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Rep Seat : Why parties must wait for Supreme Court verdict

By Ise-Oluwa Ige

Mr Emmanuel Obot,  the former aide to ex-Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Chief Victor Attah, is on the run. Men of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are after him. EFCC is investigating Obot over his claims in the assets declaration forms he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau in 1999 and 2004.

In the form submitted in 1999, he said he was worth a paltry N5million with a monthly income of N100,000. That was before he was appointed as the Senior Special Assistant to ex-Governor Attah. But in an update form he submitted to the same Code of Conduct Bureau, a couple of years after, he claimed that between 1999 and 2004, he said he was worth N500million with an annual income of N150m.

Men of the EFCC wanted him to explain how he came about the stupendous wealth while holding public office. The commission is working on a petition filed against him by an Abuja-based law-firm of B. V Okangbe & Co. EFCC is contending that the annual salary of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo who was the number one citizen and the most highly paid public servant at the time was not as bogus as Obot’s.

Although he (Obot) was formally invited by EFCC for a chat, he has refused to honour the invitation of the anti-graft agency. He is afraid that if he does, he would be arrested and perhaps be put to trial. He is also afraid that such trial might scuttle his chances of executing a litany of court judgments he procured both at the Abuja Federal high court and the election petition tribunal.

The said judgments which are on appeal declared him the candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2007 poll into the Uyo Federal constituency and winner of the election. But he has publicly accused a member of the House of Representatives, Hon Bassey Etim as the one behind the spirited moves by EFCC to probe him. Bassey Etim, it would be recalled, was declared winner of the April 2007 poll into the Uyo Federal constituency by INEC after beating other contestants that stood the election with him.

He contested the poll on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Obot alleged that Etim is pushing EFCC to arrest him so that he would not have time to execute both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal judgment which declared him candidate of PDP and winner of the 2007 poll into the Uyo Federal Constituency.

He also accused INEC of double standard for chasing out Chuma Nzeribe representing Ihiala Federal constituency from the National Assembly after his opponent got a judgment at the Court of Appeal against him when his case is allegedly on all fours with Nzeribe’s. Obot is of the opinion that by the clear provisions of section 246 (3) of the 1999 constitution, the Court of Appeal is the final court on disputes arising from National Assembly election.

He said having been so declared as winner of the election into the Uyo Federal Constituency by the apex court on National Assembly election petition (Calabar Court of Appeal), he said INEC is bound by law to yield to his request.

He has been writing letters to relevant authourities to get the said judgment executed while hiding from arrest. But in his letters to both INEC and the House of Representatives, Obot deliberately concealed a fundamental fact to the effect that the case which he claimed to have won in all courts started as a pre-election matter and that it is the Supreme Court rather than the Court of Appeal that has the final say on the issues in contention.

He also refused to disclose that the controversial Abuja Federal high court judgment on which back he (Obot) rode to procure judgment at the Election Petition Tribunal, Uyo and the Calabar Court of Appeal is already a subject of litigation at the Supreme Court.

Besides, he also refused to draw the attention of INEC and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to the fact that litigation is still on-going in the case and that since both of them have the right of appeal, it will be prejudicial for the electoral umpire to take any action, for now, on the issue.  Worse still, he refused to draw the distinction between his case and the Nzeribe’s.

Unlike Obot’s case which started as pre-election matter before the Abuja Federal high court before it moved to the regular Court of Appeal, Abuja and now the Supreme Court,  Nzeribe’s case though also started as pre-election matter before a high court but he never exercised his rights of appeal before the regular Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Nzeribe slept on his right of appeal on the account that he never believed that any election petition tribunal could exercise jurisdiction on pre-election matter as happened in his case. As at the time both the election petition tribunal and the Appeal Tribunal sacked him from office, he had no pending appeal before either the regular court of appeal or the Supreme Couyrt which has the final say on pre-election matters as is the case in Etim Bassey’s case.

Instead of stating the facts of the cases as they are, Obot was busy  scandalizing all institutions he sees as stumbling blocks to execution of the controversial judgments entered in his favour and which are subject of appeal.

But all the government institutions and individuals he scandalized have refuted his allegations. The anti-graft agency, for instance, has described Obot’s allegation that Etim is pushing it to probe him as laughable. EFCC is claiming that it has a statutory responsibility to investigate economic and financial crimes in any part of the country whenever it is reported to it.

