By Sir Charles Okereke
It appears that of all men, supporters of the governorship candidate of the Labour Party, LP, in the 2023 election in Enugu, Chijioke Edeoga, are to be pitied most. Edeoga’s spin-doctors and ‘kabukabu activists’ feed them and the unsuspecting members of the public with so much misinformation and disinformation, especially concerning Governor Peter Mbah’s National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) discharge certificate; all in their desperate bids to sway the courts of law and public opinion.
They would, for instance, claim that the NYSC is the issuing authority of NYSC discharge certificates; that NYSC’s Director General had disclaimed Mbah’s certificate and that is final. If we go by that funny argument then they would also have to tell Nigerians what they are doing from the presidential to House of Assembly election petition tribunals, challenging results declared and Certificates of Return issued by INEC. Is INEC not the issuing authority?
The laws take cognisance of human mischief as we see in NYSC and make provisions to them. That is why the courts are there. Otherwise, all a political opponent needs to do is to buy over or coax NYSC or a university to disclaim an opponent’s certificate, and that would be final. And in adjudicating such cases, the court deals with facts and proofs, not emotions and propaganda.
I told my friends before now that if a dispassionate review of submissions in court (including oral and documentary evidence and testimonies) and common sense are anything to go by, then Edeoga and the LP stand no chance. Although the petitioners hinged their petition on three pillars, they ultimately put all their eggs in one basket, which was that Dr. Mbah was at the time of the election not qualified to run for the office of the governor, having allegedly presented a forged NYSC Certificate with number A808297.
Unfortunately, with his hands tied by facts and volume of documents tendered by Mbah, the petitioners’ star witness/PW1, Ibrahim Abdul Muhammad (Director of Corps Certification, NYSC), ended up messing them up and vindicating Mbah. It should be noted that Mohammed admitted in his Statement on Oath that Mbah was mobilised for national youth service with NYSC Call Up No. LA/FRN/01/800351; that he was deployed to Lagos State; that he was initially posted to the Nigeria Ports Authority for his primary assignment, but was rejected; that he was therefore reposted to Udeh & Associates, a law firm; that he applied and got NYSC’s approval to suspend his service to go for his Bar Part II (Bar Final) programme at the Nigerian Law School; that he was reinstated vide a letter by the NYSC headquarters dated 7th May 2003 (reference number NYSC/DHQ/CM/27/20) to “continue his service from where he stopped”; and he was reposted to Udeh & Associates vide a letter dated 26th May 2003 to serve out the remaining four of months of his service year.
The NYSC only claimed that they could not have issued Mbah’s discharge certificate because: (1) They did not have any record to show that he actually completed his primary assignment at Udeh & Associates; (2) He allegedly did not participate in the weekly Community Development Service (CDS); and (3) He did not sign against his name in register where his set signed and collected their certificates.
But it is instructive that NYSC did not deny ownership of the certificate number Mbah holds. And they could not have denied it since their certificates are security documents printed by the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC) with serial numbers, watermark and other security features. They only claim that they did not issue it to him. Yet at no time did they advertise that their certificate was missing. Nor did they produce the “genuine” owner of that certificate number other than Mbah.
Meanwhile, a simple attention to Section 153 (1) of the Evidence Act, Udoma v. Umana (2016), Abubakar v. Yar’Adua (2008), Buhari v. Obasanjo (2005), and Nwobodo v. Onoh (1984) will clearly show that where issues of criminality arise in civil proceedings, the nature of proof must be beyond reasonable doubt. You do not just make any claim and expect the court to run with it without proof. For instance, in determining whether or not Mbah actually completed those remaining four months or not, the NYSC did not refer to his place of primary assignment (Udeh & Associates). And they want the court to believe them? More so when his place of primary assignment issued him with clearance letters for those months and the NYSC duly paid him his allowances on the strength of those clearance letters? Also, Udeh & Associates were in court and affirmed the authenticity of those clearance letters as exhibited. So, which other records could NYSC be looking for?
