By Washington Osa Osifo, Ph.D
1.1 THE MAIN PLANK OF THE PLAINTIFF’S CASE
As can be garnered from the state of pleadings between the plaintiff and the 1st and 2nd defendants, following can be deduced as the main planks of the plaintiff’s case against the defendants:
(1) That the 1st Defendant supplied false information to the 3rd Defendant in his INEC Form CF0001 with which he contested the September 19th 2020 Governorship election in Edo State
(2) That the 1st Defendant has committed the offence of perjury by virtue of the fact that he lied on oath in either the INEC Form CF00I with which he contested the election into the office of the Governor of Edo State in 2016 or that the 2020 election into the office of the Governor of Edo State held on the 19th of September 2020
(3) That the 1st Defendant presented a fake or forged University of Ibadan Degree Certificate vide INEC Form CF001 with which he contested the 19th of September 2020 Edo State Governorship election and by reason thereof he stands disqualified as a candidate in that election.
1.2 FACTS IN SUPPORT OF THE PLAINTIFF’S CASE
(i) Allegation of the Supply of False Information to INEC (3rd Defendant)
The Plaintiff has pleaded and led evidence in proof of the material fact that the University of Ibadan (UI) Certificate for the award of the Bachelors of Degree in Classics which the 1st Defendant attached to Form CF00I for the 2020 election is a false or non-existent document. Specifically, it is the plaintiff’s contention that the Certificate in question, since it radically different from the nature and standard of a regular degree certificate from a Nigerian University, it is to that extent a false document. In furtherance of this, the plaintiff revealed that the absence of the date of the award of the said certificate on its face (as presented by the 1st Defendant), as well as the absence of the Registrar’s signature thereon, as it is with standard degree certificates, are evidence of the fact that the said document is a false document or that the 1st Defendant was deliberately trying to conceal material information about the certificate from the 3rd Defendant and ultimately, the public.
The Plaintiff in further support of this point called in evidence PW2, who as a graduate of the same UI as the 1st Defendant, tendered his own certificate and same carried the standard features of a certificate awarded by the school. The same features that were copiously missing from that presented by the 1st Defendant.
The Plaintiff case in this regard is strengthened by the 1st Defendant’s admission in his statement of defence, that indeed, the certificate as attached to Form CF00I is indeed not a regular one as that issued by the UI and as issued to PW2. He (1st Defendant) conceded that the copy attached to CF001 did not carry a date, nor did it carry the signature of the Registrar of the School.
However, he was quick to “explain” this anomaly on the doorsteps of a photocopier “error”, this in my view, being a convenient afterthought. However, what is material is not the explanation for the presentation of a false certificate to the 3rd defendant, but the fundamental fact that he (1st defendant) presented a false certificate to the 3rd defendant and that he took no steps before the display of the said Form CF001 by the 3rd Defendant(INEC) or before the commencement of this suit, to correct the said “inexcusable error”, as claimed.
What is more, the fact that the 1st Defendant supplied false information to the 3rd Defendant is confirmed by the fact of his presentation of a purported original copy of the said certificate vide DW2 who tendered same vide a subpoena. Clearly, the obvious discrepancies between the purported original certificate and the photocopy attached to Form CF00I, confirms the plaintiff’s allegation that the 1st Defendant supplied a false information to the 3rd Defendant (INEC).
(ii) The Allegation of Perjury against the 1st Defendant.
Although, the 1st and 2nd Defendants have made attempts to show that Form CF001 used by the 1st defendant in the 2016 election is caught by the statute of limitation, the said form remains valid and relevant for the purpose of establishing the case of perjury against the 1st Defendant. In the same vein, the affidavit deposed to by the 1st Defendant on the 7th of June 2016, whereat he deposed to facts that are diametrically in contrast to those contained in the Form CF001, used for the 2020 election.
The Plaintiff’s pleadings and evidence on record reveals that whereas in the CF00I Form for 2016, the 1st Defendant deposed to the fact that he graduated from the University of Ibadan (UI) in “1976” with the Bachelors Degree in Classic, in the Form CF001 for 2020, he deposed to the fact that he graduated in “1979”. Furthermore, in the affidavit of 7th June 2016, he deposed to the fact that he graduated from the UI in “1976”. Therefore, and clearly, the 1st Defendant must have lied in one of these affidavits. The three cannot all be correct, but even then, they could all be wrong. However, what is material is that there is a falsehood or lying on oath in one of these affidavits, specifically, whereat, he claimed to have graduated from the University of Ibadan (UI) in “1976”, when he eventually tendered a purported original certificate bearing 1979 as the date of the award of the degree. The Form CF001 of 2016 is only statute barred with respect to claims under section 31 (5) and (6) of the Electoral Act, but not with respect to the criminal offence of perjury as these inconsistent
depositions on Oath has revealed.
What is the 1st Defendants response to the allegation of perjury?
He has once more lamely explained that he mistakenly filled in the year “1976” as the year of graduation in Form CF001 for 2016, when he actually intended to indicate the year of “entry”. Yet he admits that the year “1976” in the said exhibit was in response to the specific question : ‘Year of Graduation”. This again confirms the Plaintiff’s allegation that he lied on Oath in 2016 when he claimed that he graduated from the UI in “1976”. Similarly, with respect to the affidavit of 7th June 2016, the 1st Defendant’s lame excuse is that the affidavit was deposed to when he could not find the originals of his credentials including the said University of Ibadan (UI) certificate, so when he later found the said original certificates, he had no need for the said affidavit. How true, does this obviate the liability for the 1st Defendant’s deliberate falsehood in the said affidavit? There is no limitation for criminal offences, save for the immunity temporarily enjoyed by the 1st Defendant herein. However , with respect to the disqualifying factors for the election of a Governor of a State, section 177 of the Electoral Act clearly settles the issue.
