Tinubu’s Certificate: 23 years after, we return to Fawehinmi’s war, Ikenna Emewu

A little after Chief Bola Tinubu was elected into office as the governor of Lagos State, issues arose about his qualification for that office.

Fiery lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi, sued the Inspector General of Police (IGP), then Musliu Smith, asking the court for an order of mandamus on the IGP to investigate what he said he was sure about the falsity of the credentials Tinubu filed before the electoral commission.

Gani alleged documents forgery and perjury against the governor and wanted an action to oust him from power.

Fawehinmi, to those that knew him, never started any war he wasn’t sure of his facts.

I remember watching him on TV, precisely, AIT, fuming that all he wanted was for Tinubu to show to Nigerians the passport with which he traveled to the US at the time he swore in an affidavit that he studied at the Chicago University or the University of Chicago. He assured that if only the Lagos governor produced that, he would tender a public apology to him. The Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM) had insisted that Tinubu didn’t attend the university he claimed.

This war was triggered in part by my senior colleague then and back page columnist in the Thisday Newspaper, Waziri Adio, who later was the CEO of NEITI. Adio wrote in his column with this devastating headline – Hypocrisy of the Ngbati Press. With that article, he launched a war on what he called the double standards of the press led in the main by mostly Yoruba professionals (no pun intended)

How did Adio come to that? Tinubu’s case was a little after Salusi Buhari, the underage Speaker of the House of Representatives was disgraced for swearing an oath found to be false which elevated his age to enable him to contest the election. Buhari was actually 29 but swore to an affidavit to be over 30, and was later convicted for certificate forgery. His travails came from a media report and that was feasted on by the press which has its base in Lagos until he buckled under the pressure of a terribly bad press.

So Adio, also a Yoruba, was angry that the same Lagos press horde kept quiet over similar forgery against Tinubu, arguing that the reason was that Tinubu was Yoruba and the media clan was protecting its own.

It was from there that Fawehinmi took it up.

I and other judicial correspondents had a tough task arriving at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi early in the morning to cover the proceedings.

The matter landed in the court presided over by Justice Sunday Egbo Egbo, a man whose normal voice pitch was louder than a microphone-aided speech.

That fateful morning, we assembled early to get the decision of the court.

Gani had asked that the IGP investigates Tinubu over certificate forgery. Those alleged forged certificates filed before the INEC by Tinubu in 1998 to contest the election are what have been this time, declared missing or left blank.

In the argument of counsel to Tinubu led by the rugged and tested  Chief Emmanuel Afe-Babalola, the university proprietor today, he canvassed that the immunity clause of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution forbids his client from investigation or prosecution. That was after an initial legal war for joinder by Tinubu who was not one of the defendants in the matter.

On one particular testy day, Gani known for rough fights, launched a verbal war on Afe-Babalola outside the courtroom, saying he was disappointed that he was defending a man, according to him, he knew had no qualifying certificates.

At the judgment, the first I witnessed a judge allowed to be beamed live on TV channels of the NTA and AIT that brought their cameras to the courtroom, and those of us for the print, freely recorded the judgment on our midgets, Egbo Egbo declared that the immunity in Section 308 also meant immunity from investigation, therefore, the prayer declined and Tinubu can’t be investigated.

As we stepped out of the court, Fawehinmi who was present in court spoke to the press, stabbing his right index finger in the direction of the court building in rage, that the judge miscarried justice and erred in law. He vowed to move on to the Court of Appeal.

At that trial, CP Sunday Ehindero, who a few years after became the IGP was head of the Nigeria Police legal department and was the lawyer that represented the IGP all through. Ehindero spoke glowingly to us of the decision and said he was happy. What we didn’t understand was why the Police were lax or cold to do their constitutional work of investigating a person accused of forgery – right or wrong.

A few months after that judgment, we assembled again at the Court of Appeal, Igbosere to hear the verdict of the matter at appellate.

The court had a full complement of five justices led by Justice George Oguntade who incidentally read the lead judgment. I can guess that Nkanu Onnoghen, later Chief Justice of Nigeria, Olayiwola Aderemi, and two others were on the panel.

At last, Fawehinmi won some and lost some as he put it and as the court rose, his lawyer, Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, was not happy. The fighter vowed to end it at the Supreme Court.

Oguntade had held that morning that Section 308 does not in any stretch of interpretation include immunity from investigation. That was the part Gani won. But in his technicality, the law being an ass, the jurist rather held that much as a governor who enjoys immunity can be investigated, but he was not willing to make an order directing the IGP to do that since according to him ‘the outcome of such investigation cannot be implemented in a prosecution which is well defined as the crux of the immunity. Oguntade didn’t also bulge to even make a decision and have the outcome kept pending. Gani lost in that angle.

At the Supreme Court, a full team of 7 justices heard and decided the matter. In his decision, Justice Samson Uwaifo even accepted that since it is the House of Assembly that has the power to remove a governor, the outcome of such an investigation requested by Gani can be used as a yardstick for an impeachment process. Yet, the Supreme Court team led by Justice Abubakar Wali agreed with the court below, that Oguntade was right to hold that the outcome of the investigation may not be put to use in prosecution due to the delimiting immunity clause, and such order would amount to a nullity.

Many years after, here we are arguing that issue Gani saw as quite fundamental and we all looked away. Good old Gani is gone to his grave, and here we are again fighting a war afresh that would have been rested if the courts had acted wisely to order that prayed investigation and keep it in the cooler pending when Tinubu lost immunity to dust it up for use. Meanwhile, this was a case of forgery, a criminal allegation, that is not overtaken by time.

Be the judge yourself, if Nigeria has grown an inch since 1999 we started this journey. Does Nigeria actually give much hope of progress in the right direction?

(Africachina Press)
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