This Feature titled “Ogboru: The Journey So Far“, made available to Blank NEWS Online, is the opinion and position of the Delta State Stakeholders.
On June 21 2013, the Supreme Court is expected to give its judgement on the prolonged legal battle over the last governorship election in Delta State. The judgement will no doubt mark the turning point for the troubled state and the beleaguered so called governor of the state Emmanuel Uduaghan. But more significantly, the judgement will have huge ramifications for Great Ogboru, personally, and for his tortuous and torturous political struggle to liberate the state.
The journey to the Supreme Court has been a long one indeed. In fact, this is the fourth time Ogboru would have to bring his political cases in his chequered political life to the apex court. All this in a bid to seek redress and to have the court pronounce his victory in elections since he has been participating in elections in 2003. In all the cases, the Apex Court has not heard Ogboru’s case on the merit.
However, this June 21 judgement will no doubt be a landmark judgement. It is very significant to the extent that it will either reaffirm our belief in the judicial system of the country or otherwise. It is one judgement that is being eagerly awaited by political observers to see whether the Supreme Court will be bold enough to reverse itself. Whatever the outcome, the judgement will no doubt have huge ramifications for future elections not only in Delta State but also throughout Nigeria.
The Journey to the Supreme Court
The expected June 21 judgement is on the April 2011 governorship election in Delta State and this is the third time this particular petition would come to the Supreme Court. This is unprecedented and it is a proof of Ogboru’s tenacity in the pursuit of justice. The first appearance at the Supreme Court was to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision which struck out Ogboru’s appeal against the governorship election tribunal’s verdict. The Supreme Court had then struck out Ogboru’s appeal, claiming that as the judgement of the Appeal Court was a nullity, there was no appeal before their Lordships. What this means, therefore, is that no right of appeal extends to a person affected by a null and void judgement. In other words, a nullity can be final.
But Ogboru protested this decision which he considered unfair because the judges had failed to look at his case on merit. What also baffled Ogboru was the fact that his case was similar to Kebbi’s which was decided curiously differently by the same panel, which sat in the same hall and on the same date. Why his was adjudged differently remains a puzzle. More so, Justice Muhammed Tanko who announced the court’s decision spoke of a unanimous decision but the facts which emerged later showed otherwise.
According to Ogboru’s lawyers, Ogboru having successfully argued his Consolidated Appeals before the Supreme Court; and the apex Court having agreed with him, that the Court of Appeal committed a fundamental error, Ogboru ought to have gone home celebrating his victory. They argued that it is settled law that a party should not be punished for the error of the Court over which such party has no hand or fault.
Again, Ogboru’s lawyers argued that by not remitting the Appeals for rehearing on the merit or the
Supreme Court itself not adjudicating on them on their merit, the fundamental and other
constitutional (for example appellate) rights of Ogboru have been truncated. According to the
lawyers, the Supreme Court, on the authority of Dingyadi vs. I.N.EC., supra, has the jurisdiction,
indeed, the duty, to intervene and set aside its judgment in those Consolidated Appeals.
Ogboru is specifically demanding the following reliefs from the Supreme Court:
1. An order setting aside the judgment of this Honorable Court (Supreme Court) in Consolidated Appeals Nos. SC.18/2012 and SC.18A/2012: CHIEF GREAT OVEDGBE OGBORU & ANOR. VS. DR. EMMANUEL OWETAN UDUAGHAN & 2 ORS.
2. An order directing the said Consolidated Appeals to be determined on their merit, either by the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal, by a different panel of Justices.
3. Such other order(s) as this Honourable Court (Supreme Court) may deem fit to make in the circumstances.
The lawyers are also arguing that Ogboru’s fundamental right to fair hearing was violated by the Supreme Court which failed to consider his appeal on its merit. Curiously, the Supreme Court which upheld Ogboru’s appeal and consequently declared the Appeal Court’s decision a nullity did a volte face by striking out the same appeal upon which the decision to nullify the lower court’s verdict was based.
This, according to the lawyers, amounted to a legal summersault – 100 percent full swing positive by setting aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal as prayed by Ogboru and 100 percent full swing negative by striking out Ogboru’s appeal which was the basis of setting aside the judgement of the appeal court. According to the lawyers, this is a legal impossibility. And it is a complete, inexcusable and yet inexplicable violation of Ogboru’s right to have his appeal considered on its merit.
The twin issues here therefore are that of the Supreme Court’s fundamental error of not allowing Ogboru’s appeal after it had correctly nullified the lower court’s verdict and the violation of Ogboru’s right to fair hearing as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution.
