An inside source within Akwa Ibom State Government has spoken to SaharaReporters about a shady deal Governor Udom Emmanuel and his predecessor, former Governor Godswill Akpabio, struck with justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria prior to the apex court’s judgment on Wednesday February 3, 2015 validating the state’s governorship election.
A source close to the Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State told SaharaReporters that the “negotiations” on how to “capture the Supreme Court” started in late December 2015, shortly after the Nigerian Court of Appeal made an omnibus nullification of elections held throughout Akwa Ibom State.
The source, who sought anonymity, disclosed that the state’s immediate past governor, Mr. Akpabio, who is the minority leader at the Nigerian Senate, had reached out to Justice John Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court to help broker a deal with Chief Justice Mahmud Mohammed and other justices of the Supreme Court to overturn the Appeal Court's judgment.
“Akpabio was instrumental to the elevation of Justice Okoro to the Supreme Court by former President [Goodluck] Jonathan in 2013. As such, it was payback time,” said the source, adding, “Initially, we thought that it would not be possible to penetrate the Supreme Court, but Justice Okoro and other powerful forces made it possible.”
The source revealed that Mr. Akpabio and Governor Udom directed the state’s Attorney General to work closely with Justice Okoro to ensure that the judgment favored the PDP.
“A pre-hearing conference was held in Abuja between the AG, Justice Okoro, Justice Chima Centus Nweze [another Supreme Court justice], some PDP members and the governor's legal,” our source said. According to him, Justice Nweze actually coached the governor's team on the issues they should emphasize in their briefs so that the Supreme Court would depend on those briefs to overturn the Appeal Court's judgment.”
Our source disclosed that Justice Nweze instructed the lawyers representing the state government to argue that, since the maker of the card reader accreditation report did not tender the document, no “probative value” should be attached to it. The government’s lawyers were asked to stress the point that the other parties had no opportunity for cross-examination.
In addition, the lawyers were told to argue that the petitioners’ case was contradictory. “Justice Nweze asked our lawyers to emphasize that, even though the petition contended that there was no election in the state, they went ahead to tender the card reader accreditation report, voters register, ballot papers and other documents used during the election,” said our source.
“Another technical point the justices told the lawyers to use was that the Appeal Court's judgment did not overturn the decision of the electoral tribunal which had rejected the evidence of forensic experts called by the petitioners. Yet the petitioners went ahead to rely on the evidence of forensic experts on the total number of persons accredited based on the voters register during the election.”
Regarding the petitioners’ argument that there was no collation of results, Justices Okoro and Nweze coached Mr. Nwoko and the PDP lawyers to argue that the petitioners had failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove their case. They were also told to argue that even the court could collate election results, where the need arises. The Supreme Court justices taught Mr. Nwoko and his legal team to argue that non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act must be proved polling unit by polling unit.
A senior lawyer familiar with the state government’s arguments told SaharaReporters that they were mere technicalities that should not have been used to settle the legal dispute. He said, for example, that it was not legally mandatory for the maker of a duly certified public document, like the card reader accreditation report, to personally tender the document.
Said the lawyer: “In the case of Akwa Ibom, the report was duly certified by INEC which conducted the election. All the parties, including INEC, relied on this same report in their pleadings. They even said they would produce it at the trial. So the issue of cross-examination of the maker of the report does not arise because the authenticity of the document was never disputed by any of the parties.” He asked, “What contradictions are they talking about? The argument that the petitioners cannot say that there was no election and still go ahead to tender ballot papers, voter register and other documents are ridiculous. What the petitioners said was that no election known to law was conducted in Akwa Ibom State. A election is only election if it complies substantially with the provisions of the Electoral Act. In any event, the said ballot papers were mangled and destroyed by corrupt INEC officials. Why should anyone who said he conducted [an] election destroy ballot papers purportedly used for the said election? The voters register also showed that only 448, 307 people were accredited, as opposed to the more than 1.2 million votes declared. What other demonstration did they expect when the petitioners had used the voters register during trial to cross-examine witnesses called by the respondents which showed that most of the witnesses called by the respondents were not accredited?”
The lawyer described as “nonsensical” the argument that the Court of Appeal did not overturn the tribunal’s rejection of the evidence of the forensic experts. He remarked that the petitioners had specifically appealed against the rejection and the Appeal Court upheld the appeal. “The law does not require the court to use a particular language to express its positions. It is also untenable for anyone to ask the petitioners, in a case like this, to call witnesses in all the polling units in the State. If that were so, then the trial would not have been concluded in one year,” he said, adding that the card reader report and the voters register proved there was over voting in all the 2982 polling units of the State.
The lawyer further contended that the petitioners had established numerous cases of multiple signing, mutilation and alteration of results and collation forms in 27 out of the 31 local government areas of the state.
“It is rather strange for the Supreme Court to just throw away all the evidence of non-compliance and corrupt practices,” the lawyer stated. He added that the verdict left the impression of an attempt to justify a pre-determined outcome. “Does it mean that the judges who sat over this case at the tribunal and the Appeal Court were not sound in law? How can the Supreme Court just reject the very card reader that brought sanity into our electoral process? Is INEC not empowered by the Constitution and the Electoral Act to issue binding guidelines for elections? Where in the Electoral Act is ticking of names of voters as evidence of accreditation provided for?”
According to the lawyer, the respondents had contended that card readers worked effectively, claiming that they used incident forms where the readers failed. “The question is: where are the Incident Forms?” he asked.
Decrying the decline in the reputation of the Supreme Court, the lawyer noted that the petitioners had submitted 350 pieces of documentary evidence, including videos, accusing the Supreme Court of deciding to look the other way.
Our source in Akwa Ibom claimed that Justice Okoro held a series of clandestine meetings with Senator Akpabio, Mr. Nwoko, and Governor Emmanuel before the February 3rd Supreme Court judgment. He said one of the meetings took place on Tuesday, January 19, 2016, around 2 a.m. in the Reiz Continental Hotel in Abuja Central Business District.
The Supreme Court justices read their controversial verdict at night on February 3, 2015. Mr. Akpabio arrived at the court with great fanfare, after the Chief Justice of Nigeria and other members of the seven-judge panel had retired to finalize their judgment.
A retinue of journalists and policemen accompanied Mr. Akpabio to court. Once the former governor entered the courtroom, security agents at the Supreme Court blocked other people from entering or leaving the courtroom. Even before the judgment was read, Mr. Akpabio was heard stating that “it is all over.” He counseled the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Umana Okon Umana, and other APC officials to return to Akwa Ibom and “begin reconciliation.”
Shortly after Mr. Akpabio’s arrival in court, Nigeria’s Chief Justice and six other members of his panel returned into the court and upheld Mr. Udom Emmanuel as the elected governor of Akwa Ibom State. Justice Chima Nweze read the judgment.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to give reasons for its judgment on February 15, 2016.
In a fierce reaction to the judgment, Nigeria’s top election observer group, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), accused the Supreme Court of “legalizing electoral robberies,” adding that the court was “aiding poll robbers” and “ridiculing Nigeria before the global community.”
The United States Embassy in Nigeria, the European Union, and Nigerian Election Situation Room described the April 11, 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State as a sham.