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A human rights lawyer, Mr Jiti Ogunye, shares with AYOOLA OLASUPO his thoughts on the statement by the Supreme Court and developments on the interpretation of the litigation between the Federal Government and some states over the new naira notes

The Supreme Court in a recent statement condemned the way people criticised its judgments, especially in the cases involving Godswill Akpabio and Senator Ahmad Lawan. Some people have said there is nothing wrong with criticising court judgments because judges are not gods. What is your position on this?

My position on criticism of court judgments, specifically Supreme Court judgments, is a long-standing one and that position is that the judgments by all our courts are subject to review and criticism. The judgment by our courts, in particular the Supreme Court of Nigeria, can be commented upon by lawyers and non-lawyers, debated in the public, analysed and people can form opinions on them. No matter the intensity of such public discourse, the law established by that judgment or the issues resolved or settled by that judgment will remain unchanged. Public outcry or opinion does not change the prayers granted by a court of law or amend the orders made by that court. The court having spoken through their judgment should be less worried about what the people say about such judgment because during judgments, they carry out their exercises not in expectation of any public adulation, endorsement or condemnation. If judgments were delivered in expectation of public feelings, they will no longer be judgments so our courts should worry less about such.

But that does not seem to be the case in this instance?

In the past, we told our colleagues that the judiciary is our court system as well as the third arm of government. The legislature does its work, makes resolutions and passes laws but people criticise that institution. People also insult them by calling them names when they make certain laws. That does not mean they will charge anybody for contempt of the legislature. The executive arm of government enforces the law and does a poor job like the present situation we are in now. People are not only condemning them, they are even cursing them. The judiciary cannot claim it is above criticism. What is not permitted is for people while claiming to be criticising to engage in personal attacks, ridicule or subject them to all sorts of abuse or even allege corrupt practices when no evidence exists. That can undermine that institution of democracy. Because people don’t understand this, the situation can switch into anarchy when people unjustifiably condemn and demonise the judiciary in a way that it becomes weakened. When the executive and legislature are dealing with the people, the judiciary would have been so weakened that it would no longer be in the position to interpret and save the law and be the last hope of the citizenry. So, we also have to be careful. You can easily weaken the court, which is the hallmark of democracy and guarantees that people talk the way they feel. Even if they accuse us of falsehood, let our conscience be our defense. Let our conduct speak for us rather than exercising an awesome power to punish anybody who has committed contempt of court. So, the courts use their power sparingly because if the Supreme Court were to convict anybody for contempt of court, which court would such a person run to for an appeal? They know that as a court, they are the guardian angel of our democracy, which then takes us to the issue of appropriateness of the occasional issuance of statements by the Supreme Court in respect of matters like this. My sincere opinion is that it is not appropriate because it will appear as if the court will then be taking issues with the members of the public, particularly persons and people who write opinion articles.

You said court judgments are subject to public review, how best can people do that subsequently without getting on the nerves of the apex court?

We are in the age of social media, which has amplified peoples’ prejudices, undigested views, refined commentaries, etc. Everybody has now taken the liberty of commenting on the judgment of a court, including those who are not lawyers. We are not saying people who are not lawyers cannot talk but the fact that our justice system is law-based, rule-governed and is technicality-driven will take somebody who is learned about the law to do a fair criticism of the court judgment. This is because what the ordinary person may perceive as justice may be different from what someone who is a lawyer and knows the pitfalls, the technicality of criminal procedure would say as to whether the judgment is consistent with the principles of law or have changed the law on a particular subject.

Could you give us examples?

One of the judgments that was criticised in recent times was delivered on the basis of the appropriate civil procedure that ought to have been used. Any lawyer that knows civil procedure will tell you that if you want the court to declare your right as the owner of a land, you will have to use a procedure that allows you to conduct a trial so that you can call and give evidence. You won’t use a procedure where you merely filed an affidavit and there will be no trial. The truth of the falsehood being alleged can be established by trial where the judge will have the opportunity to listen to witnesses, look at their countenance, their conduct in the court and facial expression to be convinced whether they are telling the truth or not. So, you cannot secure a declaration of land ownership without trial. If you use originating summons where an affidavit is used without trial, your action is likely to be struck out. In the same vein, if you are alleging fraud, it has to be demonstrated and established in the trial where there will be witnesses and documents will have to be tendered whereas, if you are using originating summons, such will not happen. The court is likely to say that the person has used the wrong procedure.

