If you give false information, that is perjury, it is punishable under the law; it is a criminal offence. Having said that, this is a tale of two nations. The question we should be asking is: do we do a thorough background check when information is given and it is not the first time? Remember the case of Minister Adebayo Shittu, who also did not serve during the NYSC and even came out to say he rendered service by joining politics and serving in the house of assembly in his state, remember the case of Adeosun, the NYSC certificate. There are many cases like that, what may be reflected is the fact that we condone crime in Nigeria even though some other countries frown upon crime.
But by and large, you realize that it is probably some people just keep quiet over what is known until they pull it out at a time and that is not how to help society. We must operate in a way that our system resists anything that throws law and order into chaos and anything that creates the impression that some are greater than the law of the lands.
And again, talking about how tolerant we are to offences and crime. Look at the case of former governor of Delta State, Ibori, who escapes all the long and short hands of the law in Nigeria but he was jailed for 13 years in the UK for a specific crime.
It’s a matter of whether we are really serious because sometimes when we talk about crime, the first impression that comes to mind is anything that has to do with money but really, anything that perverse the law is corruption and corruption has a very negative impact on society.
Here we are now, but in law also particularly in Nigeria, we have the presumption of innocence. This is just an allegation; let’s see if it can be sustained but again, it is a very serious one.
Should He Be Investigated And Sued?
Under the code of conduct and ethics and under corporate governance, you must do your thorough check, even when you are employing, you must do your background check. INEC may just quickly let you know that they are busy with other things than that but this is a critical issue, a matter that you should not allow to come into the system. There are many questions here, let’s assume that this is true, what happened to the privileges that this man has enjoyed? He’s been there for many terms, how do we reverse all those and how do we prevent others, how many more of them are of questionable credentials? So, those are the issues of our country and that is why many are worried that are we really fighting corruptions. Like we all know, there is hardly a society that is free of corruption but the level that we permit is a different ball game entirely.
The corruption should not be the norm and the order of the day, it should be an exception.
What Should Be Done?
If it is established, here we allow a lot of terrible things to go under the carpet. We have the Maina case unsolved, the Babachir Lawal case unsolved, the Oke family, and several other cases like that unresolved. We still have cases pending against Orji Uzor Kalu who just won a seat in the Senate and he is still contesting the seat of the deputy senate president, we have an issue in court against Akpabio who migrated to and became a saint.
Even the Chairman of APC himself, Adams Oshiomhole, said to politicians that all you need to do is to come to our party and your sins are forgiven. He himself even has some cases hanging over him so it is a tale of a great nation that needs a thorough cleansing to start moving in the direction of national development.
Rotimi Jacobs (SAN)
There are a lot of issues involved in it, the alteration of the constitution, particularly the first alteration; they have whittled down the effect of conviction as a disqualification to contest an election.
Look at Section 66 of the constitution; they have whittled down that section considerably with the alteration by National assembly. What they are doing now is that even if somebody is convicted and it is up to ten years, that conviction would no longer have any effect on his qualification. If he is convicted for fraud, dishonesty, it is no longer a ground for him not to contest election as a member of House of Representatives or the Senate.
The conviction they are talking about was raised in 2003, so you know how many years now. Under that Section 66, it can no longer be a ground to disqualify him because the conviction they are talking about must be for a period of fewer than ten years and if there is an appeal, to show you the ridiculous nature of the amendment that the National Assembly has just passed, just personal thing, we have been unlucky with them, they now say even if it has been an appeal on it, even conviction of sentence to death, they can still contest so long there is an appeal.
Those things were made to favour before a mere indictment was enough o disqualify someone. They removed all those things and then now have a different law. So, it is no longer straightforward as it used to be. A conviction that has been for up to twenty years, what effect will it have in line with our constitution?
So, if he effectively deposed to an affidavit, assuming that he was even convicted in the eyes of the law and by the requirement of Section 66, the conviction that they rely on, we can’t say it was false and was he deposed to was false because, in the eyes of the law, that is no longer a conviction under the constitution.
You can charge somebody for deposing an affidavit that is not true, somebody can be charged for perjury but he has not been charged for it.
Should INEC Investigate and Sue Him?
It is not INEC that will investigate, the complaint should be made to security, police so that he can be investigated but they themselves have said, they have raised this issue before, the court has made a pronouncement on it that there was no conviction against him.
Justice Kafarati of Federal High Court has earlier made a conviction that he has never been convicted. They themselves are showing the judgment to show that there was no conviction anywhere.
