Emmanuel Ugwu-Nwogo in Umuahia
A cloud of uncertainty has descended on Bende federal constituency of Abia State as the National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Umuahia has reserved judgment following the adoption of final written addresses by the petitioners.
At stake is the second term mandate of Hon. Benjamin Kalu, who is fighting on two fronts to retain his seat and by extension his position as the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The Labour Party (LP), the Action Alliance (AA) and their candidates in the February 25, 2023 National Assembly polls approached the tribunal seeking Kalu’s sack from the green chamber of the National Assembly.
The petitioners tightened the noose on Kalu Monday while adopting and expatiating their respective final written addresses, insisting that Kalu’s mandate is illegitimate, flawed and should therefore be nullified.
LP want Kalu removed and replaced by its candidate, Iheanyi Frank Chinasa, on the ground that the Deputy House Speaker claimed to possess certificates which didn’t belong to him.
The AA and its candidate, Ifeanyi Chukwuka Igbokwe, want the 2023 poll for Bende federal constituency nullified and fresh poll conducted for unlawful exclusion of the party logo and candidate’s name on ballots and result sheets.
LP and its candidate told the three-man panel headed by Justice Samson P. Gang that the Deputy Speaker of the House was not qualified to have contested the poll because he “does not possess a school certificate at all in his name”.
According to the petitioners, the representative of Bende federal constituency “used different names contained in different educational school certificates other than the name he now answers which is Kalu Benjamin Okezie”.
Some of the cited names used by the Bende representative include Umunna Okezie in First School Leaving Certificate (FSLC) 1983; Osisiogu Benjamin Okezie in FSLC and testimonial issued in 1988, as well as in WASC 1991 and Law degree certificate.
In his NYSC discharge certificate 2011, Kalu Benjamin Okezie appeared, while in Call to Bar certificate 2006, Benjamin Okezie Osisiogu was used.
In their petition, which is “highly documented”, LP and its candidate displayed nine certificates with different names which Kalu used at will to suit any situation he found himself.
The counsel to the petitioners, Yunusa Ustaz Usman (SAN), urged the tribunal to determine “whether there are irreconcilable contradictions, disparities, discrepancies and inconsistencies in the names” on Kalu’s certificates.
He argued that “it is fraudulent for one person to allegedly bear several names with various/plethora of affidavits and documents of changes of names that he uses chamelonically to suit his changing environment”.
The learned silk asserted that Kalu failed to tender any document, aside from affidavits, to show that the certificates bearing different names belonged to him.
“No affidavit nor regularisation can cure the defects of the certificates unless the issuing authorities change the names on the certificate,” Usman said.
The counsel to the respondents fought back in defence of the lawmaker and his mandate, urging the tribunal to dismiss the petitions for lacking in merit.
Kalu’s counsel, Kelvin Nwufo, argued that the contention that the Deputy Speaker presented certificates with inconsistent names did not hold water since they all belong to him and he has regularised the names.
He explained the inconsistencies in Kalu’s names were “validly harmonised” through Deed of Proof and official gazette of the Federal Government where the lawmaker’s change of name was recorded.
In his submission, the counsel to the All Progressives Congress (APC), Virgilus Nwankwo, contended that the petitioner’s allegation that Kalu used different names to suit different situations did not imply fraud.
He said that the petitioners have failed to prove that the first respondent “is not the owner of the certificates with different names or that the names do not belong to him”.
The chairman of the tribunal announced that the date of judgment would be communicated to the parties.