Many people found it discomforting that the apex court overturned the judgments of the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal, especially when many people believe that Lawan did not partake in that main senatorial primary in Yobe State having participated in the party’s presidential primary. How do we reconcile the contradiction between the judgments?

There are three layers of court created by the constitution. We have the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The first point to note is that the exercise of the constitutional right of appeal and the access to justice saw that the right of appeal will be guaranteed so that the person seeking justice can in good conscience exhaust all the layers and then be satisfied perhaps that they have given it their best shot to get justice. The exercise of that right presupposes that when climbing that ladder, at any of the stages, there could be an alternation of success or victory for either party. A party may lose in the High Court and win at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, and vice versa. While it is true that in our jurisprudence, the Supreme Court gives you consideration to what it called concurrent findings of the two courts below, if the two courts below as a finding of fact see that this is what has happened except there is something special to disturb that findings. This lubricates the will of justice where three heads are better than one. If they have found the fact and it’s consistent at the two levels, the Supreme Court will just deal with the law. While this is a principle of law, the truth of the matter is that the Supreme Court reserves that right, power and the will to determine legal principles to deliver justice according to the law.

In the case of Lawan and Bashir Machina’s case, was the Supreme Court judgment not against the provision of the Electoral Act because it has been argued that Lawan did not participate in the senatorial primary but in the presidential primary?

The allegation is that he didn’t participate in the senatorial primary, the court stated that the procedure in which that person is challenging the case came by way of originating summons because he is alleging fraud. That was what the court said. You are alleging fraud, why are you coming by way of originating summons? The rules of the court are stronger because they are made under the respective laws of the court. We have the Federal High Court law, and the laws establishing the deeds of the state under which rules ought to have been made. I am saying that except there is evidence establishing that that decision was actuated by corrupt practices like bribery and corruption, it is not appropriate in my view to just make assumptions that it is because this person is the sitting Senate President and more powerful than the challenger that was why they favoured him. That decision is against the decision of the two courts below and that is why the court is there anyway. There is no obligation on the part of the Supreme Court to follow the two courts below.

Lawyers have backed the Supreme Court, insisting that the apex court should be treated with respect, but some commentators also said respect should be earned, as they noted that the judiciary should be seen as unbiased and dispensing justice and not just judgments. What do you think?

Judges should be upright. They should do justice according to the law and be corruption-free. They should also work in tandem with their judicial code of conduct. Yes, these are the things people commonly say. Those advising the judiciary are entitled to their right to freedom of speech. However, it depends on the way one characterises such exercise of the right of freedom of speech. The judiciary does not need such backing from lawyers. What they need is to do justice according to the law and be fair to all.

Some of the judgments of the Supreme Court are viewed as having some form of political undertone, like the Imo State governorship election that installed Hope Uzodimma and now the cases of Akpabio and Lawan. What is the way forward for the court to be seen as fair?

Well, the courts are a very tough terrain when it comes to political issues, especially elections or primaries of political parties. The basic solution is for the courts not to be troubled with political cases and that is why we must emphasise free and fair elections. There are too many political cases that are inundating our courts and they are doing damage to our courts. In taking them, our courts continue to suffer reputational damage. There is equality of all before the law. People file cases that are important to their lives every day whether they are taken to the police or their land is being taken. Such cases have been in the court for years and for them to go to the Appeal and Supreme courts, it may take them nine or even 13 to 14 years, but for political cases because they are timed by the constitution and Electoral Act, when an election is challenged, it takes a maximum of six months before it gets to the Supreme Court. We should conduct free and fair elections either at the primaries or general elections such that winners and losers can shake hands. Losers can be convinced that they have been defeated fair and clear and to take courage and those who have won will be magnanimous in their victory. We should conduct free and fair elections so that we will not need to bother and burden the judiciary, put pressure on them and subject them to a situation whereby the integrity of the court will be subjected to pressure and test. Their integrity is supposed to beheld constant.

When the cases keep coming, how can the courts withstand the pressure and ensure that cases are determined fairly?

