By Chuks Iloegbunam
There is this social media skit on democracy that is forever entertaining. In it, a teacher tells his students that, despite Abraham Lincoln’s classic definition, democracy was actually “the government of some people by some people and for some people.” Government, stressed the teacher, was for those with “bastard money.” He soon proved the point, for the principal decrees the class must have a prefect. Two students vie for the position. The female student gets a majority of the votes. His male opponent receives a single vote. But he had boasted that his father was stupendously rich and had demonstrated it by giving the teacher a backhander. The teacher announces the briber, the class prefect. To the class’s protestations, he asks them to go to court and storms out.
That is Nigeria – a huge joke for which it is the world’s laughingstock. But who really cares? As Georgi Plekhanov, the Soviet Marxist theoretician, said, the dominant ideology in any society is that of the ruling class. Thus, the stench runs through the system – from top to bottom. The courthouse is an amphitheatre for abracadabra. The professorship is for sale, and the Ph.Ds abound that cannot render a single correct sentence. The preacher’s utterances from the pulpit are powered by the highest bidder’s whim. The policeman’s post is a turnpike. Examination scores of the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (Jamb) are for manipulation. Nothing is sacred. After all, what money cannot do, more money can effortlessly accomplish.
Still, things cannot forever remain hopeless because they are terrible today. Recent political developments, especially the youth-powered Obidient Movement, have underscored the imperative of Nigeria taking a redemptive turn. The current chant is that he who comes into equity must come with clean hands. The maxim insists that Nigeria’s elective offices should no longer be confiscated and annexed with the bludgeon of money or the sword of subterfuge. Henceforward, anyone in an elective position must be seen to have attained it on the strength of the people’s mandate. That is the democratic imperative. It dictates, for instance, that the Governor of Enugu State must be someone qualified and deposited in that post by the vote.
The world waits for the Election Tribunal to pronounce anathema on the political heist that passed for the Enugu State gubernatorial election on Saturday, March 18, 2023. The Governor of Enugu State must not be a politician shown conclusively to have lied under oath through the dissemination of fabricated documents. The Election Tribunal must advance democracy by supporting the Nigerian Constitution, which abhors usurpation.
I am yet to have the pleasure of meeting Barrister Peter Mbah; the man pronounced the elected Governor of Enugu State by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Long may he live. I hold nothing personal against him. If we met, I should greet him with a warm handshake and, possibly, hold a conversation with him. But I will remind him that in a democracy, elective offices may not be attained by contrary means. I have, on a few occasions, encountered the Mbah guy in the media. Once, someone watching a video with me suggested that he was charming. They, of course, missed the point severally. Apart from beauty being in the beholder’s eyes, an election is far from a beauty pageant. If elections were indexed on a charm offensive, there is today a man occupying a prime estate around Abuja’s Three Arms Zone that would have been chased from its precincts by koboko -wielding musclemen.
Only last week, Barrister Mbah granted an extensive interview to an online publication in which promises tumbled on additional promises. He would transform hilly and patched Enugu into watery essence! He would seize the state’s obsolete economy by the scruff of the neck and drag it straight into modernity. Take a read: “Peace, progress, and sustainable prosperity are inextricably linked. Without sustainable peace, there can be no sustainable development. We need urgent programmes to turn our youths into productive assets for economic growth and social progress, not sources of fragilities in our communities. Through integrated rural development programmes, we will transform our villages and rural communities to become zones of economic productivity and youth development, not zones of insecurity and misery.”
