THAT Nigeria’s democracy is currently under threat is an understatement. It is apparent from the excessive machinations of some political actors who have exhibited the penchant for greed and avarice, particularly in the way and manner they appropriate every available gains and dividends of democracy to themselves.These persons who desire exclusivity do not bother about the well-being of other citizens within the political space. And, in spite of efforts by many patriotic Nigerians to encourage those who felt cheated at the recent controversial 2023 general elections to seek redress in the tribunals and law courts, some mischief makers have resorted to all kinds of manoeuvers to undermine the legal process. They have invaded various Tribunals set up for the judicial interrogation and resolution of the disputed polls.This piece is therefore intended to draw attention of Nigerians to some recent ugly developments in Ebonyi State, where the immediate past governor, Mr. David Nweze Umahi has decided to play as a tin god. It should be noted that Umahi has been making very provocative statements concerning the conduct of the Ebonyi State Governorship and National/State Assembly Tribunal currently sitting in Abuja. Ebonyi State was no exception to the electoral fiasco, which characterized the last general elections. Opposition political parties were violently muzzled by Umahi’s militia organization, Ebubeagu. In the run-up to the elections, Umahi issued an abhorrent “Executive Order,” which barred opposition political parties from the use of public schools for their campaigns in the state. The parties were compelled to resort to the use of make-shift open spaces for their campaigns in order to escape Umahi’s draconian and shamelessly anti-democratic policy.Several people were killed during the elections, just as the electoral umpire, INEC, allegedly facilitated the manipulation of the elections, ranging from the National Assembly to the Governorship and the State Assembly elections. Piqued by the ugly development, candidates who were robbed of deserving victory decide to approach the Tribunals in search of justice and rederess while expecting fair-hearing. That the Ebonyi State Election Petition Tribunal were re-located from Abakaliki to Abuja, was ostensibly to guarantee the safety of the Jurists based on reports that Umahi and his gang, with their terrible history of organized violence, could use subtle or open threats to put the lives of the Judges and Witnesses in danger. Recall that on 14th February, 2023, after the Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki disbanded the dreaded Ebubeagu Militia created by Umahi, following a case of abduction and torture brought against the Ebonyi State Government and Ebubeagu by a former Commissioner for Information in the state, Mr. Abia Onyike, the former Governor mobilized his goons to hold demonstrations in and around the Court premises. The demonstrations which took the hoodlums to the premises of the state and Federal High Courts in Abakaliki was coordinated by the Ebonyi State Chairman of APC, Stanley Okoro Emegha, who equally doubles as the Commander of the disbanded Ebubeagu Militia.Umahi had boasted almost one month ago that he would use his contacts in high places to ensure that the Ebonyi State Tribunal is relocated back to Abakaliki the state capital. On the 13th of May, 2023 during the burial of the father of the Minister of State for Health, Mr. Joseph Ekumankama at Amangwu in Edda LGA, Umahi boasted that he must do everything within his power to influence the rulings and judgements of the Ebonyi State Tribunals sitting in Abuja. He equally told the audience not to worry as he had concluded plans to have the Tribunal relocated back to the state. Umahi had every reason to be agitated about the on-going trials at the Elections Petitions Tribunal, because everybody in the state knows that he was the brain behind the election crises in Ebonyi State. Even at that, his election into the Senate exposed monumental fraud. The results of the two federal constituencies making up the Ebonyi South Senatorial zone serve as a ready clue to the political realities on ground. Umahi and his APC lost the two Federal Constituencies to the Labour Party and the PDP. Umahi lost election in his own polling unit in Umunaga, Uburu in Ohaozara LGA and was roundly defeated in all the five Local Government Areas of Afikpo North, Edda, Ivo, Onicha and Ohaozara. He later became jittery and compromised the Returning Officer who illegally announced him winner despite the fact that over 33 polling units results were cancelled. There