(iii) The Allegation of the Presentation of a False, Fake or Forged Certificate to INEC.
The facts in support of the first ground of this suit also supports this omnibus plank of the Plaintiff’s case. In specific terms, the allegation against the 1st Defendant is that he presented a fake, false or forged certificate which purports to have emanated from the University of Ibadan (UI) to INEC (3rd Defendant). The particulars of this allegation are succinctly encapsulated in body of paragraphs of the Statement of claim as well as paragraphs of the Plaintiff’s Reply to the 1st and 2nd Defendants’ Statement of Defence. As revealed earlier, the fakery, falsity or forgery of the 1st Defendant’s purported certificate attached to Form CF001 of 2020 is exposed as follows:
(i) The convenient “mistake” by the 1st Defendant in his Form CF001 of 2016 wherein he had claimed he graduated in “1976”
(ii) The restatement of the claim vide the affidavit of 7th June 2016, wherein he claimed to have graduated from the University of Ibadan (UI) with a Degree in Classical Studies in “1976”
(iii) The sudden summersault in 2020 vide Form CF001, wherein, he now “admitted” he graduated from University of Ibadan (UI) in “1979” and not “1976” as previously claimed
(iv) The deliberate but now conveniently termed “error” of attaching a copy of the said certificate from the University of Ibadan (UI) without the date of graduation or issuance indicated thereon
(v) The tendering of a different result altogether vide DW2 on subpoena without tendering the original copy in his custody as at the time he (1st Defendant), photocopied and attached a copy of the result to Form CF001 of 2020.
The evidence of the Plaintiff’s witnesses, especially the documentary evidence before the Court, as replete in the 2016 Form CF001, the 2020 Form CF001, the affidavit of 7th June 2016 etc, all point conclusively to the fact that 1st Defendant set out from the onset to deceive and mislead the 3rd Defendant (INEC) and did succeed in so doing, in believing that he (1st Defendant) was qualified to contest the election into the office of the Governor of Edo State, which was conducted on the 19th of September 2020.
1.3 Legal Issues Arising from the Proof of these Grounds of the Plaintiff’s Case
(a) The Allegation of Supplying False Information to INEC (3rd Defendant)
The facts of this suit support the allegation that the 1st Defendant supplied false information to the 3rd Defendant. Section 31(5) and (6) of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended) clearly circumscribes the liability for such an infraction in the following terms:
Section 31 (5):
“ Any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a candidate in the affidavit or document submitted by that candidate is false, may file a suit at the Federal High Court, High Court of a State or FCT against such a person seeking a declaration that the information contained in the affidavit is false”
I submit that on a literary construction, this section vests the locus standi on the Plaintiffs herein to institute this suit. Furthermore, the operative language is “any person who reasonably believes “ From the state of pleadings and documentary evidence on record, is it not clear that the Plaintiffs are “reasonable” in their belief that the 1st Defendant supplied false information and/or document to the 3rd Defendant? Clearly, the admission by the 1st Defendant that the copy of the University of Ibadan (UI) certificate he submitted to 3rd Defendant vide Form CF001 of 2020, did not contain the date of graduation as well as the signature of the Registrar of the issuing institution, is a confirmation that the said document is false. The reasons or explanation for the said supply of the false document is patently immaterial because section 31(5) as couched creates a strict liability offence, therefore, knowledge, motive or mistake are not relevant for the purpose of determining culpability. What is material is that a false information has been supplied.
Section 31(5) as conceived by the draftsmen is meant to punish a candidate and his political party in any negligence, or recklessness in the supply of a false or fake information vide Form CF001 or its equivalents to INEC. This is patently in accord with the philosophy behind strict liability offences. In the English case of R v Lawrence (1933)AC 699, Lord Diplock rationalized strict liability in the following terms:
“ It is to be hoped that the Caldwell’s test will be ignored by our Courts in favour of a body of the body of authority once recognized in England and the view still existing in many other common law countries that recklessness involves conscious foresight of probable consequences combined with an objective judgment of the reasonableness of the risk taken”
Similarly, in Reynolds v .H Austin & Sons Ltd (1951) 2 KB 135, Lord Delvin also supported strict liability standard as follows:
“Such Statutes are not meant to punish the vicious will but to put pressure upon the thoughtless and inefficient to do their whole duty in the interest of public health or safety or morals….”
Clearly, the defence proffered by the 1st Defendant for the presentation of the false certificate vide Form CF001, cannot exculpate him from the liability of disqualification vide section 31(6) of the Electoral Act. This is because, even if his explanation for the photocopy “error” is accepted by the Honourable trial Court, it only confirms that the 1st Defendant and his political party (2nd Defendant) were not tidy, cautious and circumspect enough to peruse the documents presented to the 3rd Defendant (INEC). They negligently and or recklessly allowed a false and misleading document purporting to be a Degree certificate to be included in FormCF001 submitted to INEC. They (1st and 2nd Defendants), must bear the consequences of their actions. inactions, not the plaintiffs herein or the Honourable trial Court,
Section 31 (6 ) of the Electoral Act provides as follows:
“If the Court determines that any of the information contained in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate is false, the Court shall issue an order disqualifying the candidate from contesting the election”
I submit that based on the oral and documentary evidence presented by the Plaintiffs to the Honourable trail Court, the Plaintiffs have discharged the burden of proof placed on them in that regard. Accordingly ,the trial Court can reasonably determine that the 1st Defendant herein, submitted a false affidavit and document vide Form CF001 of 2020 to the 3rd Defendant (INEC).
See Dr. Samson Ogah v Dr.O.A Ikpeazu(2017) 17 NWLR(PT.1597)299.
This is my opinion.
Happy New Year.