The system of adjudication in elections has effects on political cases because political cases can be divided into election petition proper and pre-election matters. For election matters, right from the tribunal, the way it is structured is that you don’t have one judge deciding the matter but three justices. The number itself is an arrangement, an antidote or guarantee against corrupt determination of justice. The issue now is if you want to corrupt them, are you going to corrupt all of them?

In one of your tweets, you described the CBN deadline for old naira swap as heartless and tactless, and you urged the CBN to extend the deadline by six months. But the bank feels part of its aim to curb vote-buying may be defeated if it extends the deadline till after elections. What do you make of that?

I think they will still extend it. What is going on is executive rascality. Judiciary rascality is a term that lawyers understand to mean when an appellate court is sitting over a matter and a lower court also attempts to sit over the same matter. I borrowed that term to talk about executive rascality. When the executive arm of government is defying the court and logic, indeed it is an agent of destabilisation. Looking at the recent crisis, when it started people were saying it was a good policy but right now many banks have been attacked across the country.

Now that the Supreme Court has adjourned hearing till February 22, what are the implications, because the CBN already said the old notes had become invalid?

The wheel of justice grinds slowly but surely. Supreme Courts are confined to the game before them. If the parties before them do not raise it with evidence it will then appear as if they do not know what is going on. They should bow to the order of the Supreme Court not to flagrantly disobey the way it is being done by the CBN and the executive.

Some filling stations and banks have refused to collect the old notes contrary to the Supreme Court’s order that parties should maintain the status quo. What do you think people do at this point?

You are aware that even state governments have issued statements that it is illegal to reject old naira notes because their duty is to protect lives and property. The situation will cause commotion and confusion when people have the old notes and they are being rejected. That’s why I said these are agents of destabilisation. They are undemocratic elements. The suspicion is that these guys are promoting civil disobedience and are attempting a subversion of democratic governance because you can’t be a government and through your actions you are as well promoting chaos. In the fullness of time, Nigerians will realise what their true mission is. Certainly, this has gone beyond monetary issue. When the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele and Buhari’s pictures will not be on the new notes, then what is the usefulness of this arrogance of power, rigidity and stubbornness? For me this has gone beyond the money issue. Why should they be punishing people like this?

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Tough Israel-Hamas tunnel war in Gaza looms. This is because Israel’s war is expected to target the tunnel network in Gaza, but underground warfare is risky and slow, and Hamas will hold clear advantages.

While an expected four-day cessation in hostilities and the release of 50 Israeli hostages in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners might be a breakthrough in the six-week conflict, Israel has been clear that it will continue its deadly war on Gaza afterwards.

“The war continues,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a press conference on Wednesday.


“We continue until we have achieved complete victory … Eliminating Hamas, liberating our captives and making sure that post-Hamas there will be no threat to Israel.”

After weeks of continuous bombardments in which over 14,000 Palestinians have been killed, Israel has in recent weeks prioritised urban warfare to clear northern Gaza, including the encirclement of Gaza City and the forced displacement of residents to the south.

But a key part of the Israeli objective to ‘destroy’ Hamas will likely hinge on dismantling the intricate tunnel network constructed by the group over the years.

“The complete dismantlement of Hamas’ tunnels will come at a high cost for Israel, both in terms of time and risk”
‘Gaza Metro’

Dubbed the ‘Gaza Metro’, the tunnels primarily date back to the 1980s when they were used to smuggle goods under the newly divided city of Rafah. However, they became more important, and advanced, following the tightening of Israel’s blockade in 2007.

Initially employed for smuggling to bypass the blockade and facilitate the importation of diverse goods such as electronics, construction materials, fuel, and weapons, these tunnels have evolved into a complex network with both defensive and offensive military objectives.

Thought to span more than 500km and reach depths of 50-80 meters, according to experts, the tunnels contain housing quarters, and supply stores, and provide security and mobility for fighters.

They played a significant role in the 2014 war, with Israel claiming to have destroyed approximately 32 tunnels, a small fraction of the estimated 1,300. Israel responded to that war with various countermeasures, including a vast $1 billion security barrier with detection systems and underground walls.

In the current war, Al-Shifa hospital, the largest in the coastal territory, was recently at the centre of Israel’s shift to target tunnel infrastructure, although Israel failed to show proof of the existence of Hamas’ command and control centre under the medical facility as depicted in a video in late October.

