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ENUGU TRIBUNAL: What Defenders Of Forgery Needs To Understand - By Chuma Ajoku Esq..

Peter Mbah.

My attention has been drawn to an article entitled 'Enugu Tribunal: Understanding Why Edeoga's Forgery Allegation Failed' authored by one Charles Okereke and published in BusinessDay (online) newspaper of Sunday, 1st October 2023. As a legal practitioner born and bred in Enugu metropolis, though of Imo State origin, I developed interest in the forgery allegation against the Enugu State governor Mr. Peter Mbah not only because of the television interview granted by the Director General of the NYSC Brigadier General Ahmed Dogara, sometime in May this year or the disclaimers the institution published against Peter Mbah, both of which generated national concern, but also because of the frantic efforts made by the governor, using his legal team to stop the NYSC from coming to Enugu to testify against him at the Governorship Election Tribunal.

Many Nigerians including my humble self were alarmed at the governor's desperation in attempting to use the law courts to suppress evidence against him , something generally seen as immoral, unethical and against public policy. Like millions of others, I became curious and began to suspect that Governor Peter Mbah really had a great deal to hide. Come on! Isn't it often said that clear conscience fears no accusation?

Interestingly, that audacious move by the governor was aborted by the Court of Appeal when it ordered the NYSC to appear before the Enugu election tribunal to give evidence concerning forgery of its certificate, being the only institution competent to do so.

From then on, the curiosity never left me as I attended all the tribunal sittings from start to finish, sometimes sacrificing weekends just to follow up the proceedings and get to the root of the matter. I remember a particular Sunday, the very last day of the tribunal's hearing, when an INEC's witness PW30 admitted that the certified true copies of results generated from the BVAS as tendered by Hon. Chijioke Edeoga and the Labour Party, were the same as the content of the BVAS, while asking the court to rely on their evidence as tendered, since they the INEC, could not produce the right BVAS machines for inspection before the court. It was a memorable court outing . I was also in court on 16th August 2023 when the parties adopted their final written addresses.

It therefore follows that I had a bird's eye view of what transpired at the tribunal unlike the author of the article I'm responding to, who with all due respect, does not seem to be a legal practitioner who passed through the crucibles , let alone witnessing any of the proceedings of the tribunal. If he were and not just a journalist, he may have skipped the Criminal Law course in the university. My conclusion stemmed from the author's adoption of the definition of forgery by the ignorant and corrupt Kudirat Akano-led tribunal which no criminal law student, will agree with. I will not go into more details since this is not a lecture room.

Nonetheless, I really do not blame the writer for jumping at a rare opportunity to make it big as presented by Peter Mbah's forgery case. Two professionals are currently cashing out big in the coal city; Lawyers and journalists. Are you a bright lawyer capable of putting up a strong argument on radio or television or able to write legal articles in support of the governor and which is publishable in any national daily? You are missing out if you're not already in Enugu to see the governor face to face for a plump deal. Similarly, are you a journalist whose articles feature on major national dailies or has the skill to report legal issues convincingly? Your place is also in Enugu and nowhere else.

Major national broadcast stations in the country, including radio and television, have since joined in the rat race to outstrip each other and make the most out of the desperate situation in Enugu before the forgery trial terminates at the Supreme Court. Enugu is really being milked dry.

I took quite sometime to state the above facts in order to show why it can't be surprising to find many more Charles Okerekes placing both law and logic upside down within the next couple of months, just to justify their booties and blandishments, as Peter Mbah enters a crucial stage in his survival battle.

Those of us who have chosen to stand to be counted in the noble mission to rescue our country from the morass of official corruption and institutional decay, will continue to stand by the truth while rejecting whatever largesse dangled by enemies of the people to distort both facts and the law to serve a predetermined purpose. If the current trend in which corrupt judicial officers continue to make the list of election tribunal members every four years is not checked, our democracy could be completely doomed while those denied justice would be justified to resort to self-help to express their indignation. This is certainly not the democracy the citizens bargained for.

For the benefit of those who are not involved to the extent I I've become in the Enugu tribunal matter and thus hoodwinked by all kinds of savage disinformation, sponsored by Mr Peter Mbah to decieve the gullible, I have decided for the very first time, to respond to some of the junks put out by his shameless minions parading as legal analysts.

First and foremost, I do not know whether Mr Charles Okereke the author of the article under reference, if a legal practitioner, is aware that Peter Mbah's own legal team lost faith in his matter much earlier than anyone imagined. That happened soon after they failed to use the court of law to suppress evidence against Peter Mbah at the tribunal. If Mr Okereke knew, he could have saved his ink as the lawyers' performance at the tribunal was nothing to write home about.

Peter Mbah's counsel's lukewarmness was first noticed on 7th July, 2023 when PW1 ( officer from the NYSC) gave evidence before the tribunal. After his evidence, everyone was dumbfounded to find out that no defence lawyer was willing to cross-examine him. Even after the court intervened by asking the defence team to cross-examine the witness , nothing changed and following which the witness was released to go.

What really happened?

Such a high-profile witness left without being cross-examined?

