May 15, 2021

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How Supreme Court Erred In Degi-Eremienyo’s Case

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In my considered opinion, if Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, Deputy to the APC’s David Lyon in the November 16 Bayelsa Governorship polls, actually earned his certificates and the only problem is that he has a tendency to be inconsistent in writing his name on critical documents then the Supreme Court did not do justice yesterday.
The Court of Appeal seem to have resolved this issue better at the appellate stage before it climbed upstairs. The Court treated it as if the certificates were genuine with a side issue of misnomer which was corrected by affidavit. The court held that Mr Degi-Eremienyo submitted an affidavit which showed evidence of his change of name from Adeyi-Eremienyo to Degi-Eremienyo and therefore held as follows:
“I agree with the appellant that the owner of the school leaving certificate and the GCE certificate are one and the same…”
So, unless the Supreme Court unearthed clear evidence that Degi-Eremienyo actually FORGED either or both of the certificates he presented to INEC, ie. his First School Leaving Certificate or his GCE, then disqualifying him and the entire APC ticket based on that is an act of gory injustice.
This is even more galling if one goes by the Supreme Court’s earlier holdings in matters of forgery of academic credentials for electoral contest. I do not know the facts or law which persuaded Justice Mary Peter-Ofili and her colleagues on that panel at the Supreme Court, but the same court has held as follows:
‘The intention of the Constitution is that anyone who had presented a FORGED certificate to INEC should stand automatically disqualified. No decent system or polity should condone, or through judicial policy and decisions, encourage the dangerous culture of forging certificates with impunity to seek electoral contest.’ (See ENGR. MUSTAPHA YUNUSA MAIHAJA VS ALHAJI IBRAHIM GAIDAM (SC. 758/2016)[2017] NGSC 17 (2 JUNE 2017) (SC. 758/2016) [1960] NGSC 1 (01 JUNE 2017).
The critical question then would be:
Did the Supreme Court find that Mr. Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo FORGED certificates or other documents which he then presented to INEC?
A corollary question but equally as critical is:
Can the Supreme Court now validly direct the Inspector-General of Police to proceed to prosecute the APC Deputy Gubernatorial candidate in Bayelsa for forgery of his credentials presented to INEC based on the evidence before her?
If the Apex Court can do that because the facts exposed at trial and the totality of evidence in the matter support it, that’s an end to the matter. It means he forged his certificates, and must bear his cross.
But if the Supreme Court cannot do that, not having facts to support forgery because all the evidence points to mere misnomer or clerical mistake or some other innocuous error of omission or commission; if the only problem is that Lyon’s Deputy’s name appears differently on his various certificates but he did not forge any of those certificates, then an injustice of monstrous proportions has befallen the APC and all Bayelsans who voted for the party.
I wonder, would any of the schools or authorities which allegedly issued the FSLC or the GCE certificate to Degi-Eremienyo disown them if summoned? Or they will own the documents while exonerating themselves from the candidate’s inability to ensure concord in how his name is spelt.
While awaiting for more information on the judgment to resolve these queries for myself, I cannot but ponder on my experience as a courtroom virtuoso – before politics and public office intervened, with the prohibitions on private practice.
I spent enough of my private practice getting courts to agree with me that a misnomer is at best a factual irregularity that is best resolved by the living, breathing individual telling the court how he wanted to be known and addressed. Or by scrutinising the documents or records on juristic persons in custody of appropriate authorities to find the correct name and reflect it before going on to the weightier matters that make for substantial justice in the case.
Preliminary objections on ‘you got my name wrong’ have crumbled before me or generally fallen flat on their face as judges gave evasive defendants short shrift on that score.
This is how the courts have traditionally dealt with the ‘wrong name of the right party’ otherwise known as misnomer in cases. They corrected it, often by asking the party how he wished to be called, or having recourse to the sort of affidavits the Court of Appeal confirmed this unfortunate man deposed to, entering the right name into the records and moving on to determine the substantial matter on its merits.
How then can misnomer now be elevated to a cardinal sin in law embued with sudden death capabilities and with lives and destinies upturned on account of it?
Law reports like the one below restate same principles clearly:
‘A.C.B. PLC & ANOR V. EMOSTRADE LIMITED [1997 – Court of Appeal] [MISNOMER: General nature of a misnomer ] “Finally, on this issue, one must refer to the recent case of A. B. Manu & Co. v. Costain (W.A.) Ltd. (1994) 8 NWLR (Pt. 360) 112, where the appellant had contended that he knew the respondent as “Costain (West Africa) Ltd., and not as “Costain (W.A.) Ltd.” It contended therefore that the respondent was not competent to institute the action in the name it proffered. In unanimously dismissing the appeal, it was held inter alia as follows by the Court of Appeal, Lagos Div. “Misnomer can be said to be a mistake in name – giving incorrect name to person(s) in the writ of summons. It occurs when a mistake is made as to the name of a person who sued or was sued or when an action is brought by or against the wrong name of a person. In the instant case, going by the facts contained in “Exhibit 31” of a letter written by the appellant to the respondent, the words “West Africa” were therein abbreviated. It cannot therefore be said that the appellant did not know that Costain (W.A.) Ltd means no other thing, that Costain (West Africa) Limited. In conclusion it was held at P.121 of the report as follows:- “On Nature of misnomer that can vitiate proceedings:- When both parties are quite familiar with the entity envisaged in a Writ of Summons, and could not have been misled or have any real doubt or misgiving as to the identity of the person suing, then there can be no problem of mistaken identify to justify the striking out of the action. Misnomer that will vitiate the proceedings would be such that will cause reasonable doubt as to the identity of the person intending to sue or be sued.” Per AKPABIO J.C.A. (Pp. 19-20, paras. A-A)’
Last time I checked, neglecting to write your name in the exact same sequence for any reason without criminal intent is not forgery, or any crime known to our pantheon of laws for that matter. However, with her decision on Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo’s case, the Supreme Court seem to have set the precedent that it now is.
Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but quite seriously too, let me urge the APC to join the PDP in her fool’s errand over last month’s similar judgment of the Apex Court on Imo State to request for a review of this case too. Who knows, but perhaps if enough madness is displayed, reason my arise and prevail. There is no time now to posture like Ananse and look wise, for quite apart from the APC’s interests in Bayelsa, the Governing Party owes Nigerians the duty to have the Supreme Court clarify whether misnomer or writing your name wrongly or differently is now a crime.
Plus, they should at least tell poor Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo in clear tones what crimes he is guilty of, if at the end of the day all he did was miswrite his given names.
Otherwise, God help the whole nation of us.

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