By Essien Ndueso
On December 18, last year I received a text from my friend and very senior colleague Iboro Otongaran. Although it was a personal message to me, I feel obliged to acknowledge the message here to avoid being labeled or charged with plagiarism. Before venturing on this piece, I will state here that I made frantic efforts to contact Iboro to obtain permission for the use of his intellectual property, but he has vehemently refused to pick my calls. Yes to cut the story, I simply hereby thank the press secretary to the former governorship candidate of the APC, for providing me this headline. The text he sent to me immediately after the dubious judgement of the appellate court was “No one can play God.”
The events that led to that eventful climax are still fresh in our minds. It was a cacophony of series of inciting, disparaging and provocative campaigns against the Governor and government of Akwa Ibom State, an alien culture that can at best be captured in the words of the man at the receiving end of the attack, Governor Emmanuel. In a statewide radio/television broadcast on February 4, a day after the supreme ruling from the Supreme Court, Governor Emmanuel described the trend by the APC in Akwa Ibom as, “what was absolutely the most vile, vitriolic campaign of hatred, blackmail and character assassination ever mounted by an opposition.”
For those of us who had meticulously followed the length and breadth of the litigation while it ensued at the three steps of the judiciary hierarchy in Nigeria, there were more than enough better seen than heard. It is true that Mr Umana Umana contracted the best media propaganda team and the best psychedelic public communicators in order to create a deep false impression on the unsuspecting generality of the public and even the global audience. Such untrue messages like, “over 50 lives were lost on April 11,” “there was no election anywhere in Akwa Ibom State,” there was massive thumb printing at the State government House and no collation took place at the state collation centre,” “the governorship candidate of APC and other voters were disenfranchised,” all found prominent space in every available media available to the global audience. No one cared to understand that of all the falsehood peddled on the media about 30 -50 people killed at polling units on the election day, not even one death certificate was tendered at the tribunal by the APC legal team. Even their so – called forensic expert who claimed to have examined to ballot papers, was adjudged to be an imposter and his evidences were discarded by the lower court.
But so loud was their ‘noise’ and falsehood that except one took extra caution to look out for the true perspective on this issue, he fell into the trap set by the avowed propagandists. APC paid agents filled up almost every available media space on both terrestrial and non-terrestrial media. All radio talk shows in Abuja, Lagos and Akwa Ibom State were not complete without the paid agents of the APC governorship candidate featuring on a daily basis, to intensify their barefaced lies.
This was rather surprising as it was clearly subjudice, for a matter active before the court to be earning judgements on radio and internet news desks. In performing their roles as harbingers of falsehood, the media scavengers propagated reports that where contrary to what took place in the court on a daily basis. And all pleas by Tayo Oyetibo(SAN), counsel to PDP that elections are not won on the pages of the media, fell on deaf ears.
Like I said, after the tribunal ruling which tended to annul elections in 18 out of the 31 local government areas, all hell was almost broke loose, as the media mongers sponsored by Mr Umana Umana went hell wire, employing all known and unknown strategies in peddling lies and winning popularity on the airspace. Senator Ita Enang, Barr Victor Iyanam and Chief Don Etiebet came to town, shouting their voice hoarse that Governor Emmanuel had ceased to be the governor following the ruling of the tribunal. Enang went further to state that it was only for the purpose of an individual that is to be receiving revenue from the federal government to pay salaries, that Mr Emmanuel was allowed by the president to remain at the state government house. For a highly responsible citizen like Ita, this could not be taken likely especially in view of his position as an aide to the president. For Etiebet, it was simply because the then speaker Hon Aniekan Uko had been impeached, else he would have taken over as acting speaker. Another Ita, was full of venom in his public communication, as he repeatedly told the people of the state that Mr Emmanuel was running an interregnum and does not deserve the respect of a governor. But a lawyer on the legal team of Mr Umana, Barr. Iyanam, made a whole lot of mess on the radio stations. He made it clear that the only possibility for the federal government was to appoint a sole administrator for Akwa Ibom state and suspend all democratic structures. He said since the chief judge was on an acting capacity, he was not qualified to take over and that they were appealing to the President to appoint an undemocratic governor for the State.