That is where we are, it is not as straightforward as that, that pronouncement and nobody appealed against those judgments and the judgment stand forever. It’s just noise now over this issue, I don’t think there is any serious thing out of it. We are not monitoring the process of amendment of our constitution and our law. The National Assembly that we have right from the beginning is having their own interest, personal interest because when I look at the first alteration and second alteration of Section 66, I think it is very bad. In other jurisdiction where there is an allegation of fraud, you step down and allow the process to go through, if you are free, then you come back. In our own clime, it is not so, they are now even saying that if you are convicted, even for murder, then you can still contend, so long as you file an appeal. I have never seen that kind of law before, they amended it like that and everybody is hailing them.
The legal implication is perjury but first of all, you need to determine whether he has vowed under oath because there is a difference between being convicted and being found liable for professional misconduct. If you are found liable for professional misconduct, they don’t use the word convict in that place. It is different from when you are tried in a criminal trial and you are convicted. Being found liable for professional misconduct must be distinguished from being convicted for a criminal offence you have committed.
We must understand what actually transpired in the state of Georgia whether it was a pure criminal trial where he was pronounced guilty or it was a trial process in which he was found liable or professional misconduct. If we don’t do that distinction, we'll run into a problem.
If he’s accused of perjury, that can only be taken down by security agencies, they would invite him and then take his evidence and they would produce their own evidence and start the trial process. I doubt if anyone can remove Gbajabiamila now through court process i.e. either by way of pre- or a post-election petition, because if it is a pre-election petition, the time with which you have to file the action for pre-election matter has elapsed, if it is a post-election petition, the time also to go to court has also elapsed because the electoral act has this provision in the law.
Now, I’m very doubtful whether anyone can sustain it because INEC has announced him the winner of the election so you can’t go back to INEC to complain. The only competent authority now that can deal with the issue is the court and in choosing the court now, you must also be careful with the processes. What are you actually going to the court for, are you using for pre-election petition talking about qualification, are you within the time to bring that petition as pre-election matter, if you also coming as post-election after the election has been conducted and he has been declared as the winner, are you also within the time of post-election petition?
Is He Still Qualified To Be A Lawmaker?
You must go to court and do it within the time allowed by the law. There is a time within which you come to court to talk about his qualification to run for an election. You must consider whether you are doing it within the time allowed by the electoral act.
These are issues we have to a look at it is a very complex issue. If you are saying that he lied under the oath, it rather becomes a security matter.
Should INEC Have Investigated?
They will do but you have to provide the evidence against the person before they do. What if they are not aware of it? There must be information for them because they might not have the information, as they are not God. Somebody must say this person has lied and the issue can be brought back but in absence of any evidence against anybody, they cannot be investigating. It’s a bit complex.
There is also an issue of morality; you know the effect of morality in Nigeria politics. Nigeria politician does not resign on moral ground. If you are going to attack him now, it will be on a moral issue that he has been found liable for professional misconduct.
I went through the published judgment, it is not clear whether he was convicted of a crime or found liable for professional misconduct, and it was like the trial was for professional misconduct and not criminal trial.
There is a lot of version of what actually transpired. We need to find out if he was convicted, which is something that is a lot of controversies because this is somebody that has been in the House of Representatives for a very long time, he has risen to be the majority leader and even sought speakership appointment in the Eight Assembly. There is nobody who can also doubt him in terms of competent, integrity and capacity.
So, we should be very wary of this late minute allegation on the eve of the election for the speakership when he is to be the candidate to be.
I am very skeptical about the propriety and authenticity of the allegation. That does not take away the fact that we need to do a thorough investigation to find out if indeed he has any skeleton in his cupboard.
I am of the view that this is an attempt to blackmail him out of the race by elements that are opposed to his candidacy. That is open to investigation and I think that should be the option we should embrace, thorough investigation because reputation are very important. Reputations of individuals should not be maligned unnecessarily without cogent evidence.
Should INEC Have Investigated Him?
INEC may not have the capacity to be able to carry out in-depth investigations about assertions made about various candidates but those who have information are the ones to volunteer such to security agencies because when there is any false allegation or representation, it is at the realm of criminality and that is the domain of law enforcement agency. If anybody has any information, they are free to volunteer such information to relevant agency including the Police. To say INEC should also be saddled with this responsibility would be asking too much considering the fact that the hands of INEC are full. They may not have the logistics to trace these allegations to finality but people who have information are entitled to volunteer such and law enforcement agencies are entitled to investigate such information and verify them thoroughly with a view to bringing them to book.