If Mr Okereke were in court that day, he would have sensed like I did that something had possibly gone awry. Two reasons could have been advanced. One was that the defence lawyers might have reasoned that from the way PW1 was sounding in the witness box, he knew too much about his job and could spill more beans about Peter Mbah if any question was attempted . The second reason could be that the panel members having been captured right from the day they met former Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, there was no need bothering the witness as the result of the entire proceedings had already been predetermined.

In any event, the law is that if a party given an opportunity, failed to cross-examine a witness, it cannot by way of address raise or discuss issues he had opportunity to clarify through the witness, thereby making his evidence unchallenged. Can someone drum into the skull of Mr Okereke that Mbah's lawyers' failure to cross-examine PW1 whose evidence held the key to their doom or survival, marked the beginning of the end of Peter Mbah in the Lion Building? Does Mr Okereke know that all the puerile arguments he canvassed in his article are issues of cross examination which Peter Mbah's lawyers abandoned when it mattered most?

Before coming out with his insipid essay, was Mr Charles Okereke also aware that when the governor opened his defence, it was one Dr Festus Uzo, a former Chief of Staff , who stood in for him as witness to give evidence on his behalf? That was the very last opportunity the governor had to state his own side of the story but decided to bungle it on the altar of pride and egoism, not wanting to be humiliated by a stubborn counsel as a sitting governor. I'm sure Mbah's lawyers must have warned him on the grave consequences of sending someone else to give evidence on his behalf. Since DW1 who gave evidence on Peter Mbah's behalf had no personal knowledge of what he came to do, not being the one who absconded from the national youth service or forged his certificate, his evidence was at best, hearsay and which was only good for the dustbin. Not having personal knowledge, also meant that the witness could not be cross-examined and thus discharged to go.

Peter Mbah's only remaining witness one Victor Udeh, his current Chief of Staff with whom he spent ten months in EFCC custody for official corruption and who allegedly owned the law chambers in which Mbah purportedly did his youth service in Lagos, made a dog's breakfast of his evidence. Mr Ude tendered some documents to show that Peter Mbah did his youth service in his chambers till completion but admitted under cross examination that none of the letters he wrote was received by the NYSC as none bore any official stamp or signature of any member of the organization. When shown an appointment letter indicating that Mbah at the time his service was supposed to be running, was serving as Chief of Staff to former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani, DW1 replied that he had no knowledge of the matter.

Then came the almighty evidence of DW3 who claimed to have come from the DSS. It's not entirely surprising that the tribunal in its judgement did not accord any probative value to the evidence of that witness being patently incoherent and unreliable. Going through Mr Okereke's labourous efforts to prove that the NYSC was implicated by the DSS report, as having not done due diligence by keeping accurate records to show that Mbah completed his youth service, I could not help but sympathize with him. I ask myself whether the author is aware that the tribunal judgement he referred to , made no reference to the so-called DSS report having been found to be totally worthless.

Aside from the fact that the report contained a different name from the one the witness answered, it bore no signature, letterhead or any thing else to show that the DSS as an organization authorized the investigation. In fact when asked, the fidgety witness admitted that the organization did not authorize him to embark on the investigation. The much hyped DSS report by Mr Okereke was thus a worthless pile of papers with no evidential value.

If Peter Mbah's case was that he completed his service year but was not issued with a discharge certificate, as in the case of Hannatu Musawa; the current Minister of Culture, an investigation report from the Police, not the DSS, could have been relevant but in the instant case, the tribunal was dealing with a case of forgery. Did the purported DSS report in any of the pages show that Peter Mbah did not forge his NYSC discharge certificate with serial number A808297? It didn't as all what it tried to show was that Peter Mbah began and concluded his service year.

A plethora of Supreme Court authorities have shown that only the institution which issued or issues a certificate is competent to confirm whether or not it's fake. That principle has not changed.

If the Director of Corps certification NYSC as PW1 was not cross-examined after giving evidence, Peter Mbah who alone had personal knowledge of what transpired between him and the NYSC, did not appear to give evidence while the evidence of the so-called DSS , heavily relied upon and expected to counter that of the NYSC was not accorded any weight in the judgment, how then was Mbah's victory possible?

A heavily compromised panel realizing this obvious fact, knew that the only way to collapse the case of the Labour Party was to reject the crucial evidence of PW1. In order to do so, it rejected evidence of all the subpoenaed witnesses , just to give the impression that PW1 was not the target. In striking out PW1's evidence, the tribunal cited rules of court as contained in the Electoral Act 2022 and which according to it, required evidence of all witnesses including those subpoenaed to be front-loaded .

The shameless tribunal believing that it had found the technical loophole it badly needed to stop Hon. Chijioke Edeoga and the Labour Party, hung on to the issue of front-loading. To rationalize its controversial position , the tribunal went ahead to cite the case of Oke & Anor v MIMIKO (2016) as well as Peter Obi v INEC( 2023) to show that evidence of all witnesses appearing before the panel must be front -loaded.

A corrupt judge is by far worse than a corrupt medical practitioner who operated on a woman who didn't have any need for a caesarian section, just to rip off her wealthy husband. In the case of a corrupt judge, his decision has the capacity to make or mar the destiny of hundreds of thousands of people.