are over 13,000 registered voters who collected their PVCs in the cancelled polling units while the margin of lead in favour of Umahi after all his manipulations stood at a little above 2000 votes. In other words the election in that Senatorial District remains inconclusive but Umahi is jumping all over Nigeria with a stolen mandate. What Umahi did in his own election was exactly what he perpetrated in all the other elections in the state. Herein lies Umahi’s desperation and the basis of his restless machinations to compromise the Election Tribunals.As if to bring Umahi’s threats to fruition, rumours were rife some weeks ago that many of the cases at the Ebonyi Tribunal would soon be struck out based on flimsy technicalities. True to predication, on Friday, 9th June, 2023, the Ebonyi State National and State House of Assembly Petition Tribunal went ahead to dismiss the petition filed by Dr. Ezeh Emmanuel Ezeh, the Labour Party(LP) candidate for Abakaliki/Izzi Federal Constituency against the election of Emmanuel Uguru of the All Progressives Congress(APC). The Tribunal Justices, A.D.Odokwu and S.S. Ogunsanya, decided to strike out the very meritorious petition by relying on “Time of Filing as against time of service ” as reason for perfecting the obviously pre-arranged verdict. Evidence of deliberate sabotage is obvious when the tribunal chairman on 25th May adjourned hearing on the petition to 3rd June only to call the case for hearing on 27th June in a deliberate ambush of the Petitioners.Lawyers and interested observers who had seen Dr Ezeh’s Petition know that Mr Emmanuel Uguru would not have any defense on all the grounds of the petition. Emmanuel Uguru came a distant second when all mutilated results from most of the polling units perfected by INEC staff are removed. To worsen their defense, Emmanuel Uguru has no educational qualification, didn’t even bother to attach any in his form EC9 and EC 13. Furthermore, the total number of PVC collected from about 15 polling units INEC cancelled stood at about 11,000 which ought to have made the election inconclusive. However, some legal experts have argued that even the consideration by the Tribunal was out of tune with Paragraph 18(1) of the First Schedule to the 2022 Electoral Act. Following this ugly development, it is quite apparent that Umahi may have started making incursions into the operations of the Ebonyi Tribunals with the implication that justice may have been compromised or could indeed be compromised if Umahi’s boasts are anything to go by worsen by the ghost of Sen Bulkachuwa’s admission of judicial quid pro quo. Already, many civil society organizations have raised alarm over the activities of the Ebonyi State Elections Petition Tribunal. The groups in question include, Oganihu Ebonyi Movement, Ebonyi Peoples Vanguard, Eastern Renaissance Movement and Worried Nigerians Citizens. The groups have jointly and severally urged the Tribunals in Ebonyi State to uphold the Rule of Law. While restating the legal maxim that, “justice should not only be done but should be seen to be done”, the groups also appealed to the Tribunals to, “keep to the facts and law without recourse to vague technicalities so as not to set wrong precedent that justice is up for sale to the highest bidders in the eyes of the people.” Let me end this opinion article by calling on the National Judicial Committee(NJC) to monitor the conduct of its Judicial Officers in the field, especially those currently handling the on-going Electoral Petitions meant to resolve the controversies arising from the 2023 general elections. Judges who work to undermine the objectives for setting up the Tribunals should be sanctioned, while reckless political actors such as David Umahi should be subjected to legal censorship to curtail their capacity for orchestrating acts capable of lowering the lofty image of our sacred temples of justice. Umahi’s plan to torpedo the cases at the Tribunal must fail like the counsel of Ahitophel. As for Dr Ezeh’s petition, he must not allow himself to he discouraged. It is expected that by now, his lawyers should be perfecting the processes to appeal against the heavy-handed and hasty decision of the Tribunal.
Interestingly, Ezeh’s team seem to understand that all the gimmicks are intended to destroy his petition, weaken the resolve of those who were cheated at the polls and use time constraint to deny them justice. Little wonder that state government had already commenced propaganda to celebrate the chicanery. But, the question remains, can these electoral bandits sustain their thievery?*Omeroko, writes from Abakaliki.