The destruction and sealing of this network of tunnels are deemed crucial by Israel in establishing complete control over Gaza and securing the release of hostages.

Tunnels have so far served Hamas in ambushing Israeli troops during their advances in Gaza, as evidenced by videos released by the group, while allowing for swift movement within underground positions.

However, the complete dismantlement of Hamas’ tunnels will come at a high cost for Israel, both in terms of time and risk.

Tunnels have long provided an economic lifeline to the blockaded Gaza Strip. [Getty] Tunnel warfare

Mapping Hamas’ tunnel network accurately may be challenging for Israel without actually entering them.

Raphael S. Cohen, a senior political scientist and director of the Strategy and Doctrine Program at RAND Corporation, told The New Arab that Israel has been using a wide variety of technological tools to detect Hamas’ tunnels, including acoustic sensors or coloured smoke grenades.

The range of techniques spans from simple to sophisticated, with experiments involving robots and small drones for reconnaissance. But despite these efforts, tunnel detection remains a complex military challenge.

“It’s really hard to get a full picture of the tunnel networks ahead of time. That’s just because you’re running up against the limits of technology here,” the analyst said.

“In cases like the 2014 Gaza war, soldiers entered tunnels and got ambushed or taken prisoner”
But a lack of intelligence on the tunnel network is only the first problem for Israel if it decides to engage in underground combat.

Tunnel warfare is a historical military phenomenon that has occurred over centuries. In recent times, this type of warfare took place in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, but also during the 2006 Lebanon-Israel war and the Syrian war.

Luca Munaretto, a former Italian amphibious scout, paratrooper raider, and special forces instructor with extensive experience in war zones, including Afghanistan, told TNA that deploying Israeli units inside the tunnels would likely slow down military operations.

Munaretto emphasised that there is also a hesitancy to risk personnel underground without specific intelligence about targeted individuals. He pointed out that while hostages may have value to a certain extent, their significance as a bargaining chip is diminishing, particularly with initiatives such as the temporary ceasefire.

“In military terms, a truce allows Hamas to reorganise its forces, regroup troops, and reconsider the plan for advancing resistance. Consequently, it could work to the disadvantage of the Israeli movement in this case,” he said.

Cohen explained that the Israeli army is mainly focusing on sealing off the tunnels rather than going inside to clear them entirely.

“You don’t want to rush into a tunnel network because you might not know its layout or if it’s full of leaves. In cases like the 2014 Gaza war, soldiers entered tunnels and got ambushed or taken prisoner. Clearing tunnels requires a methodical and slow approach,” he said.

During the 2014 war, Hamas killed 67 Israeli soldiers, some of them through the use of tunnels. In a separate incident, the Israeli officer Lt. Hadar Goldin was pulled into a tunnel in Gaza and killed. His remains have been held by Hamas ever since.

Therefore, estimating the potential Israeli military losses inside the tunnels may be challenging due to the level of preparedness on both sides, which has evolved over the years.

A Palestinian fighter of the Al-Quds brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), in a military tunnel in 2022. [Getty]

Although Cohen highlighted that he doesn’t have projections on the potential Israeli losses, he said that the Israeli military has presumably made estimates.

“When you go in to fight any intense urban combat, it tends to be pretty bloody on all sides. That’s historically been the experience of all militaries, and I would expect it to be the case here,” he said.

Munaretto outlined that in an Israeli incursion into Hamas tunnels, a team of engineers, also known as sappers, would serve as the initial responders to identify tunnel types and support intervention units.

They may utilise techniques such as ground drones and wire-guided drones. While dogs can be used, their effectiveness is limited due to biological constraints like susceptibility to poisoning.

Israel may explore the use of wire-guided drones instead of GPS drones due to concerns about signal interference in tunnels. If the tunnels are constructed in a specific manner, they may include cutting points that automatically activate if explosive charges are used to disrupt the propagation waves.

“When you go in to fight any intense urban combat, it tends to be pretty bloody on all sides. That’s historically been the experience of all militaries, and I would expect it to be the case here”
False tunnels also create additional challenges, risking personnel loss and communication breakdown.

Ventilation is also crucial, and disconnecting it poses risks of poor oxygenation. Tunnels vary from concrete-resistant structures to rock-dug ones, introducing challenges such as moisture, seepage, and water issues.