Again, Section 11 of the NYSC Act is clear that the NYSC “shall” on the completion of service issue every Corps member a certificate of national service. “Shall” in law means “compulsorily”. But here is NYSC giving the impression that it did not fulfil that statutory obligation to Mbah as a penal measure. Yet they did not tender any record/register to show he missed any CDS session. They did not tender any evidence of report, query, investigation, hearing, and communication of any sanction whatsoever to back such a decision. In other words, assuming, but without conceding that Mbah did not participate in CDS for those four months, which part of the NYSC law empowers the agency to withhold the certificate forever? The most would be to extend his service and it has to be communicated in writing.
NYSC also failed to tender/exhibit the said register where Mbah purportedly failed to sign for his certificate. But even if they tendered the register, common sense clearly dictates that Mbah could not have signed the same register as his mates, who had long completed their service and left long before he returned from the Law School to “continue from where he stopped”.
Meanwhile, one smart thing Mbah did when NYSC started issuing disclaimers on his discharge certificate without due diligence was to have petitioned both NYSC and the Department of State Services (DSS). But while NYSC did not as much as reply him, the DSS did an in-depth investigation. And DSS’ findings should really make NYSC cover their faces in shame.
For instance, according to the Statement on Oath and evidence adduced by DSS’ Deputy Director of Operations and Strategy, Mr. Yahaya Isa Mohammed (DW2), the NYSC lost Mbah’s file at a point and had to create a temporary one for him. Thus, whereas NYSC’s response to Mbah’s application for suspension of service to go for his Bar Part II programme bears file number LA/10/1532, the agency’s response to his application for reinstatement bears file number LA/01/1532/T, with “T” standing for “temporary”. What a crying shame! And they still have the effrontery to talk.
In fact, the DSS averred that NYSC could not account for 12 of its “8 series” A808297 to A808308, which includes Mbah’s certificate. It could not trace to whom or which state or states they were issued. The DSS, therefore, maintained that “the failure of the NYSC to maintain a proper record keeping system was the cause of its inability to trace Peter Ndubuisi Mbah’s initial certificate”, saying “it would be wrong for the NYSC to blame Peter Ndubuisi Mbah for their own failure in record keeping”.
Again, in a bid to cover up their ineptitude or complicity or both in the Mbah matter, NYSC claimed that it did not issue “8 series” certificates to Corps members in Lagos in that year. But DSS said that when they insisted that NYSC check their records properly, they brought so many certificates, which showed that they indeed issued “8 series” certificates, not only in Lagos, but also across the country in that service year.
Interestingly too, NYSC could not produce in court the purported “6 series” certificate they claimed that they should have issued to Mbah. They maintained they shredded/destroyed it, a claim the DSS faulted. The DSS also observed that such a twist negated NYSC’s initial position that Mbah did not serve.
In fact, the only certificate produced in court by the petitioners was still a certified true copy of Mbah’s certificate (with number A808297), which the NYSC claimed he forged. Ironically, it was certified by the same NYSC. That NYSC certified the same certificate destroys the claim of forgery since they could not have certified what was not in its custody.
The other argument Mbah was appointed Chief of Staff in July 2003 whereas his service year ended in September did not also fly at the tribunal because Udeh & Associates affirmed that Mbah did not accept the appointment/assume office until after he completed his service. The law firm also avowed that Mbah, upon passing out, came to the office to present his discharge certificate and thank them. Interestingly, the petitioners did not equally produce any documentary evidence to the contrary.
Clearly, the Mbah certificate saga is politically contrived, but fuelled by the ineptitude and corruption of our public institutions. Little wonder that rather than seize the opportunity of the N20 billion lawsuit Mbah instituted against them at the Federal High Court, Abuja, for conspiracy, deceit, and misrepresentation of facts to destroy his character, political career, and businesses, NYSC filed preliminary a objection challenging his right to sue them without first seeking an amicable resolution through the Presidency. But the court agreed with Mbah that Section 20 of the NYSC Act did not apply to him, as he was no longer a Corps member. Yet, Edeoga is hoping to secure victory at the tribunal on the strength of self-defeating testimonies of the same agency that desperately resorted to technicalities to avoid confronting Mbah in open court on the same issue. What a pity.
Sir Okereke lives in Enugu