A group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has said it has identified critical deficiencies in the Enugu Governorship Election Petition Tribunal judgement.
The rights group raised significant concerns about the integrity of the electoral process, pointing out deficiencies and inconsistencies in the tribunal’s ruling compared to similar cases in a press conference on Tuesday in Abuja.
Addressing journalists during the press conference, the group’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said the group’s critical assessment of the tribunal’s decision showed a clear case of disparity between the Enugu governorship case and recent election annulments by the Nasarawa Governorship Election Petition Tribunal and the Enugu House of Assembly Tribunal.
While noting that the latter cases were annulled due to alleged irregularities, the Enugu governorship tribunal’s ruling has led to accusations of undue influence and compromised proceedings.
One of the major concerns raised by HURIWA is the unresolved issue of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate presented by Peter Mbah, the incumbent governor.
Chijioke Edeoga, the Labour Party candidate, accused Mbah of submitting a forged NYSC certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), but the tribunal’s ruling did not conclusively address the authenticity of the certificate.
Providing some context, HURIWA recalled that INEC initially declared Mbah the winner of the governorship election in Enugu.
Still, Edeoga challenged the results, alleging that Mbah presented a forged NYSC certificate to INEC as well as irregularities, including over-voting and the non-use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System in Nkanu East Local Government Area, Mbah’s hometown.
Additionally, HURIWA observed that the Enugu governorship case stands in contrast to the Nasarawa governorship and Enugu State national and State Assembly cases, where similar issues of over-voting and irregularities led to different outcomes.
According to the leading rights group, this inconsistency has raised questions about the tribunal’s fairness and adherence to legal principles.
“We note that the National and State Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Enugu recently nullified the election of Okey Mbah of the Peoples Democratic Party as the winner of the March 18 House of Assembly poll for the Nkanu East State Constituency.
“The tribunal ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct a rerun election in the affected polling units within 90 days.
“The Labour Party candidate, Okwudiri Nnaji, had petitioned the tribunal, challenging the declaration of Mbah as the winner of the election, citing over-voting and other electoral irregularities.
“Enugu governorship is narrowed down to some communities in Nkanu East LGS-OWO, UGBOKA where over voting of 5000 votes took place.
“This evidence- bvas report, voters register were tendered and Justice Akano dismissed it on the account that the witnesses were not accredited by INEC as agents.
“The same document was used in the house of assembly member of Nkanu East who was contesting over voting in Nkanu East in the same communities, and the tribunal cancelled the election- the tribunal headed by Justice Onyebuike reached a conclusion and said evidence is consistent with section 137 of electoral Act and then annulled it.”
The group wondered why the same place and evidence certified by INEC and testimonies by INEC would be accepted in one case but be ignored and disregarded in another case in the same election.
Recall a three-member panel of the tribunal led by Justice Adie Onyebueke had nullified the election that was held in Nkanu East and ordered a rerun in some polling units in Ugbawka and Owo wards where election results were allegedly inflated.
The court had ruled that “The court held that the election and return made by INEC on March 18 for the Nkanu East constituency fell short of all indices of a credible, fair, and transparent election on the condition that the said election was marred by gross substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act,” with HURIWA arguing that the same premise would have been arrived at and the grounds adopted to nullify the governorship election.
The group stressed that “This recent judgement from the National and State Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal aligns closely with the allegations presented by the Labour Party in the gubernatorial election petition, specifically regarding over-voting and electoral irregularities in the same areas.
“The fact that these allegations and pieces of evidence were upheld in one case and dismissed in another raises questions about consistency and fairness in the judicial process.
“In Nasarawa, allegations of unjustifiable reduction of votes and irregularities led to the tribunal declaring David Ombugadu as the rightful governor.
“The Enugu governorship case, however, appears to deviate from this pattern, raising suspicions about the tribunal’s consistency and adherence to legal principles.
“The fact that these allegations were upheld in one case and dismissed in another raises questions about consistency and fairness in the judicial process.
“The mishandling of Petition No: EPT/EN/GOV/01/2023 and the inconsistency in addressing similar allegations in different cases have far-reaching implications for justice and the rule of law in Nigeria.
“Instances of miscarriages of justice like this erode public confidence in the judicial system and raise doubts about the fairness of the electoral process. Trust in our legal institutions is fundamental for a functioning democracy.”
Another point of contention highlighted by HURIWA revolved around the tribunal’s interpretation of the qualifications required for gubernatorial candidates.
The group argued that the tribunal’s stance appears to contradict the law, which unequivocally disqualifies candidates for submitting forged certificates, regardless of specific requirements.
“Perhaps the most troubling aspect is the perception of compromised impartiality in the Enugu Governorship Election Petition Tribunal’s proceedings,” the group stated.
It pointed out that “Allegations of undue influence and compromised proceedings have cast doubt on the tribunal’s commitment to impartiality and the overall integrity of the electoral process.
“While the Enugu House of Assembly election and Nasarawa governorship cases demonstrated the willingness of tribunals to uphold justice and fairness, the Enugu governorship tribunal’s decision has been met with scepticism.
“Concerns have arisen that external pressures may have influenced the judgement, leading to a perceived preference for injustice over justice.”
HURIWA emphasised the urgency of a comprehensive review of the tribunal’s judgement to address these concerns, given the notable disparities between this case and others with similar issues.