With the coverage of their victory all over the media, it was simple on December 18, 2015 for the Appeal Court to ignore the facts, prayers and evidences before it and to rule in support of the APC in Akwa Ibom. This much was attested to by the Supreme Court as it later admitted that the judgements of the lower courts came from publications on the media and didn’t follow the provisions of the country’s laws.
I was present at the lowest ladder of the rung when judgement was delivered and the basis therein was that since one or two witnesses who could be likened to God(Obong Victor Attah and Chief Don Etiebet were referred to as witnesses of truth) had testified that they were disenfranchised, it then meant that Akwa Ibom governorship elections were marred by huge disenfranchisement and so elections should be cancelled in 18 local government areas. By this ruling, over 450,000 voters were said to have been denied opportunity to vote. However the appellate court became the modern day Father Christmas, as it opened its door to receive the appeals and cross appeals against the tribunal judgement. The Appeal court in its widely condemned ruling opinionated that the number of actual voters in April 11, 2015 which was over 1, 200,000 far exceeded the total number of accredited voters of 448,307. In taking this decision, the appellate court had based its argument on the assumption that the card reader was the only authorized means of accreditation as directed in a circular by the electoral agency on the eve of elections.
But an apparently unruffled Governor Emmanuel had asked his people to remain calm, stating that since the God worshipped in the state was the Supreme God on whom the Divine Mandate was anchored, He was going to pass through the Supreme Court to restore justice in the state.
Governor Emmanuel then approached the supreme court to set aside the judgments of the lower courts for being “perverse.”When the counsel to all the parties adopted their briefs on February 3, 2016, it was five hours of fireworks before the seven man panel chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria Mahmud Mohammed.
The Counsel to Governor Emmanuel, Damian Dodo(SAN) had argued that the appellate court in its judgement last December, relied solely on card reader for setting aside the April 11, 2015 governorship election, without considering manual accreditation process as prescribed and backed by the electoral act 2010 as amended.
Dodo maintained that it was also not known why the APC candidate failed to prove in the open court, polling unit by polling unit through the voter’s register how prospective voters were disfranchised in the governorship election, yet the Appeal Court judges in their wisdom, saw differently. Dodo asserted that, “Until the card readers are introduced into our country’s laws, it should not be allowed to be used to cause confusion in our nascent democracy.”
It was also argued by Tayo Oyetibo(SAN) counsel to PDP that the appellate court failed to invite the makers of the card reader to be cross examined on its workability, and the circumstance that led the electoral officials to rely on the manual register as backed by law in order not to disenfranchise voters who had earlier been duly recognised by INEC and empowered with voter’s cards.
“The card reader is a computer and PW48 tendered it as exhibit 317 yet he was not the maker and could not explain its workability. The attitude of this court is clear on this, that once the maker of a document is kept away from cross examination on his document, such a document should be kept away as it lacks value,” he said.
The PDP Counsel also said that the Court of Appeal referred to 448,307 as the number of accredited voters and used that to declare that there was over voting.
Oyetibo insisted that contrary to the decision of the Appeal Court, Mr Umana’s counsel did not establish over-voting in the manner known to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) as well as the extant judgement of the Supreme court of Nigeria.
On his part, the Counsel to INEC Onyeachi Ikpeazu said the tribunal erred by using the report of the police to affirm the testimony of the petitioner’s few witnesses that indeed the election was marred by violence.
Ikpeazu said in the same report, the police indicated that voting in Akwa Ibom state ended at about 6Pm on election day and thereafter collation commenced after which the results were duly announced. “My lord, the statement by the police in fact goes ahead to confirm that election was held and collation carried out, and the police even attached the result of the election as their achievement in Akwa Ibom state on April 11. My lord, it is wrong for the lower court to pick just a part of the report that favours the petitioner.” Onyeachi Ikpeazu, counsel to INEC submitted to the Supreme court justices.