“The complexity of these factors underscores the need for careful navigation and communication within the tunnel environment,” Munaretto said.

Among the special units in the Israeli army, Cohen highlights a specialised engineering unit called ‘Yahalom’, specifically designed to address the tunnel problem, and supported by units like Sayfan and Samur.

As one of the world’s largest units dedicated to underground warfare, it focuses on training, equipping, and developing innovative strategies. Collaborative efforts with police, intelligence units, and the Oketz canine unit enhance capabilities against subterranean threats, in addition to specialised equipment such as ground sensors, radar, and remote-controlled robots.

These tools, combined with underground communication and night-vision technologies, provide a comprehensive approach to addressing threats in dark and complex subterranean environments.

However, Munaretto explained that deploying military personnel in tunnel warfare depends on the objective’s perceived value. The decision to send personnel, the need for spares, and the pace of movement depend on the objective’s strategic importance. Ensuring a conflict-free environment is crucial, with personnel securing the area and addressing complications during evacuations in a hostile, dark environment.

From Hamas’ standpoint, the situation is different. Being on its home turf inside tunnels, it benefits from continuous residence in the area, resulting in agility and familiarity with every detail of the network.

The tunnels likely intentionally include obstacles to impede progress and certain technological access may be restricted.

Once Israeli forces enter the tunnels for combat, Hamas will attempt to set up ambushes.

“The aim is to set numerous ambushes for incoming Israeli soldiers and possibly have hostages inside the tunnels. This complicates the Israeli military calculus, as using overwhelming firepower risks the lives of hostages,” Cohen said.

Hamas employs tunnels offensively to conduct protected and surprise attacks, aiming to offset Israel’s military superiority. These tunnels force Israeli soldiers into cramped spaces, known well by Hamas fighters. The interconnected urban tunnels enable quick movement between attack positions, forming a crucial element of Hamas’ guerrilla warfare strategy.

Hamas militants operate underground, striking swiftly and retreating into tunnels. Some tunnels are rigged with explosives, posing a threat as tunnel bombs could be under main roads and buildings.

The hyperspecialisation required for tunnel warfare could also serve as a prelude to the future of war.

As Munaretto highlighted, countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other NATO armies are training for future conflicts, anticipating challenges with China. The focus is on developing well-armoured and concealed underground military structures for logistical support equipped with various countermeasures.

Training personnel for confined spaces is a priority, with adapted equipment. It’s a specialised task, demanding individuals with specific physical and mental attributes.

“Operating in conditions of oxygen scarcity and lack of light and noise where everything is amplified is not for everyone. We are not born to live underground,” he said.

Dario Sabaghi

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Words & Opinions




Falan on Sunrise Daily show of Channels TV

Eminent jurist, constitutional lawyer and rights activist, Femi Falana, SAN, has decried the double standards in the Nigerian criminal justice system.

Falana who appeared as a guest on Sunrise Daily show on Channels Television, Monday 16 October, 2023, was reacting to the conviction of an army general by a military court for stealing money meant for arms procurement.

He noted that if the matter was in the civil courts, it would have probably dragged on indefinitely. He ascribed this to what he referred to as the hijack of the judiciary by the rich and influential, whose lawyers could afford to cause the matter to drag on infinitely.

The senior advocate blamed this on “class solidarity” where the rich are in league in all sectors at all levels to protect themselves as the same is not obtainable when the poor are in court.

According to him, corruption is an integral part of the capitalist economy, run by the elite. He said it is entrenched and so it has to be a battle for all Nigerians to fight for its dislodgement.

This, according to him, is because the government cannot muster the political will to fight corruption perpetrated by those running it.

So, he urged the media and every Nigerian to join hands to fight corruption, which is grinding the country to a standstill.

In the convicted general, he said “to steal the money meant for fight against insurgency and counter terrorism amounts to crime against humanity. We must be interested in monitoring how our funds are spent. The security votes must be subject to public scrutiny because it is public money, and when diverted, subjects the people to hardship and the country to underdevelopment.”

Falana noted that in the past, the ordinary citizens and the media fought corruption. Then, anyone could go to court and file an affidavit and the media would pick up the matter and keep it up until the person resigned.

He decried the level of corruption in the country today and how the fight is making no substantial progress because of the complicity of people in charge in high places.

