Image: Senators Uzodinma & Izunaso
The Election petitions Tribunals have being turning in verdicts in the different categories of electoral disputes that arose from the April 2015 General Elections with many of such judgments not going down well with keen observers.
Imo State is of particular interest because both the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party have had changing fortunes in such a way that many of their supposedly elected officials have had their election victories overturned. APC and PDP have in equal measures suffered spectacular judicial successes and failures going by the outcomes so far of the first courts of instance that adjudicated the various election disputes in Imo State to be precise.
There have however been a lot of shocks and surprises because in Imo West Senatorial zone whereby the popular expectation of people that the election victory awarded to Mr Hope Uzodinma of the PDP as the winner would be overturned and a rerun ordered, the Tribunal in their own inexplicable wisdom validated and approved the election of Uzodinma and dismissed the petition of the APC’S Senator Ositadinma Izunaso for failing to prove beyond reasonable doubts that the election was marred by irregularities. The Tribunal also hammered Senator Izunaso’s legal team for abandoning the salient issues it initially raised in their originating prayers.
This judicial decision validating Hope Uzodinma as the Senator representing Imo West is likened to what the late Musical legend Mr Fela Anikulapo Kuti would call ‘government magic’ because the World read a news story during the course of this disputed 2015 general election that Mr Hope Uzodinma was caught red-handedly allegedly thumb-printing ballot papers inside his Country home. Uzodimma denied these allegations.
How come that a man allegedly caught on the wrong side of the law has now received judicial licence of the same election during which news report told the whole World that he was caught cheating? Shockingly, the Nigeria Police Force that reportedly carried out the said arrest appeared as a respondent in this same matter and gave a clean bill of health. Could it be that some under the table deals may have taken place and the police operatives have entered an accord to pretend not to have seen any evil or heard any evil during the said election in Orlu/Imo West Senatorial zone? Your guess is as good as mine.
Is it only in Nigeria that the law is meant to look truly like an ass? The panel that gave this ridiculous verdict against the APC senatorial candidate in Imo West is composed of Justices Ali Garba (as Chairman); M. N Obi; and D.M. Iguese as members and the 73 pages judgment was read on October 13th 2015. IZUNASO instructively has appealed.
But this was how news reporters narrated the story of what transpired at the election proper in Imo West Senatorial zone: “Senator Hope Uzodinma of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been arrested for thumb-printing ballot papers at a private residence during the gubernatorial election rerun in Oru East Local Government Area of Imo State.”
Arrested alongside Mr. Uzodinma were his uncle and elder sister, so said Premium Times.
However, while his uncle and sister were detained, Mr. Uzodimma was released on personal recognition, so said premium times in a reported carried on the day of that incident.
A top police source involved in providing security in the area told PREMIUM TIMES that soon after his release, Mr. Uzodinma’s supporters in the area set bonfires on the road to prevent the police from taking his relations away.
The police had to call for reinforcement from the army and officials of the secret police, the State Security Service before the bonfires and hoodlums were cleared and his relations carted away to be detained in the state capital, Owerri.
Meanwhile, the rerun election in the local government was almost marred by pockets of violence and irregularities, Premium Times reported.
Premium Times is one of the most respected online newspapers in Nigeria and so is somehow reliable. But this story didn’t see the light of the day in most other print dailies thus sparking off the suspicions that money bags may have killed the story even as Senator Uzodinma stoutly denied ever been arrested for election fraud. Premium Times reported further that at Oru East Local Government Area, which has majority of the Polling Units where rerun election were held, some officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were caught thumb-printing ballot papers in favour of one of the political parties.
Also arrested were fake INEC officials who posed as Returning Officers at the collation centre.
The Edo State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mike Igini, who was among the INEC team deployed for the election, said the INEC officials were arrested at Umumma primary school Ward 10 Polling Unit 008, Polling Unit 003 and three others.
“Myself accompanied by the Assistant Inspector General of Police and Commissioner of Police have arrested poll officials in Oru East involved in mass thumb-printing and are now taken to Owerri, according to Premium Times in its April 25th 2015 report.
“Upon my suspicion, an imposter, who claimed to be INEC staff without proof, acting as a presiding officer, l ordered his arrest and it was effected by the Police”.
At Ozuh-Omuma, an agent of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bernars Nwaokoro, was shot by thugs and the ballot box of his unit hijacked.
Also, one Rex Anunobi was kidnapped from his home but was rescued by a team of Policemen led by one of the visiting Assistant Inspector General of Police to the state.
These ugly scenarios were made evidently clear to this Tribunal but the lead judge simply picked and chose what he wanted to use and he ended up writing a judgment that smacks of a monumental scandal. What a shame!
I have taken the liberty to reproduce the exact report carried by Premium Times to show how shallow the justice system is in Nigeria and to demand that urgent action be adopted to ensure that judges aren’t used to mess up our drive to build vibrant and durable democratic cultures and ethos in Nigeria. To achieve democracy realistically, we must defeat the ghosts of judicial corruption that has eaten deep into the fabrics of our Court System.
The lead judgment in parts goes thus: “The grouse of the petitioners is centered on failure to hold election. Failure to hold election is not a criminal allegation that will require proof beyond reasonable doubt. It is on the balance of probability or preponderance of evidence as in civil cases. The averment of not holding election is not the same as election being marred by violence. This position was affirmed by the court of appeal in Adighije vs Nwaogu (2010) 12 NWLR (pt 1209) 419 at 473, Paras C-D, 479 Paras E-F”.
“The counsel to the respondents had argued and relied on plethora of authorities that it is trite law that for allegation of corrupt practices or electoral malpractices and non-compliance with the electoral act to be proved. They must be proved beyond reasonable doubt as these allegations are criminal in nature so the standard of proof necessary is the criminal standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt. And relied on the case of BUHARI VS OBASANJO (2005) 13 NWLR (Pt. 941) I and CHIME VS ONYIA (2009) 2 NWLR (pt.1124) 1”.
In upholding this controversial election result which favoured Senator Uzodinma as against Senator IZUNASO of the APC, the judge averred thus: “Reading through the length and breadth of the address of petitioners’ counsel, he proffered no argument on the allegation of crime. His address was centered on what he referred to as the civil allegation touching on issues of non-compliance. He clearly has thrown in the towel on one arm of ground 2 on which this petition was anchored that is the election be invalid by reason of malpractice and he chose to pursue only the arm dealing with non-compliance with electoral Act 2010 ( as amended).
“Counsel to the respondents had submitted that the petitioners failed to discharge the burden of proof on allegation of malpractice, we agree with the submission of counsel to the respondents and even the petitioners concede to this, hence they were silent in their address. On the proof of non-compliance with the electoral Act, it was the submission of counsel to the petitioners that the court should believe the evidence of the petitioners’ witnesses and place reliance on them to hold that there was no election in Ohaji/Egbema, Oru East and Oguta local Government Areas.
“He submitted further that burden of proof is on the respondents especially the 3rd – 17th respondents who asserts in the positive to prove that there was indeed an election. Petitioners’ counsel submitted that the respondents failed to discharge the burden of proof that there was an election.”
The Nigerian judicial system needs urgent rescue before ordinary Nigerians desert the Courts of law and carry cutlasses to avenge any perceived injustices meted out to them. The time to right the institutional wrongs in the judiciary is now.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com, www.rightsassociationngr.com, www.huriwa.org.