One of the arguments by Wole Olanipekun(SAN), counsel to Umana Umana were that an electoral officer who appeared in the lower court as a witness for Umana Umana had testified that she was beaten, battered and stripped naked and that electoral materials were snatched from her by thugs, and that this was the same occurrence at all polling units in the state.
When asked by one of the judges whether she was present in all the units to attest to violence in all of them, Olanipekun answered in the negative.
Umana’s Lawyer was also faulted on his claim that his client had tendered video evidence of non-election in all parts of the state, as he was asked whether the video captured all the units in Akwa Ibom State, to which he answered in the negative.
But Olanipekun was not one to accept defeat easily, and he pressed on arguing that, “My Lord one of our witnesses, a former governor and another witness a governorship candidate who is even a Bishop, appeared as witnesses to testify that they were disenfranchised in their respective polling units. But this was swiftly rebuffed by Damian Dodo(SAN) who quipped, “My Lord, the lower courts erred in law by ascribing supernatural, physical and legal powers on a single witness to nullify the elections in the entire state.”
It was then that Umana’s lead counsel commenced a round of twisting logic and turning his arguments upside down, saying that unlike that of Rivers state their case in Akwa Ibom governorship elections was not based on card reader information… to which the Chief Justice Mahmud Mohammed cut him short, “learned counsel, you said your case was not based on card reader compliance? We have taken time to study your briefs for the last two days and even today, we took two hours to carefully examine your arguments before coming out here, so if you say that your case is not based on card reader, what then is the basis of your case?”
Olanipekun who was adjudged by Team UOU as one who has never lost a case tried in vain to assert that their case was based on the totality of the process of the election. “My lord, you based your judgement in the case between Peterside and Wike on …” But again Olanipekun was silenced by the nation’s number one judge who told him in clear terms that, “we are yet to give out reasons of our judgement in the petition involving the Rivers State governorship election and so it is wrong to cite it as part of your argument today,” Mohammed asserted.
It is always said that no matter how good a man is in his craft, there is always a bad day in the office, and for Mr Umana’s lawyer Wole, this did not seem farther from the truth. But as a worthy ambassador of his profession, the senior advocate employed all strategies in his arsenal to pull some strings. But this appeared too little too late as their lordships had gotten enough. Surprised, one of the judges quipped at him, saying Wole, we know you and what you can do,” to which the court erupted in laughter.
During the interval before the judgement, people sat in clusters and discussed the possibilities, and phones rang and rang and enquiries from Uyo, Eket, Ikot Ekpene kept creeping in, but the momentum rose when Senator Godswill Akpabio walked in at about 8pm, to the cheering and admiration of PDP faithfuls. His arrival brought a spark of happiness and hope on the faces of the Akwa Ibom faithful supporters of the state government.
Those present to listen to the decision of the apex court included Mr Ben Ukpong deputy Governorship candidate of the APC who led the delegation including Amadu Attai the state party chairman, Ita Awak, Iboro Otongaran, Senator Ita Enang, and Chief Assam Assam(SAN) who joined the legal team of the APC. Needless to describe the frustration, sadness and misery on their faces as they sauntered out of the court building in great depression, because even a deaf and dumb unable to listen to the ruling, would have thought they had been handed a death sentence, as they sought for available dark corners to hide their faces.
The celebrations by Akwa Ibom people, following the landmark justice at the apex court have failed to cease, so also have the antics of the opposition against the governor been intensified. Playing the role of a bad loser is rather uncalled for, and that is why we choose to leave Umana and his team with this re-assuring words of Governor Emmanuel that, “the battle has been won and lost and in any political contest, there must be a winner and a loser. In this case, the people of Akwa Ibom State won…”
Mr Umana’s team had allegedly boasted prior to now that they have the ears of Mr. President, and that the judiciary was in their pocket. Whatever was the source of their confidence, may have worked for them at the lower courts, but at the Supreme Court, it was clearly obvious as Iboro Otongaran would say, that “No Man Can Play God.”