However, charging the citizens to wake up, he said “we cannot go on like this. Corruption is a manifestation of impunity. The law must evenly be applied in the country. That is why the lady of justice is blind. But in Nigeria, unfortunately not only is the blindfold pulled, she has been raped.”

He called on the government across the board to stop paying lip service to fight against corruption and engage it frontally with diligent investigations and prosecution of cases, regardless of who is involved.

He noted that the federal anti corruption agencies are not doing enough, as there have been cases involving high profile individuals that have been in the courts since 2007.

He said the situation where it is only the government of Kano State that had an anti-graft agency among the states, loudly speaks of the reluctance of the states in genuinely fighting corruption.

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We must not sacrifice our national icons on the altar of politics, greed and nepotism, he insists

Hon. Chijioke Edeoga is the governorship candidate of the Labour Party in Enugu State in the 23rd March, 2023, gubernatorial election and is currently awaiting the verdict of the Enugu State Governorship Election Court adjudicating his petition against the declaration of Barr. Peter Mbah of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner of the election. Speaking with Editors MALACHY UZENDU and CHESA CHESA in Abuja, Hon. Edeoga spoke about his expectations in the Court’s decision and called on everybody, personalities and institutions to strive to preserve the integrity of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and other institutions, rather than undermine them as is currently the case. Enjoy the excerpts of the interview.

We know you are awaiting the verdict of the Governorship Election Court in Enugu State. However, can you highlight some of the issues that were canvassed before that court?

As you have noted, I am the governorship candidate and the flagbearer of the Labour Party (LP) that successfully removed PDP from power; a position that PDP occupied since 1999. And the facts on the ground prove that LP won Enugu state decisively in the just-completed National, State Assembly, the Presidential and Governorship elections in the state.

For instance, out of three senatorial positions in Enugu State, LP has two senators from. Out of eight seats in the House of Reps, LP has seven, while PDP has only one. Out of the 24 positions in the State Assembly, LP won 14, while PDP has only 10 seats.

On that fateful day, the 23rd of March, 2023, the governorship election had been conducted and the results were coming out from all over the state. We have 17 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Enugu State. The governorship candidate of LP in the state, that is my humble self, Chijioke Edeoga, was leading in 16 LGAs out of 17. I was leading with more than 11,000 votes, and the PDP candidate was trailing the LP by about 11,000 votes. The one LGA remaining was Nkanu-East, and it happens to be the home LGA of the governorship candidate for PDP, Mr. Peter Mbah.

After a very long delay that was not unnecessary and was not inexplicable in the sense that the results from the farthest LGAs had come in, and Nkanu-East which is one of the closest LGAs to the state headquarters (of INEC) came in last, and when they came in, they declared results of more than 30,000 votes.

Even the Electoral Officers knew and agreed that something wrong had happened because there were only 15,000 accredited voters in that LGA. So, how could PDP or INEC have returned 30,000 votes in a place where only 15,000 voters were duly accredited?

There was a rumpus and the Returning Officer refused to announce that result. Abuja intervened and took matters into their own hands and it was agreed there was a problem, but outside the law and illegally. After three days and in the absence of any LP representative, they shed the figures down and then gave the PDP a lead of about 5,000 votes over the Labour Party, and announced PDP as the winner of the election.

We had just a few weeks to challenge that declaration, which we and even the country knew was wrong and did not represent the political wish of Enugu state people.

In spite of all the problems, all the hindrances, all the obstacles the INEC in Enugu put before us with regard to the release of essential material and essential evidences, were able to beat the deadline to submit our electoral petition on the 6th of April.

We successfully assembled a team of very brilliant lawyers from every part of the country and this team worked together every day in peace and amity and, and the shortest time possible, produced a petition that represented our position on that election, a petition that I know will go down in electoral history as one of the best – very precise, very brief, very well written but still captured the law in its essentialities.

What are those essential points highlighted?

Our first point was that Mr Peter Mbah, having submitted a forged NYSC certificate, did not qualify ab initio to run for that office and should be disqualified. That position agrees with the Constitution. What the case law says is that in order to prove this matter, the issuing authority has to come personally or in writing to accept that it was issued by them. Our first canvas is that Peter Mbah was not qualified to run as a candidate having presented a forged NYSC certificate.

