Court declines to disqualify Wike over alleged forgery – Independent Observers

Court declines to disqualify Wike over alleged forgery

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By Andy Chukwu

A Federal High Court, in Abuja on Friday, declined to disqualify Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State from participating in Saturday’s governorship election, following allegation that he tendered forged documents to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The plaintiff, one Elvis Chinda, had in the suit marked FHC / ABJ /CS /1430/2018, alleged that the birthday certificate Wike attached to the Form CF001 he submitted to INEC on November 2, 2018, for clearance to participate in the 2019 general election, was forged.

Cited as defendants in the case were INEC, Wike, and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The plaintiff, told the court that the certificate titled “Statutory Declaration of Age,” attached to Wike’s Form C.F.001, and purportedly deposed to on October 3, 1986, by one Collins Nyeme claiming that Nyesom Wike at the time of deposition, was a native of Rumuepirikom in Obio / Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State was false.

However, the court, in a judgment that was delivered by Justice Iyang Ekwo, dismissed the suit on the premise that the plaintiff failed to prove the allegation beyond reasonable doubt. The court held that the allegation, being quasi-criminal in nature, ought to be proved beyond every reasonable doubt, a burden it said the plaintiff filed to discharge against Wike. “In our statutes, forgery is a criminal act. It entails the fraudulently making of a forged documents. It is a criminal offence. The onus is on the plaintiff to establish ingredients of the allegation with credible and convincing evidence.

“I find that the plaintiff has not proved allegations against the 1st defendant beyond every reasonable doubt or at all”, the court held.

The plaintiff had averred that “As at 3rd October 1986, there was no local Government Area known as Obio /Akpor Local Government Area in existence in Rivers State.

“As at 1986, Rumuepirikom was not in Obio /Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State , but in Port Harcourt Local Government Area of Rivers State being the parent LGA from where Obio /Akpor Local Government Area was carved out.”

He told the court that Obio /Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State was created in 1989 by Decree No 12 of 1989, two years after the alleged forgery was committed.

“That the certificate of birth ( Statutory Declaration of Age) was purported sworn to and issued at the High/Magistrate’s Court Registry, Port Harcourt but allegedly bears stamp of the Judiciary Probate Registry ,Port Harcourt.

“There was no Court Registry, whether in 1986 or afterward known as High/Magistrate Court Registry Port Harcourt. No such Registry existed or exists any where in Port Harcourt or Rivers State.”

The plaintiff said the forged certificate of birth misled INEC into believing that Wike had a genuine birth certificate that confirmed his alleged date of birth given as 13th March1963. He alleged that Wike presented the bogus birth certificate to maintain consistency and coverup falsehood and lies, which he started in 1998.

He said the coverup, “began in 1989, when Wike expressed desire to contest for the local chairmanship of Obio/ Akpor Local Government Area Council election in Rivers State which INEC had fixed 35 years age for eligibility.

“Wike was 30 years of age then and ineligible for that election. In order to qualify for that election, he forged the Certificate of birth now in contention. He has used it in subsequent elections.” The plaintiff argued that INEC, “is not in a position legally to disqualify Wike from contesting the governorship election except the court gave an order disqualifying him for the breach of Section 182 (1) (j) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

But Justice Ekwo, in his ruling stressed that a forensic expert ought to have confirmed that the document was indeed forged. He noted that counsel to the plaintiff, had earlier filed a similar suit in his own name. He observed that after the matter was dismissed, the lawyer engaged the plaintiff to pursue the same case, despite the fact that he had also gone on appeal.

The court described the action as a “despicable act”, saying it amounted to gross abuse of the judicial process.

“The suit is entirely that of the plaintiff’s counsel, it is an action by proxy which amounts to sponsorship litigation which is a professional misconduct.

 “I find that this matter is an abuse of court process and I resolve this issue in favour of the 2nd and 3rd respondent.”

The court further relied on section 285 (9) of the 4th Alteration to the1999 Constitution and held that the suit had become status barred since it was not filed 14 days after Wike submitted the Form CF 001 to INEC.

Besides, Justice Ekwo held that a copy of the alleged forged document the plaintiff tendered in court lacked credibility, saying there was nothing to show that it emanated from INEC. He held that the plaintiff failed to adduce any evidence to show that the document was issued by INEC upon payment of the prescribed fee.

“None exhibition of the prescribed fee rendered the documentary evidence tendered by the plaintiff, worthless and it does not meet the evidential standard of admissibility.

“Affidavit evidence used by the plaintiff is incapable of establishing the intent of the 1st defendant in this case.

“There is no indication from the purported document with INEC’s stamp, indicating that it was the plaintiff that applied for it.

“I am unable to ascribe any probative value to the documentary evidence tendered by the plaintiff. I resolve every issue in favour of the 1st defendant and I make an order dismissing this case for lack of merit”, the court held.

The plaintiff had among other things, prayed the court to among other things, determine: “Whether the certificate of Birth titled Statutory Declaration of Age deposed to by one Collins Nyeme Wike purportedly sworn to on 3rd October 1986 at the High/ Court Magistrate’s Court Registry, Port Harcourt lied about/against itself and contained falsehoods. As well as, “Whether by the combined provisions of section 182(1)(i ) and 1 (1) & (2)of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the 2nd defendant ought to be disqualified and declared ineligible to contest the 2019 governorship election in Rivers state made pursuant to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)”. Among other reliefs, he applied for, “An order of the Court directing the disqualification of (Wike) the 2nd defendant from contesting or holding out himself for the 2019 General Governorship election in River State or any other elections made pursuant to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria , 1999, (as amended) having presented a forged certificate to the 1st defendant. Likewise, “An order of perpetual injunction restraining INEC, the 1st defendant from receiving or accepting from (PDP),the 3rd defendant or any other person any nomination of the 2nd defendant , from processing such nomination, or from presenting Wike the 2nd defendant on ballot, in respect of the2019 Governorship Election or any other elections made pursuant to the Constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)”.

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