Sebastian Hon’s Dubious Role
However, there was a dramatic twist to this case when it came up for hearing at the Supreme Court in January. The hearing almost turned to a theatre of the absurd when, in a painful and devastating manner, Sebastian Hon, Ogboru’s lawyer unexpectedly and unilaterally withdrew the case from court without informing Ogboru. It was indeed very bizarre. This then allowed the Supreme Court to strike out the petition again.
Ogboru was alarmed and he immediately petitioned the Chief Justice to declare his innocence and to protest the unhelpful withdrawal of his case without him instructing his lawyer, Sebastian Hon, to do so. He had to re-file the case and asked the Supreme Court for another date. The court obliged Ogboru and gave a new date for hearing.
When the case finally came up again for hearing in March, the respondents’ strategy was to force the court to uphold its earlier decision striking out the case because according to them, Sebastian Hon’s unilateral withdraw of the case was binding on Ogboru. But thanks to Ogboru’s lawyers’ gallantry and sound arguments, the court could not strike out the case but adjourned till June 21 for judgement. The world is waiting now with bated breath to see what the final judgement will be, come June 21.
The governorship re–run
After a three-and –a-half year legal battle, Ogboru succeeded in removing the then Uduaghan’s illegal government from office. Uduaghan had illegally occupied the government house for almost four years after rigging himself to power in 2007. Ogboru’s appeal had succeeded and the court had ordered a re-run after removing Uduaghan from office.
This was a major victory for Ogboru who had fought tenaciously to get the 2007 governorship election annulled. The court ordered re-run held on January 6, 2011 and despite its promise it ended in another fiasco when Uduaghan was inexplicably declared the winner by INEC despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Ogboru expectedly went back to court, but both the tribunal and the appellate court dismissed his petitions. The court of appeal actually described the petition as an academic exercise.
In a media interview, Ogboru expressed his frustration on the court verdicts thus: “Like everybody who has been following the case (the re-run election) we are very surprised because we knew that we had a valid case in the Court of Appeal but unfortunately the Justices abdicated their responsibility by saying that the appeal was academic. But it cannot be academic because it was the Court of Appeal that ordered a re-run election on the 9th of November. That election took place on the 6th of January.”
Continuing, he said: “Now, if INEC had declared that I won the election in January would my tenure have ended on the 29th of May? The answer simply is no, which means that before you determine whether or not the appeal is academic you must first establish if somebody was validly returned.
In this case what is being questioned is not the tenure of Uduaghan but his return which we say was not valid by virtue of the fact that he did not have majority of the lawful votes cast in that election. That is what the court is supposed to determine.
If the court found that I had the majority of valid votes cast in that election then what the court should do, I mean from what the lawyers have told us is to do what they did in Anambra State to vitiate immediately the elections of April 2011 and then uphold the elections of January 2011 and then I would be sworn in as Governor and then the constitution says that from the date you are sworn in you have four years to serve.
So, there is no way on earth that our petition could be said to be academic because there are two sides to the coin. If Uduaghan won the election in January 2011, then off course he has served his tenure and then our questioning the election in that case could be termed academic. But in this case it has not been determined that he was validly elected.
In any case, you have to go one step backward, when we were given the right by the Court of Appeal to contest a re-run election it was presumed that the outcome of that election would be challenged. If we had a right to participate in an election, how come we do not have the right to challenge an unlawful or invalid return?
Those are the issues that the court should have addressed its mind to but unfortunately failed to do so and that is why we say in our view and in the view of the constitution of Nigeria that the court abdicated its responsibility and did not hear our own appeal, but just went straight to the appeal of somebody who won at the tribunal which should not be the case.
It should have been a cross appeal which means that they should have heard the two together, but they only took one and left the other. They heard our appeal but did not give judgment on it. They abdicated their responsibility.
That is why we said that we are going to put it to the Supreme Court to test it because if we have to go by constitutional democracy which we are operating then we should be bound by precedence and the precedence suggests that you cannot go to the issue of tenure without first determining if there was a valid return.”
Asked if he thought he could still get justice on the re-run election, Ogboru had remarked thus: “To presume otherwise would be to ask the question how did we get to this situation where we had the re-run election of January. It was the Court of Appeal in Benin that agreed with us that there was no election in Delta State in April 2007 and declared that the tenure of Uduaghan for 3½ years was illegal.
That court has already declared 3½ years illegal! In our own view and from the facts what Uduaghan simply did was to continue in his illegality for another six months. But it is not the duty of the constitution of Nigeria or that of the courts of our country to say that because a tenure has been spent illegally that the tenure has expired.”
Continuing, he said: “No. it is only when that tenure is validly occupied that you can say so or when there is no challenge of the tenure during that occupation. That is when you can say so. But there was a valid challenge to the tenure while he was there, it is only a procedural issue and that does not at all amount to him having occupied a valid or a lawful tenure and it is only when the issue of who was validly returned is determined that we can start to go to step two. I think the Court of Appeal in Benin frankly did not do a proper job the way we expected men of their calibre to do.”