We subpoenaed a Director at INEC who came and agreed that attached to Form EC-9, Peter Mbah actually submitted an NYSC certificate. We also subpoenaed the Director of Certification of the NYSC who agreed the document was forged.

We also subpoenaed a human rights lawyer, who had on the basis of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, written to NYSC, and NYSC had replied that the certificate was forged. So, our first canvass was that Peter Mbah was not qualified and we proved it adequately.

The second issue we canvassed was what we said was arithmetical error. We pointed out computational errors. We didn’t know whether they were deliberate or otherwise, but we pointed them out, especially in Udenu LGA where the votes LP got at the polling units were assigned at the point of collation to the PDP. We had result sheets certified by INEC and tendered in court, showing that in several polling units in Udenu LGA, LP won at the polling units but at the point of computation upstairs, the victories of LP were assigned to PDP and losses of PDP were assigned to the LP. We asked the court to realign these figures to the proper owners and if this is done, the margin of lead by the PDP will be substantially diminished.

On our third point, we also pointed out that they should comply with the Electoral Law which states that in any polling unit where there is over-voting, the election should be cancelled. We brought evidences from BVAS and necessary documents to show that in Nkanu-East, in Owo, the home community of Peter Mbah and nearby community of Ugbuoka, there was over-voting by more than 5,000 votes. We proved these things convincingly. These are the three major points we took to the tribunal which sat until August 6th and now adjourned for judgement.

There are now issues affecting highly-placed government officials regarding their NYSC certificates, and they seem to be riding roughshod over that institution. What is your thinking about these developments?

NYSC is a national institution which many Nigerians, including my humble self, relate to with fondness. NYSC provided us with our first jobs or paid employment and still does for many. Out of university, worried about what life holds in the future, when there is pervasive unemployment and burdened by the challenges of the average youth, and you step into the world, NYSC gives you the anchor. It takes you away from home.

Most times, your first journey away from your home, your comfort zone is under the auspices of NYSC. Those who are from Rivers State go as far as Kano or Sokoto State where they find comfort, find love, even find employment, and the government of Nigeria pays you for those things.

So, NYSC is a national institution that has endured for good reasons. We ought to do everything possible, even in spite of the other institutions that are failing, we must hold on to the NYSC because of what it portends for us as a symbol of our nationhood, like inter-marriages, interstate travels, the security, the hope, the basis to even start life. So, we must as a people – the leaders and the led, the judiciary and all facets of our people, all authorities in Nigeria, must agree, as a national consensus agreement, that, that icon of our nation must be protected and preserved from against all these opaque things that are going on.

Over time, we have seen people who because of misunderstanding or the nature of their upbringing, or the nature of the finance, they have tended to treat us as if NYSC was unimportant, and yet, they wanted to benefit from it. The country’s leadership has acted over time to show them that NYSC is a body that should be respected. When I was at the National Assembly, Salisu Buhari, was the Speaker, his case was not necessarily about NYSC, but it was still about his certificate, and President Obasanjo was firm, and Salisu lost the Speakership and exited the National Assembly.

Not too long ago, under retired General Buhari as President, he also dealt with that issue. A minister already serving and doing well, it was discovered that the NYSC of then Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, was dodgy, even when she claimed ignorance of the acts of how it was procured, she was asked to step aside. Still under Buhari, the boss of NSITF was asked to disengage because of that.

I know that there are also many reported cases of persons who were disengaged from very highly placed positions in government because of their NYSC. You are also aware of the running battle Stella Oduah is having with the authorities. Now there is this one involving Peter Mbah, in whose case the Director General of the NYSC came on Arise television to say that the certificate the man is carrying was not issued by the NYSC.

There’s nothing that can be more authoritative than that, but you’ll notice that Mr. Peter Mbah, who was sworn in as the Governor of the state, has been carrying on in manners that one can interpret or read as trying to coerce the authorities. All these provide opportunities for even foreign nationals to attempt to coerce the national institutions to make us begin to come to terms with the fact that somebody who had obviously forged his certificate can get away with that.

I urge all the relevant authorities to act decisively in defence of the NYSC. It is important that the authorities act properly, even in the case of Peter Mbah, and clearly, in order to maintain the integrity of this last-standing national institution, so that it doesn’t become a laughing stock.

