Opinion

Edeoga vs. Mbah: The optics and forensics of an electoral battle

By Victor Anazonwu

Humans, like all animals, are easily drawn to optics. We love bright lights and colorful flowers for instance. Conversely, we tend to switch off on ordinary-looking or tedious stuff, even if sometimes they hide rare gems. It’s not our fault; just the way we’re made. In a recent social experiment published on YouTube, a total of $500 was neatly wrapped, labeled and placed behind a plain, brown cardboard with the message “Please Take Me” boldly written on the cardboard. A man carried this message around a crowded street. Not a single person paid close attention or stopped to take the offer. If only they knew that beyond the surface lay a handsome gift…

 

 

So it is with the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Enugu. Most people are talking and writing about Governor Peter Mbah’s allegedly forged NYSC discharge certificate. But that’s just what’s on the surface. Few, if any, are paying any attention to deeper, equally important issues raised by the petitioners concerning his election. If only they knew to look beyond the surface.

 

 

In this article, I shall attempt to go beyond the surface and the optics to the ugly and greasy underbelly of the case. The idea is to give the public a glimpse of some of the raw details which lawyers and judges have to plough through to arrive at a verdict in this case.

 

 

The second and third prayers of Chijioke Edeoga and the Labor Party to the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Enugu probably hold greater significance for our democracy, society and posterity. They speak of a society in distress screaming for help. The petitioners aver:

 

 

That Peter Mbah was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast at the election, being that there were arithmetical and computational errors (of commission and omission) in the scores recorded and announced in his favor by INEC. They claim that in at least four local government areas of the state, Edeoga’s votes were either deliberately switched with those of Mbah or were willfully suppressed; and that in two LGAs Mbah was unfairly awarded votes in excess of the number of accredited voters.

 

That the election was (therefore) not conducted in compliance with the Electoral Act.

 

That if the computational errors and criminal infractions observed in the election results are corrected, INEC would have no choice but to declare Edeoga as the rightful winner of the March 18 Gubernatorial election.in Enugu State.

 

 

If these averments are true, it means we’re dealing with yet another case of a stolen mandate and a willful perversion of popular will by persons hired and paid to conduct our elections. These are egregious offenses that put a dagger to the heart of society and can kill it even faster than forgery.

 

 

To support their claims, the LP Governorship candidate and his party relied on certified true copies of result sheets EC8A – E obtained from the electoral umpire, INEC.

 

 

In particular, they allege that in two local government areas of Udenu and Igboeze North, there were several collation centers where results were deliberately miscalculated or inaccurately collated to suppress the numbers for Mr Edeoga and give advantage to Mr Mbah.

 

 

In Udenu LGA alone, they presented evidence of results from 17 polling units where votes belonging to Edeoga were (allegedly) essentially swapped with those belonging to Peter Mbah. Since that LGA is one of Edeoga’s strongholds, they claim, INEC officials maliciously murdered the people’s will here and presented the carcas to the one who unlawfully hired them to do the hatchet job.

 

 

In Igbo Eze LGA, they presented evidence of results from 5 polling units where lawful votes were allegedly thrashed and phoney votes randomly awarded to both candidates to achieve a predetermined goal – to give Mbah an edge and help him cross the Rubicon ahead

 

 

In addition, they allege that in two local government areas of the state, Nkanu East and Nkanu West, there were egregious cases of over voting in seven polling units which should result in the cancellation of votes recorded therein. How did this happen?

 

 

Chijioke Edeoga and the LP aver that lawful results from these two local government areas, which constitute the home base of Mr Mbah, were deliberately delayed for a few days from being announced by INEC officials, working in favor of the PDP candidate, so that results from other LGAs could be seen and the degree of falsification needed to swing victory in favor of Mr Mbah could be determined.

 

 

They further allege that having established that Edeoga was leading in overall votes cast from other LGAs, agents of Peter Mbah proceeded on a wanton allocation of votes to close that gap and unlawfully give their candidate an undeserved edge. They awarded the LP candidate, Mr Chijioke Edeoga, zero votes while the PDP candidate Mr Peter Mbah was allocated votes in excess of the number of accredited voters in those polling units – according to the prosecution. By so doing, the petitioners allege, the total votes recorded in and announced by INEC for the affected polling units should be voided according to the Electoral Law since they are mathematically false and statistically inconsistent.

 

 

In concluding their submissions, the LP legal team avers that if votes demonstrated to have been wrongly allocated to Peter Mbah and the PDP are subtracted from his total, and those demonstrated to have been wrongly taken from Edeoga are added to him, the scale of electoral values will tilt decidedly in favor of Edeoga. It is on the basis of this claim that they want him to be declared the rightful winner of the Enugu Guber election of March 18, 2023.

 

 

Against these stark and damning allegations, INEC’s legal team led by Dr Alex Izinyon (SAN), himself a seasoned warhorse, offered very little concrete defenses. They essentially countered that each allegation was false. But they could barely provide evidence or logic to contradict documents tendered – mainly certified true copies of result sheets from INEC itself. It was not for lack of trying that INEC’s defense looks so fragile. There is just a limit to what legal brilliance can do.

 

 

Peter Mbah’s equally formidable armada of lawyers was in a similar quandary. Apart from trying to discredit a resolute NYSC which said it did not issue the certificate Mbah was holding, they can only hope that INEC is able to defend the results which it declared in favor of their client and PDP candidate.

 

 

In essence, it is simply up to the tribunal judges to decide whether the prosecution had proved substantial infringements, deliberate falsifications, mathematical miscalculations and noncompliance. Not whether there were infringements and non-compliance.

 

 

I do not envy the judges called upon to preside over this and similar matters across the country. They are like Pontius Pilate, buffeted between Emperor Caesar and the mob. If the Enugu tribunal says INEC and Peter Mbah did not sin, they will have to explain away the mountain of evidence presented against them, especially the certified true copies of documents obtained from INEC itself. This would be no mean task even for seasoned jurists.

 

 

If they uphold the prayers of the prosecution and thrash Mbah’s victory, it would mean giving INEC a bloody nose. In that case, they will have to answer to powerful forces in high places who have invested heavily in keeping Nigeria’s democracy under bondage. It will represent a major blow to the electoral malpractice industry in Nigeria.

 

 

There is only one known remedy to the dilemma that judges face on the throne of justice – They must rule according to the weight of evidence presented before them, as well as the weight of their conscience. Nothing else should matter.

 

 

Edeoga’s legal team clinically unveiled the new modus operandi of election riggers in Nigeria, showing how they have evolved from analogue ballot box snatching to digital falsification and switching of numbers at collation centers. This case may well become the new template for challenging future electoral infractions. For this, the LP legal team led by Chief Gboyega Awomolo (SAN) deserves to be commended.

 

 

This leaves only one unanswered question: What happens to those who perpetrated these alleged crimes; those implicated in the apparent heist? Will the guilty once more walk free? When will they begin their journey to jail? When will there be just punishment for all sinners in Nigeria’s electoral jurisprudence to serve as a deterrent to future crime?

 

 

 

 

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