Providentially, Justice Kudirat Akano-led tribunal ended up shooting itself in the foot as a careful perusal of the authorities cited , show a glaring incongruity and contradiction with the case in hand. Whereas the case of Oke & Anor v MIMIKO(2016) had nothing to do with front-loading and everything to do with an application for extension of time to file a motion, the case of Peter Obi v INEC(2023) is patently inapplicable.

In Peter Obi v INEC recently decided by the Court of Appeal, the court clearly made a distinction between an ordinary subpoenaed witness and an official or adversarial witness. The Court of Appeal in that case contended that some of the witnesses subpoenaed by the Labour Party's Presidential candidate, were witnesses available to him at the time of filing his petition and who ought not have been brought to court by means of a subpoena. Whether the court's position is right or wrong, the distinction made in that case is that an official witness is one not within the control of the party intending to call him and thus unavailable to it at the time of filing petition.

The question Okereke and his sponsors need to answer is, can an NYSC witness for all intents and purposes be described as Chijioke Edeoga or Labour Party's witness and one available to them at the time of filing their petition? Not at all, hence an order of court was needed to bring him to court as an official witness whose evidence on oath was inaccessible before a court order commanding his appearance and after processes had been exchanged and issues joined. Interestingly, Mr Okereke in quoting paragraph 4 (5) (b) of schedule 1 of the Electoral Act 2022, admitted that a witness requiring front-loading is one available to a party at the time of filing petition.

The pertinent question is, where did the corrupt panel derive the authority to reject the evidence of PWI being an official witness, if the cases it cited did not support its decision?

Mr Okereke in his absurdity also dabbled into the issue of the NYSC discharge certificate not being a mandatory qualification for the office of governor of a state under section 177 of the constitution. Thank God the hireling admitted, as the tribunal did, that the alleged fake discharge certificate was presented to the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC. His fellow jobbers who have been gallivanting on radio of late, seem to have prepared a different judgement from the one delivered by justice Akano by claiming that Mbah's NYSC discharge certificate was not presented to the INEC. Bribery and corruption have a way of disorienting their victims.

Furthermore, even though Mr Okereke admitted like the panel , that Peter Mbah's NYSC discharge certificate was presented to the Independent National Electoral Commission, he also argues that it was not done in aid of his qualification, having already qualified with or without the NYSC discharge certificate. Following in the tribunal's footsteps, the mischievous writer also cited cases that are unrelated to the issue in order to be seen to be working hard by those who commissioned him.

At this juncture can someone educate Mr Charles Okereke in the best language that sections 177 and 182(1)(j) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 are not mutually exclusive but must be separately satisfied by any gubernatorial aspirant before becoming governor in Nigeria? Should he also be lectured to know that section 182(1)(j) is clear and unambiguous and thus not subject to any other rule of interpretation outside the literal rule? Under what authority is the tribunal and Mr Okereke distinguishing between presenting a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission and presenting one in aid of qualification?

With all due respect, the case of Agi v PDP (2016) and Ogundehin v Olubowale (2016) cited by Mr Okereke are totally inapplicable as no such principle was propounded.

Again, where in section 182(1)(j) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is form EC9 or affidavit mentioned? Beating about the bush remains a wild goose chase which is incapable of introducing into any statute what is therein not contained.

The truth is that the judgment as delivered by justice Kudirat Akano is laden with too many pitfalls which Peter Mbah's camp are surely not comfortable with. A dependable source indicates that the governor's camp blames the shameless cash -and- carry panel for not doing a neat job after being handsomely rewarded. A wise corrupt judge distances himself from cases where the law, facts and evidence are so religiously intertwined that bending in favour anyone is inherently dangerous. That aspect, justice Akano was not taught in her bribery jurisprudence.

Finally, the author in one of the paragraphs also argued that the fake certificate presented by Peter Mbah having been certified by the NYSC is a conclusive proof that the organization made the document. That is absolutely infantile . When did certification of a public document become proof of authorship ? The argument falls flat on its face as section 102 of the Evidence Act 2011 as amended is clear and unambiguous.

Under that section, by reason of the fact that public records kept of private documents are also public documents among other kinds, they cannot be said to have been made by the institution or institutions which issued them. Such interpretation runs contrary to the section which deals on all aspects of public documents. For example, if someone petitioned the police and returns later for a certified true copy of his petition being a public document, could it be right to say that the police, by certifying the document, made it? That amounts to absurdity as certification of a public document connotes more of custody than authorship.

Like I noted earlier, I really do not blame Peter Mbah and his co-travellers for clutching at straws and trying by any means possible to bend the law in their survival battle, as they are really in deep trouble. Nonetheless, the honourable thing Mr Okereke needs to do is to advise his certificate-forging boss to resign honourably and apologize to Ndi Enugu as well as the Labour Party for continuing to waste everybody's time. Whether he heeds the advice or not, what is not certain is the very day and time the law breaker will be chased out of the Lion Building and not if he will be chased out. He knows he's living on borrowed time.


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