By Sam Omatseye
No one who reads Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, can forget the immortal poser, “Is that the law?” Shakespeare puts those words on Shylock’s lips. The playwright and bard for the ages propounds that question again, today, from his tomb in Stratford-upon-Avon. It is both a query and plea for justice and even sanity, and it is directed at INEC, judges in Abuja and a certain politician with both a triple and double name, Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe. `
The yarn has escaped the rigour of political reporting because of its twisted and underhand current. Yet it is a story like this that undermines the integrity of our courts and the sanctity of politics. It underwrites a quiet conspiracy of law and man. It unveils the loss of conscience and the atrophy of decency. By yielding facts to farce, it underlines why a UK newspaper continues to echo the doomsday scenario for Nigeria as a failed state.
For those who are serious, it has a gritty component. For those who want to laugh, their ribs may rip apart. Your sense of smell may force you to hold your noses for its stench of the sewer. It is not about a presidential poll, and not gubernatorial sweepstakes. It is a bye-election, but it is for senatorial election in Cross River. All politics, they say, is local. But it is from a unit that we know the unity of a country.
As I write, two fellows, Dr. Steve Odey and Jarigbe, have each a certificate of return from INEC. It should be the parody of two senators and one seat, but it is a fact. One false, one authentic certificate from electoral umpire. Hence fact has yielded to farce. Interestingly, both are members of the same political party, the PDP. So, these two ran for the primary of their parties. Everything was set. A five-man panel was present, so were INEC men from its five local governments in the senatorial district. Midway through the primary, Jarigbe announced he was quitting, and cried foul that INEC officials were not present. There and then, the INEC fellows there said they were around. But he left anyway with two of the members of the PDP panel and an INEC official, even though he claimed they were not present.
INEC role was not to monitor, but to observe as it did in Lagos, Plateau and other districts where primaries took place. But Jarigbe moved to a hotel in Ogoja to declare himself the PDP candidate. But the returning officer of the party, the chairman and secretary of panel carried on with the votes and normal process. Odey won with the tally of 450 to 90 votes.
Jarigbe had challenged the delegates list for the primary, and the courts affirmed the authenticity of the list used for the primary. Again, Odey’s name was submitted to the PDP headquarters, and it sailed through the eyes of the National Working Committee in Abuja. That normally should put paid to the matter for the PDP because Odey was ratified as the party’s point man for the polls. Jarigbe did not fill any nomination form. Only Odey did, and substitution was out of the question in the party rules.
In spite of this, INEC would not publish Odey’s name as the PDP candidate. Odey went to the Federal High Court in Calabar to compel INEC to do a right thing. But just like Giringori of the comedy of manners, Jarigbe put on a new masquerade. He went to court, or shall we say somebody went to sue him in an FCT court in Apo. Not over the list, not over whether he won the primary, or whether INEC was present at the primary. He did not even tell the court under Justice Binta Mohammed that he had declared himself winner at a primary. A fellow named John Alaga sued Jarigbe over forged certificate, and that Jarigbe could not be a candidate with a wrong certificate. He did not even sue Odey. He did not join Odey, or even the PDP in the suit. Jarigbe’s name was not submitted to INEC as candidate, yet INEC presented a lawyer at the court. They did not address the substantive issue. Out of their creative foundry, they forged a new case: false certificate.
The justice did not question Alaga’s locus standi, as lawyers say. The judge did not ask for Odey, nor did she ask for the representative of the PDP. It was a red-herring of judgment. Many have alleged that Alaga was, at least, an associate of Jarigbe.
They enacted, through Mohammed’s court, an alternate reality. It was a theatre of alternative facts. Jarigbe’s facts. The alternative facts were that there was a proper primary, he won, INEC published his name, the PDP headquarters ratified and he was on course for the December 5 poll. No evidence of these. Then a certain upstart called Alaga challenged the PDP pick on grounds of false certificate. The point, though, is that there is no forged certificate, but just a ploy to subvert the law by using a court to hand Jarigbe a certificate of return. INEC succumbed. INEC did not say, My Lord, we already gave another person a certificate of return. This theatre of alternative facts is what Shakespeare in plays like Twelfth Night and All Labour’s Lost mocked as theatres of the absurd, theatres of alternative facts.
So, the court came with alternative judgment, and INEC issued an alternative certificate of return. Lie has become truth. It was a case of deceptive integrity. He used a good certificate to obtain a false one.
The irony is that we cannot concoct an alternative seat in the senate, and we cannot invent an alternative senate. That was where the plot got stuck for Jarigbe. Senate president had received the proper certificate of return from INEC for Odey, and he was duly sworn in.
The snag here is how does INEC force Jarigbe to return the certificate of return? This is the scenario that Frederick Engels calls the “negation of negation.” Dostoyevsky in his Notes from the Underground said, one plus one is not two, or three. It is not life but the beginning of death. It is mathematics that INEC has to figure out. How does one certificate for Odey and One for Jarigbe amount to one senate seat? Senate has resolved its own. INEC as an institution has to wake up Professor Chike Obi from the grave to help them.
I wonder if judges do not read the news and do not follow the currents in their society. Judgments are not about law, but society. If they read, they would have known about the background. Maybe the farce would have come to an end. INEC’s hands here are not clean. They had SANs in the cases in Port Harcourt and Calabar. They were never deployed to FCT. Why FCT? Why didn’t the matter go to Calabar? Abuja courts have become refuge for judgment hunters. Politicians now commit felony before the courts.
Both men have each INEC’s certificate of return. If anyone were to challenge an educational certificate, it should be Odey, who had a locus standi, or PDP. Just as we have seen in Bayelsa and Edo states. Not a shadowy fellow in his district.
We hope what happened in Cross River does not foreshadow a year of political delirium. This is a consequential year in Nigeria for political ambition. We should not subordinate the rights of man to the law. Politicians have become men of rights rather than men for rights. That is the democratic spirit that inspired Essayist Henry David Thoreau to write, “It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for law, so much as a respect for right.”
Politicians should leave the courts for justice, not for politics. This story shows that our courts need cleansing.