Following the submission of a written address to the Enugu State Election Petitions Tribunal by the lawyers to the Labour Party gubernatorial candidate in the governorship election of March 18, Chijioke Edeoga, and the final address of attorneys to his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rival, Peter Mbah, the Enugu State Stakeholders Forum (ESSF) has advised lawyers, particularly senior ones, to be mindful of the kind of briefs they accept.
“Senior and successful legal practitioners must be selective in the cases they accept in their personal and professional interest, and in order to maintain the dignity of the law profession and advance the cause of justice”, the ESSF declared in a statement today in Enugu signed by its president, Professor Joe Aneke, and the secretary, Dr Ifeanyi Agbo.
“Every Nigerian who has read the final addresses of both parties to the dispute would come out at once delighted and disappointed”.
The forum described the final address of the Labour Party team led by Asiwaju Adegboyega Awomolo as “exceedingly persuasive, logical, factual, commonsensical, knowledgeable, robust and steeped in the finest tradition of legal practice”, but called that of the PDP team led by Chief Wole Olanipekun “scandalously weak and desperately searching for technicalities to thwart justice and demoralise the Enugu people who are enthusiastic to uphold democratic ideals”.
The ESSF expressed utter surprise that a legal team of 15 lawyers, including five Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), could present “such a weak performance for the PDP as reflected by the fact that it could write only three pages in the final address, with almost two pages devoted to protocols, the introduction and the conclusion as well as their names, while the Labour Party team “presented 40 tight pages of facts, dates, places, incidents, persons, institutions, decided cases, legal precedents and authorities”.
Most people, according to the Enugu stakeholders, still find it difficult to understand why a team with Chief Olanipekun, a former Nigerian Bar Association president and now chairman of the Body of Benchers, and Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu, an election petitions specialist and leader of the English Constitution of the Free Masons in Nigeria, could not match Chief Adegboyega, Chief Sebastine Hon, SAN, and Dr Valerie Azinge, SAN.
The stakeholders attributed they called the lacklustre performance of the PDP legal team to “the fact that when a counsel handles a very weak case, as in the case of Peter Mbah whom the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) controversially declared the winner of the governorship vote, there is very little he can do, however brilliant he may be”.
They reminded the public that Mbah’s emergence as the Enugu State governor has been so problematic that “even INEC could not produce a witness to defend its action on the two days it was given by the Enugu State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal”.
The forum recalled the number of votes allocated to Mbah in his Nkanu East Local Government Area was so embarrassing to even INEC officials working in cahoots with the PDP that they officially announced on March 22 at a news conference in Enugu, four days after the vote, a reduction of PDP votes from over 31,000 to a little over 16,000, “but enough to declare him victorious, a development which turned the entire state into a huge graveyard”.
The ESSF expressed disappointment that Anthony Ani, SAN, a former attorney general, “was the lawyer who led the spirited effort to get an Abuja High Court, with Inyang Ekwo presiding, to gag the National Youth Service (NYSC) from testifying on the forged A808298 discharge NYSC certificate that Mbah presented to INEC as one of his credentials”.
Even though both the Court of Appeal and Justice Ekwo have since done the right thing, said the stakeholders, they “are still in shock that a senior lawyer could go to this level”.
The Enugu stakeholders wondered how the “armada of SANs Mbah assembled” felt when the NYSC authorities demonstrated that the NYSC discharge certificate Mbah presented was forged and when INEC could not attempt to explain its declaration of March 22, 2023.
“Mbah has, indeed, become the face of forgeries—forgery of the NYSC certificate and the forgery of election results”, they said, adding that his case is worse than those of Mrs Kemi Adeosun, President Buhari’s first finance minister; Salusi Buhari, the first Speaker of the House of Representatives when democracy was restored in 1999; and David Lyon, the .Bayelsa State governor-elect in 2020 who could not be sworn in because his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremioye, presented a forged certificate to INEC. They all lost their positions because the Constitution forbids any person with a forged document from holding public office.
The Enugu State Stakeholders Forum, therefore, counselled lawyers to be circumspect in the briefs they accept, so as to “protect their personal integrity and professional reputations, as well as advance the cause of justice since every lawyer is, by definition, an officer in the Temple of Justice”.