Even if the above isn’t horsewallop, how is electoral injustice going to birth sustainable peace? How does the crowning of an underserving pate negate fragility? The arguments against Peter Mbah’s governorship are formidable. On April 5, 2023, Barrister Chijioke Edeoga, the Labour Party gubernatorial candidate, and the Labour Party petitioned the Enugu State Governorship Election Tribunal on the governorship election. The Respondents are the INEC, Mr. Peter Mbah, and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The Petitioners are seeking these reliefs: (a) An order invalidating the return and declaration of the 2nd Respondent as the winner of the Enugu State Governorship Election held on March 18, 2023. (b) An order withdrawing the Certificate of Return issued by the 1st Respondent to the 2nd Respondent, allegedly as the winner of the Enugu State Governorship Election. (c) An order directing the 1st Respondent to issue forthwith to the 1st Petitioner the Certificate of Return as the winner of the Enugu State Governorship Election, and (d) And for such further Order as the Honourable Tribunal may deem fit to make in the circumstances.
The Petitioners argue that: (i) The 2nd Respondent was, at the time of the election, not qualified to be a contestant. (ii) The 2nd Respondent was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast at the election. (iii) The Election was not conducted in compliance with the Electoral Act.
What are the arguments in support of the Petitioners’ case? INEC’s records showed that voting in 16 of Enugu State’s 17 local government areas produced the following results for the two leading candidates: Chijioke Edeoga (Labour): 155,697 votes; Peter Mbah (PDP): 143,938 votes. This meant that Mr. Edeoga was leading Mr. Mbah by 11,759 votes. What remained were the votes from Nkanu East, the home of Mr. Mbah. At Nkanu East, the number of registered voters was 36,976. The number of voters that collected their PVCs was 27,594. The number of voters accredited to vote on election day was 7,453. This meant that, even if Mbah won all the votes from his local government and the other 16 candidates each scored zero, he still would have lost to Edeoga by 4,306 votes.
But what happened? INEC posted the following results for Nkanu East: Edeoga: 1,855 votes; and Mbah 30,560 votes. This meant that, just between the two leading candidates, overvoting had taken place by a colossal 24,962 votes in the local government area! People screamed blue murder and INEC suspended further collation of figures, claiming that it needed to go review things. When INEC came from the review three days later, Edeoga retained the 1,855 votes the electoral body had allocated to him, while Mbah’s score was slashed to 16,956 votes. How could this reflect the true count in a local government area that posted only 7,453 accredited voters? Why should this flagrant abuse of the electoral process be abided?
Clearly, INEC had urinated on Ndi Enugu while lying to them that there had been a torrential downpour. This affront is beyond toleration! The Election Tribunal has absolutely no option but to redress this blatant ballot bastardisation.
The other issue is equally fundamental. Was Peter Mbah qualified to contest the election? The Abuja-based law firm Omars & Partners wrote to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), seeking confirmation on the status of the NYSC discharge certificate Mr. Mbah submitted. By a letter dated February 1, 2023, the NYSC’s Director of Corps Certification, Mr. Ibrahim A. Muhammed, told Omas & Partners that, “the Certificate of National Service belonging to Mbah Peter Ndubuisi with Certificate Number: A808297 forwarded for verification was not issued by the NYSC.”
The NYSC went further. On May 19, 2023, Brigadier General Yusha’u Ahmed, the Director General of the NYSC, appeared on Arise Television’s breakfast programme and pronounced the discharge certificate Peter Mbah was parading to be fake. “(Peter Mbah) came to me and I called my director to confirm the certificate and we discovered that it was fake, and I told him. I wonder how elites who have gone to school will resort to black-market certificates.”
That was not all. On July 7, 2023, the NYSC appeared at the Election Tribunal as the Petitioners’ first witness. It tendered under oath “the alleged forged discharge certificate, as well as the original discharge certificate which Mbah ought to have collected…”
Judges especially, but the generality of Nigerians must learn from the DG of the NYSC that honourable people still exist and that a glorious dawn remains possible for the country. It may be that, in some climes, national honours are reserved by owners of “bastard money.” In Nigeria, however, it should be the reward of gentlemen like General Yusha’u Ahmed. As for the Election Tribunal, it must flash the red card. The Governor of Enugu State must be someone qualified and armed with the people’s mandate.
* Iloegbunam is the author of Ironsi, the biography of Nigeria’s first military Head of State.