James Ibori and theEx–convict Saga
Ogboru’s political travails actually started when he contested the governorship election against the disgraced James Ibori in 2003. Ogboru believes that he won this election and in fact there was a radio announcement to that effect. As a result of the radio announcement, there was wild jubilation across the state especially in Warri, the commercial capital of Delta State.
This jubilation was however short-lived as the powers that be moved in. The result of the election was reversed and the police forcefully stopped the jubilation. The police picked up Ogboru’s supporters and had to, at one point, allegedly ordered a shoot-at sight order on Ogboru when he was declared wanted.
This knee-jerk response of the police actually set the stage for future police brutality against Ogboru, his family and supporters in subsequent elections. In the 2007 elections, members of his family were picked up on frivolous charges and were locked up in various cells for months. After the April 2011 governorship elections, there were also rumours of Ogboru’s imminent arrest and possible assassination.
Panic gripped Abrakar, his home town, the day after Uduaghan was declared winner as Deltans stormed the street, especially in Asaba and Warri to protest the outcome of the election. The situation was critical and Ogboru’s camp had to issue an urgent SOS through the media. The persecution continued and it led to questionable sudden deaths of his numerous supporters including Ogbe Onagbite who was callously murdered in Warri. There was also the doubtful accident which claimed the life of his then lead counsel Barrister Mogbeyi Sagay, SAN.
But the saddest twist in the petition against Ibori’s stolen victory was that what would ordinarily have been an election petition was surreptitiously reduced to Ibori’s trial as an ex-convict. The matter reached the Supreme Court and the court let go of Ibori because it could not incredibly prove that the James Onanefe Ibori that was convicted was the same James Onanefe Ibori that contested the election in 2003.
But Ibori’s present predicament in London where he was convicted for money laundering and where the facts emerged again that Ibori was indeed an ex-convict who should not have held any elective political office in Nigeria has vindicated Ogboru. Ibori is presently serving a 13 year jail term now in a prison in London. Ibori’s continued leadership of the state then was made possible by the Nigerian courts which failed to meticulously look into all available facts before them. Political observers hope the current legal battle against Uduaghan will not end this way.
Consequently, Uduaghan, Ibori’s cousin who also served in his government emerged as the governor of Delta State through the dubious instrumentality of James Onanefe Ibori. Over time, Uduaghan has consistently proved to be a good boy to James, his god father, and he has through incredible subterfuge and an enormous financial strength kept the Ibori political dynasty intact in the state.
What future for Delta?
No doubt, Delta State is now at an interesting crossroads. The kind of political future for the state will become clear after the June 21 judgement by the Supreme Court. That judgement will definitely prove to be the defining moment for the state. Will Delta continue to suffer in the hands of the dangerous cabal that has held it hostage for this while or will it, at last, be freed from the clutches of this un-progressive cabal?
For now, Deltans are in pain, they are looking to a future when their votes will count. In Ogboru’s assessment of the situation in the state, the situation is very sad especially when considered against the fact that the cabal that is exploiting the state is made of not only the people from the state but also other influential personalities outside the state who are feeding fat on the state.
Ogboru had declared in a media interview thus: “There is an eerie calm in the state, people are very unhappy, they see it as the function of a cabal outside the state trying to emasculate the right of the people of Delta State by undue interference by taking extra-judicial measures to vanquish their franchise which they have freely given. I think they are not happy at all. They are not happy at all. If you have been following the electronic media, especially Saharareporters you would have seen names being bandied that are creating turbulence in the state because of their personal interests which override that of our state and most of them are not indigenes of our state and they find a willing lackey in a man who was not elected by the people.
Ogboru has come a long way, and he has so far held tenaciously to his belief to pursue his case to the last. He is prepared to wait until the court makes the final pronouncement. But on his desire to see the emergence of a free Delta State, Ogboru is poised to continue to take on, perpetually, the cabal that has turned the state into their personal fiefdom.
When he started his political movement upon his return from exile in the 2000, Ogboru had gathered together patriotic stakeholders in the state under an umbrella organisation, the South South Rainbow Coalition, SSRC. The SSRC later merged with the Alliance for Democracy, AD, to contest the 2003 elections. But by the 2007 election, Ogboru and his supporters had moved to the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP, whose platform he used to contest elections in 2007 and 2011.
But will there be any governorship election in Delta State in 2015? Or will Ogboru run again for governor in 2015? The eagerly awaited Supreme Court’s decision of June 21 2013 will no doubt provide the answer.
***Written by Delta State Stakeholders