The commission said that the issue on ground is that there is a petition against Obot alleging massive corruption against him while he held public office. It said that all that was demanded of him was to show up in its office for a mere explanation on some of the allegations in the petition which he has refused to do. “Instead of addressing the issues in dispute, he is busy going around with unfounded allegation that a politician is pushing the entire commission to go after him. What an infradignitatem” an official of the EFCC who preferred anonymity told Vanguard Law and Human Rights.

In the petition filed against Mr Obot by the lawfirm of Okangbe & Co, he was accused of dipping his hands into a lot of criminal activities including alleged misappropriation of government fund “necessitating his being relieved of that office in November 2006. Said the petition: “prior to entering the public service, Mr Obot had no visible means of livelihood, having only” a family house to his credit, although he falsely declared in his assets declaration forms that he was worth N5million naira with a monthly income of N100million naira in 1999.

“That Mr Obot’s lifestyle changed dramatically between 1999 and 2004 when he entered the service of the Akwa Ibom State Government. In 2004, Mr Emmanuel Obot again declared that he was worth N500million with annual income of N150million. That Mr Obot owns a petrol station worth several millions of naira as well as amassing properties including a luxury hotel in Uyo and other parts of the country in excess of his legitimate income.

There is however no evidence that he has ever paid tax on this outrageous financial figures and assets accumulation. The tax issue was earlier reported to FIRS which confirmed to ICPC in 2007 that he had all along evaded the payment of tax by his company Emmanix Nigeria Limited,” among other complaints.

The anti-graft agency said the weighty issue raised in the petition is why we invited him. “Instead of coming here, he went before Justice A F Ademola of the Federal high court sitting in Calabar to procure an interim injunction restraining EFCC from probing him. Of course a lot of legal minds criticized the action of the judge,” the EFCC officials had said.

Indeed, the legal practitioners who spoke at the time had described as a sad development the granting of exparte injunction by Justice Ademola to the effect that such a serious criminal matter like the instant one should not be investigated. The judge had to vacate the order later.

Etim on his own part has dismissed as balderdash the allegation that he is behind the EFCC’s move to probe him. He said rather than him, he said it is Obot’s questionable past that is haunting him. He added that even if there is no petition alleging corruption against Obot, he said there is no vacancy at the National Assembly for him, for more reasons than one.

He said he (Obot) was never a candidate of any political party during the April 2007 National Assembly poll held nationwide. He said it was so because at the time the 2007 general election held, the ruling political party, PDP, which he claimed to belong had expelled him over anti-party activities.

Secondly, he said Obot never contested any election. He said even though Obot was not a candidate at the election, he said that both the Akwa Ibom National Assembly Election Petition and the Appeal Tribunal contrary to the age-long tradition of the judiciary, expanded their jurisdiction to entertain his petition which canvassed pre-election matter. It is trite law that an election petition proceeding and the ensuing appeal to the court of appeal must be that which is restricted to Section 145 of the electoral Act 2006 and must not deal with pre-election matter over which the right of appeal terminates at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Obot said all the judgments he claimed to have procured will soon collapse naturally with time. He said the Supreme Court is already seized of the matter and will soon decide the case with finality. But one-time Chief Judge of Lagos state, Justice Omotunde Ilori said the matter on ground is a simple one. He said if the fact of the case remains that the matter brought by Obot before both the election petition tribunal and the Court of Appeal is a pre-election matter, he said the judgments entered by the two courts cannot be valid.

Hear him: “suppose a customary court or a magistrate court sits on a case of murder and convicts the accused person on trial and orders him to be hanged, does it mean that since the inferior court has sat on the murder case, its judgment is valid and executable? No, such judgment cannot be valid because both customary court and magistrate courts lack the jurisdiction to entertain murder case and any judgment entered is null and void and cannot be executed.

“I tell you, anybody who executes that kind of judgment is committing murder himself because a magistrate court has no jurisdiction to enter valid and executable judgment on murder case. So, if a tribunal also entertains a pre-election matter that is meant for a regular court, any judgment entered by such tribunal is also null and void and not executable.

But the normal thing to do is to go to court to pronounce it null and void. He can go to the high court to declare such judgment null and void,” he added. He said the step will shorten the life span of the
on-going controversy over the 2007 Uyo constituency poll.


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