#DeltaTribunal: Justice May Be Delayed, But Change Is Inevitable, By Garen Umukoro
I have lived outside Nigeria for six years; getting an education was tough as my parents are anything but wealthy, but I did strive hard to excel in school so that I could have a better life. I graduated, obtained some professional certificates and was lucky to secure employment with a company in the Middle East. The decision to travel was a difficult one, but living in Delta state with all its dysfunction did not encourage me to stay back.
I had never paid much attention to politics in my home state, even while I lived in Nigeria, because the crop of politicians on display always seemed to be a bunch of rotten fruits from the same equally rotten tree branch; as the 2015 elections drew closer, however, constant interaction with my people back home and comments made by Nigerians on social media changed this. It seemed, finally, that the electoral system was about to be credible and that Nigerians were prepared to make the right decision. I made a passionate appeal to my boss and travelled home to register, then to vote.
The election results came with mixed feelings; Buhari won the presidential election and while this made all genuine lovers of Nigeria glad, in Delta state, my beloved home, evil once more prevailed. Elections were rigged to favour the candidate of a particular political party that is synonymous with electoral manipulation and political banditry. This party’s candidate “won” an election in which the total number of votes far exceeds that of accredited voters – as collated and recorded by INEC, the nation’s electoral umpire.
The result of this election was, naturally, challenged in court, but in a decision which has made many sustain fears regarding our judicial system, the petitioner’s case was thrown out. The APC’s Olorogun O’tega Emerhor had proven his case in court – provided evidence of over-voting across the state, and even had an INEC staff subpoenaed by the court. This INEC staff, a deputy director at the IT department, testified in court, under oath, that the total number of accredited voters was 715,392, while the “winner” had supposedly polled over 724,000 votes! This raises a question about manual accreditation, but NONE of the witnesses for the respondents (i.e. PDP, Okowa and INEC) stated that manual accreditation had occurred, in fact, in all the occasions that they were asked, they stated with certainty that it had not.
This is coupled with the fact that INEC released a press statement prior to the elections, making the use of card readers MANDATORY. This fact, however, did not stop the Justice Nasiru Gunmi-led tribunal from ruling that the testimony of the respondents’ witnesses regarding manual accreditation bordered on “hearsay” and that manual accreditation HAD actually occurred. This ruling is particularly curious in light of the fact that at no point during the hearing did the lawyers of the respondents even maintain this position! How then, did the tribunal arrive at a conclusion which can only be described as assisting the respondents?
Ore Ohimor, star witness for the petitioner (APC) also presented a detailed analysis of the voting and accreditation statistics to the court. This analysis showed that massive over-voting had occurred, in 1,847 units of the 3,329 across the 25 LGAs of Delta state, but this piece of evidence was dismissed by the tribunal, citing a technicality about front-loading; the tribunal maintained that the analysis was presented as a response to the respondents’ claims instead of with the original petition and thus, was not valid for consideration. I am not a lawyer and have no idea about the basis upon which this decision was based, but seeing as the tribunal disregarded irrefutable evidence from INEC, it really is no surprise that a technicality upon which to toss this aside also was found.
Perhaps, the most befuddling contradiction in this ruling was the acknowledgment of the fact that INEC has powers to make card readers mandatory and that the non-use of card-readers was enough to prove non-compliance with the Electoral Act, and that non-compliance was enough grounds for the cancellation of an election! Having said this, the tribunal then went on to INSIST that card readers had failed and manual accreditation had thus become necessary, although, as earlier reiterated, even the respondent’s star witness had clearly stated that manual accreditation was not required. The INEC witness had also clearly stated that it was extremely unlikely for the accreditation records in the INEC server to be inaccurate.
While a travesty of justice such as this hurts to the marrow and could have severe effects on morale, I, for one, take comfort in the fact that that battle to replace negativity with progress is not so easily won, and that all well-meaning Deltans must persevere in this fight against darkness. Like in the case of the President, it took him four attempts to get his mandate.
The APC in Delta state and the gubernatorial candidate, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, will proceed to the Appeal Court to challenge this shocking and evidence-defying judgment. I and others like me, who are confident of his ability to rescue Delta state from the shackles of mismanagement, have just one message for both his supporters and those seeking to subvert the collective will of the people – justice may be delayed, but change is inevitable.