By Kayode Matthew
In other civilised climes, it is unheard of that someone who was not a candidate in an election could be declared the winner of that election by the electoral umpire.
In Nigeria however, where nothing is impossible, the â€˜winnerâ€™ will not only exploit the loopholes in the law to enable him remain the â€˜winnerâ€™ and enjoy all the undeserved benefits attached to the office but all those who conspired to facilitate the fraudulent declaration are never investigated with a view to prosecuting them.
And even when the verdict of the lower tribunal which validates this illegality is upturned by the appellate court, the â€˜winnerâ€™ who has now become the loser is not ready to give up but will go ahead to conscript stark illiterates to condemn the judgment of the appellate court in the media. This is the scenario that played out in the contest to represent the Ihiala Federal Constituency of Anambra State at the National Assembly between Messrs Vitalis C. Okafor and Chukwumaeze M. Nzeribe.
Mr Vitalis Okafor claimed that he won the primaries of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, to stand as a candidate in the election to the Federal House of Representatives, Ihiala Federal Constituency for the April 21 2007 election. But mysteriously, his opponentâ€™s name, Chukwuma Nzeribe was submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) as PDPâ€™s candidate.
Following his protest to the partyâ€™s national secretariat, a letter signed by the National Chairman and National Secretary of the PDP was sent to INEC confirming Vitalis Okafor as the partyâ€™s candidate for Ihiala Federal Constituency, Anambra and should substitute the earlier name sent.
The substitution was effected by INEC after which Okafor contested the election on April 21 2007 as the PDP candidate against candidates of five other parties; AC, DPP, ANPP, APGA, and NDP. Although Chukwumaeze Nzeribe was not a candidate at the election, INEC surprisingly declared him as the winner of the election as the candidate of the PDP instead of Vitalis Okafor who contested the election.
Aggrieved by the declaration, Okafor filed a petition before the National Assembly/Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunal which dismissed his petition on May 15 2008. Dissatisfied by the tribunalâ€™s decision, Okafor filed an appeal before the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu on June 4 2008 praying the appellate court to direct INEC to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Nzeribe and issue him (Okafor) a fresh certificate of return as the candidate who won the election to the House of Representatives for Ihiala Federal Constituency, Anambra State.
Named as respondents in the petition are INEC, the commissionâ€™s returning officer in Ihiala constituency, Anambra State Electoral Commissioner and Mr Chukwumaeze Nzeribe.
In its response to Okaforâ€™s petition, INEC clearly admitted that it received a letter from the PDP dated February 5 2007 substituting Nzeribe with Okafor as PDPâ€™s candidate for the House of Representatives, Ihiala Federal Constituency. INEC further admitted that it published the name of Okafor as the partyâ€™s candidate.
The appellate court in its finding held that following INECâ€™s admissions, there was no doubt that Okafor was the candidate presented by his party to INEC as her candidate for the National Assembly Election for Ihiala Federal Constituency and that he was the candidate for the PDP in the said election held on April 21d 2007. It further held that â€œthe tribunal was in error when it held that notwithstanding the admission of INEC there was still a dispute on the candidature of the Appellant (Okafor).
Faulting the judgment of the lower tribunal, the Court of Appeal said, â€œit is clear from the record that Exhibits R2 and R9 are Certified True Copies of List of candidates for the election which bear the name of the 2nd Respondent (Nzeribe) as the PDP candidate. It is note worthy that Exhibit R2 was tendered by the 2nd Respondent through a witness on subpoena but not sworn. It is however on record that the tribunal later in its judgment rightly thought it fit and stuck out the sworn deposition of the said witness.
It follows therefore that there being no admissible averments the said documents can support, they were improperly admitted and ought not to have been made use of at all by the tribunal in its judgment. The 2nd Respondent at that point became an incompetent, whose statement on oath had been struck out. In short, the facts extracted from those documents go to no issue.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the 1st set of Respondents did not plead the fact that the name of 2nd Respondent was published by it as candidate of the PDP for the election in question. Hence there was no pleading to which the said documents could have been safely tied to make it reliable.
In its conclusions, the Court of Appeal held that â€œit is pertinent to once again note that the 2nd Respondent who was the beneficiary of the unfortunate seemingly fraudulent practices of the 1st Respondent had nothing to support his own case, having had all his supposed statements on oath duly struck out for being incompetent.
â€œIn view of the documentary evidence adduced by the Appellant by which he ventilated his case, I am not in slightest doubt that he discharged the burden of proof on him, that he was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party at the election that took place on April 21 2007 and I so hold.