By Ike Abonyi
“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”. –Albert Einstein
If a judge witnesses a crime outside and, later, if the matter comes before him and the prosecution fails to prove the crime beyond doubt, what should he do? Should he ignore the law and punish the criminal or allow the criminal to walk away and back into society?
The above dilemma is akin to what daily confronts many adjudicators presiding over the petition hearings arising from the 2023 general elections. It is common knowledge that the 2023 elections are flawed on several counts.
The European International Observer team on Tuesday released their final report, underscoring the flaws in the election. But the judges will be at the mercy of well-paid legal teams hired to perform gymnastics with facts and figures to outwit the opposing teams.
There is no need to comment on a possible undue influence that may threaten justice delivery. The reason is that many justices already assured that justice would not derail on any account.
Since 1999, dozens of certificate-related cases have come before their lordships. However, only the one involving Deputy Governor-elect Biobarakuma Degi-Eremenyo of Bayelsa State succeeded, aborting the swearing-in of then Governor-elect David Lyon of the APC 48 hours before the destined date.
All the other contentious certificate cases scaled through the judicial hurdles even without providing any disarming evidence. Instead, they hide under lawyers’ ruck.
As a result, several former and serving political office holders with serious issues with their certificates got entangled in prosecution but were not in trouble because of so many variables, including but not limited to corruption.
Most inmates serving term today are in jail because they cannot afford senior advocates. Criminals who should rot in jail are in various top political positions in the land, dictating and directing affairs.
It is enthralling that even in such situations, we are stupefied and flummoxed that our society is rotten and not working. Do you expect a certificate forger as your president, governor, minister, or legislator to bother about a quality education system or a just judiciary to work well? Any society facing such a predicament will suffer moral decadence or corruption.
Establishing a fair and just society in such an environment will be an uphill task. If the judges tell you that they will use the law to determine the case before them, you may be wrong to think that justice will prevail.
If the smart lawyer supplies the judge with a loophole, he jumps at it, using it to escape while justice still suffers. Following what the law says and serving justice do not necessarily mean the same thing.
Any criminal who escapes justice will always find a hiding place, not necessarily that the law will protect such a person. The prosecutor and the judge may not be able to see the justice of the case. It is like the evil-doer who searches the holy book and locates verses to defend their malfeasance.
Therefore, our question in the lead paragraph above comes against the backdrop of what is going on in our polity since this political dispensation began in 1999. Until lately, it was unheard of to lie that you have a certificate when you do not. Even worse is to carry a fake.
But it is a common occurrence that our leaders at the greatly desired and envied level of politics forge documents and squirm their way through. Top leaders in the public service entered either with forged certificates or impersonated somebody, yet we expect the police to arrest and prosecute perjury.
We have had [and still have] presidents without classmates, dead or living. Some do not even have identifiable schools attended. The tragedy of all these is far-reaching in protecting our value system and encouraging hard work and decent living among the younger generation.
When a President struggles to explain his alma mater and struggles as well with the certificate he claims he has, what message is such a country sending down to the pupils and students toiling under difficult circumstances to learn and earn certificates for their future growth and development?
If education is said to be a ladder to take us to our dreams and visions and all we see are those at the peak who appear to have circumvented the ladder, what message are we passing to our children?
In the past, our worry as a nation used to be over-emphasis on certification with little concern for practical. It was to address this anomaly that our educational system was changed to 6-3-3-4 to play down theory ahead of practical.
But what has been playing out since this democratic dispensation from 1999 is inimical to the Nigerian value system. In the past, the importance of a certificate was underscored by the fact that not having it limits one’s scope as an individual, and trying to manipulate it either by impersonation or forgery was viewed as a very serious matter.
In the present political dispensation, politicians have been striving very hard to play down certificates as a yardstick for major political positions.
Because they control the system, a country that encourages and invests in education made a law that the educational qualifications for the highest office in the land should be as low as an attempted West African School Certificate, and just sitting for WAEC and even failing still qualifies one to run for President.
This is a country that tops all others in the quest for the golden fleece in America and Europe. In 2019, when Ex-President Muhammadu Buhari struggled to prove that he had the basic School Certificate, he ended up bringing a paper to the election tribunal from a nonexistent school and the court cleared him.
Even now, the current president is also in court struggling to prove so many things including schools attended and certificates obtained.
In Enugu State, Governor Peter Mbah is battling for his position over the national service certificate he voluntarily supplied to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as part of his documents to qualify to run for the gubernatorial seat.
While the issuers of the certificate are saying that what he has is not from them, he is insisting and waiting and hoping for lawyers to help him wriggle out. NYSC, which is celebrating its golden jubilee as a successful institution, has the Mbah case as a huge test of its integrity.
The matter is currently before judges in both Enugu and Abuja, with the NYSC trying to prove that what the governor presented was indeed forged. As all the arguments are awaiting judicial adjudication, one can imagine what teachers in Enugu State will be teaching children when the issue of morality, certificate, and forgery presents itself when the supro uno in the state is enmeshed in such a scandal.
All the certificate authentication issue with so-called Excellency, Honourable, and distinguished “this” and “that” is disgusting. The courts appear to be aiding the complication of the confusion.
Society is doomed if certified lawyers who have classmates can go to court to mesmerize the judges and allow certificate forgers to escape justice and preside over a state or a nation and go ahead to make laws for the good of society.
A nation that creates escape routes for forgers is doomed because the younger generations will see such shortcuts as the better road to stardom. In our land today, the impression is already out there that political opportunities will be lost if you don’t forge your way into the political circles. Dubious people have their way over and above virtuous people when it should be the other way.
The tragedy of opening the door to evil, no matter how small it might be, is that worse evil finds its way in through the same door. The certificate forgers you allow into office should not shock us if they turn monsters and descend on us and our commonwealth.
Why not, when criminals look at identity forgers, where they are not in prison but in “Excellency” and “Honorable” positions?
Why not when nine out of every forgery case taken to court escape justice because the system is more sympathetic to the criminals? Why not when the rewards for forgery are great, but the risks are slim with “smart” lawyers? Judging wrongly, no matter the circumstances, knowingly or not, has far-reaching consequences that we are sucked into already. God help us.
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- Abonyi, journalist and columnist, is a former editor of Daily Champion