collation Centre in Uyo and at the various Local Government Areas. A former member of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Don Etiebet, the APC State Collation Agent and several other APC collation agents and witnesses gave chilling evidence at the Tribunal that as at 10 pm of April 11, 2015, and the morning of April 12, 2015, the State Collation Centre in Uyo was under lock and key; with no activity going on there. Further, a revealing video clip (Exhibit 6) evincing the closure of the State Collation Centre as at 10 pm on April 11, 2015 was tendered by the Petitioners and admitted in evidence.
Fayose who is in the habit of making unsubstantiated utterances should explain to Nigerians why the person who purportedly acted as the PDP State Collation Agent during the Akwa Ibom gubernatorial election failed or refused to give evidence at the Tribunal to counter the evidence of non collation adduced by the Petitioners. It is on record that one Barr. Emmanuel Enoidem (a serving Commissioner in Akwa Ibom) had deposed to over 20 paragraphs statements. Indeed, the said Enoidem was supposed to be the prime witness of the PDP. Instead of entering the witness box to give evidence in support of the PDP, Enoidem abandoned his depositions and absconded from the Tribunal on the day he was scheduled to testify. He never returned. The Respondents completely failed to adduced any adverse evidence whatsoever on the issue of non collation.
In twenty seven (27) out of the thirty one (31) Local Government Areas of the State, there were shocking cases of fraudulent and multiple signing of result sheets, non-signing of results by any of the parties and mutilation of results.
For example: In Uyo Local Government Area (EXH. QQ1-QQ11) one Joseph Okon Peter signed Form EC8B in six wards, one Samuel Efiok Edem signed Form EC8B in 3 wards. All the results of Joseph Okon Peter is dated 12/04/2015 whereas the said results is said to have been collated on 11/04/2015. Results were also mutilated in Uyo. In Itu (EXH. LL1 - LL10), one Hon. Effiong O. Ebong signed Form EC8B in all the ten Wards in the area, that is Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. He also signed Form EC8C as Local Government Collation Agent. Alteration and mutilation of results in Itu occured in (West Itam 11, Ward 9), (East Itam 11, Ward 04), (East Itam V, Ward 07), (East Itam 111, Ward 05). In Ikot Abasi (EXH. NN1 - NN10), no party agent (not even PDP) signed Form EC8B in any of the Wards. In Udung Uko (EXH. FF1 - FF9) no party agent signed Form EC8B except in Ward 10. No agent signed Form EC8C (the local government result).
It is also on record that the Petitioners tendered a total of 360 Exhibits (documentary evidence) in support of their case at the Tribunal. In contrast, the Respondents; Udom Emmanuel, PDP and INEC did not tender a single document throughout the trial except few Permanent Voters Card (PVCs).
During the trial, evidence was adduced by the Petitioners showing that ballot papers purportedly used for the so-called election were mangled and mixed up in total disregard to the INEC Manual. An INEC Electoral Officer admitted to the terrible state of the ballot papers and could not identify the ones used in the Local Government Area that he supervised. Apart from the 1st Petitioner, Umana Umana, candidates of two other political parties (Accord and the DPP), also testified at the Tribunal that they were not allowed to even vote for themselves. Obong Victor Attah, a former governor of Akwa Ibom State also testified that he was not allowed to vote.
Fayose equally alluded to what he termed "conflicting judgments." Which conflicting judgment(s) is Fayose talking about and how does it affect the case of Akwa Ibom State? The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, in the case of APC versus Agbaje NEVER held the Card Reader to be inconsistent with the provisions of the Electoral Act. All that Justice Ogbuinya who read the lead judgment said was that the use or non use of the Card Reader should not be made a substantive ground in a petition. Interestingly, Justice Ogbuinya stated that the Card Reader can be used as facts to buttress the non compliance provisions in Section 138 (1) (b) & (c) of the Electoral Act.
Faced with these irresistible evidence of corrupt practices and non compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, the Election Tribunal nullified election in eighteen (18) out of the thirty one (31) LGAs of Akwa Ibom State. Dissatisfied with the judgment, both the Petitioners and the Respondents appealed to the Court of Appeal. In a well considered judgment, the Court of Appeal nullified the entire governorship election in the whole of Akwa Ibom State and ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election.
What then is the basis for Fayose's reckless allegation that the nullification of the sham Akwa Ibom election was procured through corruption? What is corruption in the Courts upholding the truth? How can the same Fayose who led thugs to disrupt the sitting of a Court be talking about corrupting the same Judiciary he treated with utter contempt?
Instead of delving into issues that are beyond his knowledge, Fayose should come out clean and defend the grave allegations levelled against him by the former PDP Secretary in Ekiti State, Dr Tope Aluko. Fayose should be ready to give account of his inglorious role in the very embarrassing #EkitiGate imbroglio.
Let me end by reproducing verbatim the timely admonition of the Court of Appeal in its historic judgment on the Akwa Ibom State governorship election appeal filed by Mr Umana Okon Umana and the APC:
"I chip in a word of warning. May this country never again experience the violence and thuggery found to have taken place in Akwa Ibom State during the Governorship elections held on 11th April 2015. Politics should never be so desperate that lives and decorum are sacrificed on the altar of winning at all costs. The descent into almost anarchy as occured in this case must never again be allowed to take place. The supervising body, INEC, is charged at all times to remain on the side of truth and never be complicit in any subversion of due process." Per OLUDOTUN ADEBOLA ADEFOPE-OKOJIE, JCA, in CA/A/EPT/656c/2015 at page 58."
Inibehe Effiong Esq. is the Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD).