Sokoto election debacle and Supreme Court judgement

Now that the Supreme Court has put to rest speculations about who gets where and who loses what, in Kano, Plateau, Benue, Bauchi, Adamawa and Sokoto states, the outcome of the different judgements given by the apex court would dominate national discourse for a very long time, especially, the judgement on the Sokoto case.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) which won by landslide in all elections but outwitted in the governorship election, found itself in a legal tussle with the PDP right from the lower court to the apex court.At both the lower court and the Appeal Court, what APC sought for was JUSTICE but ended up getting JUDGEMENTS.

However, because the party was  hopeful that the Supreme Court is presided over by men of integrity, it sought for JUSTICE from the Supreme Court judges only to end up getting JUDGEMENT as well.

As the days turn to weeks and weeks to months and months to years, the one judgement that would dominate national discourse is how JUSTICE was twisted to JUDGEMENT in the case filed by the APC against Gov. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto state who, according to INEC, won the state’s gubernatorial election with just a mean figure of 342.

Again, as the dust raised by this miscarriage of justice still dominate legal circle as to how and why judgement replaced justice, posterity would have so many questions for men of the bench who sold integrity for political positions,   

The Sokoto APC gubernatorial case had so many obstacles on the path of justice and only time will tell whether the supreme injustice meted on the APC candidate by the lower courts and the apex court would pass the test of time.

Access to justice simply refers to the substantive and procedural mechanisms existing in any particular society designed to ensure that citizens have the opportunity of seeking redress for the violation of their legal rights within legal system. In its wider connotation, it embraces access to the political order, and the benefits accruing from the social and economic developments of a people; it implies access to social and distributive justice. 

The extent to which people can have distributive justice particularly in  politics and election matters, is largely determined by the level and effectiveness of social justice in the country. 

Access to justice in this regard, must not be limited to the procedural mechanism for the resolution of disputes but should include other variables like the quality of justice delivered, the time it takes for the delivery of justice, the moral quality of the dispenser of justice, the observance of the general principles of the rule of law, the incorruptibility and impartiality of operators of the system.

And for there to be meaningful access to justice, there must be some element of fairness and equity in a system to guarantee the realisation of basic fundamental rights without interference from any quarter.In Nigeria, however, corrupt politicians, traditional rulers and religious leaders who influence judicial officers have constituted serious impediments to the attainment of justice in election matters even where the infrastructure and legal instruments are well-structured.A number of obstacles therefore conspire against access to justice in election disputes in Nigeria as is evident in the Sokoto election dispute where the highest miscarriage of justice was visible. While some of these obstacles are substantive in nature, others are procedural and yet others have their roots in the present manipulative political  system in the country.

In the case of adjudication of the Sokoto state elections tussle, it does appear that a combination of obstacles has led to a systemic inability of the legal order to dispense justice. The governorship election suit between the APC’s candidate Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu Sokoto and PDP’s Governor Tambuwal has finally undergone through the last lap which was the final  judicial test after passing through several such obstacles at the lower courts.Amidst alarms sounded over moves by the Sokoto monarchy and a couple of retired judges to interfere with the course of justice the Sokoto Elections Petitions Tribunal, in its October 2, 2019 verdict, dismissed Aliyu/APC’s petition against Tambuwal’s election citing inability of the petitioners to discharge the burden of proof.To a large section of the Sokoto public, the tribunal ruling was premeditated.

Prior to Tambuwal’s disputed win at the tribunal, suspicions were raised that some Sokoto ‘big men’ were running helter-skelter to skew the judgment against the opposition APC’s candidate.

As the judgment day drew nearer, more revelations came with it, exposing the involvement of two retired justices in Zamfara and Sokoto states as giving additional back-up to the gang-up against the APC. The frenzy was heightened when the media became awash with the deafening outcry from the voters of the state, along with respected public opinion leaders. 

Alas! When the day came and the ruling that came with it, those familiar with the trajectory were justifiably vindicated in more ways than one. No garlands came with it.

The nature of the ruling and the suspicious circumstances that preceded it, further confirmed the concerns severally raised by President Muhammadu Buhari that the judicial environment had been infested with corruption, ineptitude, laziness, and sheer incompetence.Thus dissatisfied, the APC and its candidate appealed, citing several instances of miscarriage of justice by the trial court and relying on several grounds and judicial authorities.

Some of the grounds of appeal were that the trial judges erred when they held that: while some of the said certifications bear the dates of 20/3/2019, 28/3/2019;29/3/2019;1/4/2019;4/4/2019;1/6/2019 and 24/6/201, some other exhibits like p14 and p19 have no certification on them.However, Exhibits P7 and P12(a) have certification but bear no dates of certification. 

They maintained that there is no evidence before the tribunal, or on the face of exhibits P17 and P18 that links either of them to any of the afore-listed certified documents. The tribunal cannot and is not equally obliged to go on the voyage with a view to discover which of the certifications exhibits P17 and P18 cover.”

According to the appellant, the particulars of error in ground one of the appeal says Exhibit P17 which is the INEC receipt which state clearly on the face of it “payment for certified true copy of documents for the 2019 governorship election for 9/3/19 and 23/3/19” and it was duly issued to the 2nd appellant and was dated 17/4/2019.Exhibit P18 which is the receipt of INEC and also stated on it is “payment for certified true copy of register of voters of the 23 local government areas in Sokoto state” was issued to the 2nd appellant dated 20/5/2019 and was in respect of certification of the voter register.

They also posited that all certified documents (Exhibits P1 – P13) were all duly certified by Muktar Ibrahim, AG administrative secretary or Yunusa Jika Kura, the administrative secretary of the 1st respondent, with the respective dates of the certification and 1st respondent Stamp on each of the said documents.

The payment of NGN 1,200,000 which was the prescribed fee as issued by the 1st respondent being “payment for certified true copy of documents for the 2019 governorship election for 9/3/19 and 23/3/19”complied with Section 104(1) of the Evidence Act, 2011. The wrongful rejection of the exhibits led to a miscarriage of justice.

The appellant’s counsel, Dr. Izinyon, in the ground two of the appeal said the learned udges of the trial tribunal erred in kaw when they held thus: “It is therefore without gainsaying that there is no evident (sic) of payment for certification of exhibits PI – P14 before the tribunal, as the purported payment receipts have not demonstrated which is certification they cover.

He argued in the particulars of error in ground two that all that is required to evidence or establish proper certification of public documents is the name and the official title of the public officer that certified such a public document and nothing more under law by virtue of Section 104(2) of the Evidence Act.

Moreover, the appellant had in another ground of appeal raised, he said the tribunal erred in law by failing to make pronouncement on the issue raised by the petitioners that the written deposition of RW5 was signed in his office and not before the commissioner for oaths as required by law.

He said court of law or tribunal is bound strictly to make pronouncement on all issues raised before it by parties. He also added that a witness in an election petition must sign his/her written deposition before the commissioner for oaths not in his/her office or anywhere else as stated in the case of BUHARI V. INEC (2009) ALL FWLR (PT. 459) 419 and ALIYU V. BULAKI (2019) LPELR – 46513(CA).According to him, all the major exhibits were tendered by the 2nd Respondent (Governor Tambuwal) which were relied by the tribunal were tendered by RW5. Rejection of RW5 deposition which includes the said document tendered by him which the trial Tribunal in its evaluation of evidence held to be original and from proper custody.

Other grounds of appeal and particulars of error argued by the appellant include: ‘’The tribunal erred in law in holding that Exhibit R17 (Form EC40G) was properly identified by RW4 when same was not part of her deposition.”‘’RW4 who purportedly identified Exhibit R17 was not the maker of the document and was therefore not in a position to identify same or give any evidence on it.

The law is well settled that it is only the maker of a document that can give evidence on same. Any document not tendered or given evidence upon by the maker thereof automatically lacks probative/evidential value. The findings of the learned Tribunal in the Exhibits where indirectly calling the documents as product of fraud/forgery. The learned tribunal in rejecting the said exhibit held that they will prefer the original tendered by the respondent showing clearly that the tribunal has motive of fraud/forgery to the said documents. None of the respondents including the 1st respondent who issued the said exhibit raised the issue of fraud/forgery or denial of the genuineness of any’’.‘

’The learned judges of the tribunal erred in law when they held: However, with respect to exhibits R33 and R34, the Political Party Agents List being contested, the objection cannot be sustained, for the exhibits are relevant and pleaded. To Aliyu and his legal team, this was another opportunity to test the veracity of the legal system and to further prove his democratic credentials.By challenging the Tribunal ruling at the Court of Appeal, Aliyu had proved himself a thoroughbred democratic who played by the rules. 

Unknown to him and the people of Sokoto, the predator former judges and the monarchy would not be as civil. They went up there too, and the outcome of the appeal, though bitter, is now history and of course, one last integrity test for the judiciary.

The four-man panel led by Justice Hussein Mukhtar, not unexpectedly, unanimous  upheld Tambuwal’s election after dismissing the appeal filed by the APC and its governorship candidate for the usual “lack of merit.”This was note quite unexpected considering that the chairman of the Panel, Justice Hussein Mukhtar is no stranger to the consequences or rulings made in bad taste.

In Sokoto alone, Mukhtar has the record of having made three separate pronouncements each of which had drawn considerable anger leading to mass protests. This may therefore certainly not be the last. At the Supreme Court where APC sought for justice and not judgement, JUSTICE was twisted and in it’s place judgement was given.

The political intrigues and manipulation of Justice at the Apex court has vindicated the APC earlier fear that it wanted justice and not judgement but in the end the forces of evil ganged up and delivered judgement rather than JUSTICE thereby robbing the judiciary of it’s INTEGRITY.
SignedBabangida Abubakar EsqNo 7  Mahmoud CrescentAnguwar RimiKaduna

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