The DSS and INEC as another national institutions have performed below expectations. There we have officials like Barr. Festus Okoye, who professes one thing openly and publicly, but does a different thing. So, our national institutions are being degraded in such a way that the last one standing – the NYSC – should be supported because if we degrade our national institutions and icons, the idea of Nigeria dies, that’s the point.

There must be shared values, things that you hold as a people; things that unite us. NYSC is one, the DSS is one, Judiciary is one. INEC is one, JAMB is one. JAMB is doing well and should be encouraged. Those ones that are not doing well should be helped to do well. Those that are doing exceedingly well, like the NYSC, should not be subverted.

Young people should have something they believe in, something they look up to. National icons are a collection of our beliefs that build the national idea which sustains our nationhood and this must not be sacrificed on the altar of politics, greed, nepotism or any kind of compromise at all.

You have spoken so passionately about national institutions like NYSC. Did you do the NYSC service?

Yes. Of course, I did. I served at Ojim College, Ikwere Road, Rivers State. My fondest memories of Rivers State are the ones I had when I was there as NYSC member. I also lived briefly at Woji Naval Barracks. With my colleagues, we went round Rivers State, met beautiful people, visited military institutions and had ‘Thank-God-It’s-Friday’ parties. That’s what NYSC does; create memories and friendships that endure. I still have friends I met in Port Harcourt who still relate with me.

So, I served (NYSC) very well. I served with distinction. I was the Director of the Theatre Arts Group at NYSC camp, and I directed the NYSC play there for that year. It was a play written by Femi Osofisan.

You seem to be invariably sending out a message to the like of the serving minister now having NYSC issues. What should be done in this case?

I think that the authorities, those who hired her, should look into that matter very well and dispassionately. But ordinarily, I don’t see any reason why she should still be serving as a minister and doing her NYSC at same time.

From your experiences, at least from when you joined the LP, up till this time, how will you advise the political elite concerning the ‘do-or-die’ mentality or attitude to politics?

Of course, do-or-die is not good. It is abhorrent. Do-or-die arises when the impetus and propelling motive is not service. You are being propelled by something that’s outside service. If you really genuinely want to serve your people, or your state or Nigeria, then there will be no door-to-die. Just play by the rules. If you win, okay. If you don’t win, okay. Do-or-die is a function of greed and aggrandisement.

Do-or-die attitude obtains because those who had done it in the past and got away with it in Nigeria are seldom punished. It is a function of the values and upbringing that one has at heart. I have never rigged election in my life. I have never asked anyone to rig for me. I have never played outside the rules because that is my upbringing. So, upbringing and values from childhood and peer group associations are important.

Beyond that, the laws must be upheld. So, if politicians are caught stealing, the police and EFCC should be up and doing but they are not. The fact that you can steal and build houses, even kill and maim, and get away with it, is what encourages do-or-die. If the laws are maximally enforced, it will reduce.

Upbringing is important, leadership is important, the led is important. If corrupt politicians are voted out, door-to-die will reduce. If INEC does its work pretty well as a true umpire and doesn’t take sides against the people at all, do-or-die will reduce. And we have amended the law that allows somebody whose election is being challenged to be sworn in; it encourages do-or-die.

So, all the litigations pertaining to contested offices, for instance, must be exhausted before somebody is sworn in. This will also reduce do-or-die in electoral contests. Do-or-die will reduce once our values and orientations change, and laws effectively implemented. When offenders are prosecuted and punished adequately, and the followership re-enlightened enough to make the necessary distinctions between good and bad. In Nigeria, there’s no distinction between good and bad; anything goes and it is not going to help us forge a society of our expectations.

What is your message to your large followers who appear to be restive?

My message to my followers is that I’m a due process person. I’m not a do-or-die person. I also believe and have faith in God. Nothing can change or stop the strength of my faith. And so, I’ve always enjoined my followers to be law-abiding, prayerful and positive; and we have to follow the due process of law as we canvass our case to the final point. Whatever that happens to the point the law allows us to reach, we know it is the wish of God. Life will go on. It is not about me but about the vision and ideas I have for good governance and betterment of our people in Enugu State, Eastern Nigeria and Nigeria. They should be prayerful, calm, peaceful and tarry. Our time will come by the grace of God.

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