Honourable Chijioke Edeoga is the candidate of the Labour Party in the Enugu state governorship election which held on Saturday, March 18, 2023. In this interview with our correspondent, Edeoga insists that he is the legitimate winner of that election, and not the incumbent governor, Mbah Peter Ndubuisi of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, whom he accused of presenting a forged NYSC discharge certificate and other electoral fraud. Excerpts:
Honourable, may we begin with a general introduction of you?
Thank you for having me. My name is Chijioke Edeoga. Currently, I am the governorship candidate of Labour Party in Enugu state. Before I became the governorship candidate, I was in Peoples Democratic party, PDP, and I contested the governorship primaries in PDP. The manner in which the outcome was determined was not acceptable to me and a lot of our people of Enugu state, and I have to move to Labour party. Before I resigned to run for the governorship primaries in PDP, I was the Commissioner for Environment in Enugu state and I served in that capacity for three years. Before then, from 2015 to 2019, I was Commissioner for Local Government. Before then, I was also Special Assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan on National Assembly Matters for four years. Before then, I was also the Special Adviser to the office of the Deputy Senate President. Before then, I was on the editorial board of Daily Trust newspaper where I think I am still because I have not resigned and I have not been sacked. I was also in the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003. I am a lawyer, I have degrees in Law from the University of Buckingham and University of London. I also have a degree in English from the University of Nigeria Nsukka. I am a journalist by calling and by choice. Having practiced from Daily Star in Enugu, from there to New Outlook, from there to Lagos after being Press Secretary in Enugu state under Ezekwesili Nwodo. From there to Classic, from Classic to Champion, from Champion to Post Express and from Post Express I resigned in 1997 to go and run for the chairmanship of my Local Government which I won handsomely and served for 14 months and then Abacha died. That era ended and then I ran for the House of Representatives where I served from 1999 to 2003. I was also the spokesman of the House during that period and I was also the Chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Education. That is a bit of my background, but where we are now is that I contested the governorship of Enugu state under the Labour party and won the state handsomely for Labour Party because from 1999 to 2023, Enugu has effectively been a PDP state but since after my joining the Labour Party, Enugu has become effectively a Labour Party state. There are three Senatorial Zones in Enugu state that were before now effectively controlled by PDP. Today, LP has two Senators in Enugu state while PDP has only one. Even that one is being fiercely contested in court. Enugu state has eight members of the House of Representatives. PDP has only one while right now, LP has seven members of the House of Representatives. There are 24 members of the House of Assembly and LP has 14 while PDP has only 10. You should note that the election into the House of Assembly and even that of the Senate went on simultaneously with the governorship election. LP won that outstanding Senatorial seat because a Senatorial candidate was killed and he could not participate in the first election so it was shifted. LP won in that senatorial election. In the House of Assembly election, the LP won 14 out of 24 leaving PDP with only 10. On the fateful day of 18 of March, I, as the flagbearer of the LP was cruising to victory in the Governorship election. We have 17 LGAs in Enugu state. The results from 16 LGAs that came in showed that Labour party was leading with 11,000 votes. Remaining the home local government of the PDP candidate which is Nkanu East. This local government is one of the closest to the INEC office. So there was no reason at all, except for complicity between PDP and INEC, for that result to have come late. The farthest LGAs like Aninri had come in. In fact, result from one of the biggest LGAs in Nigeria like Nsukka Local government had come, so there was no reason for that of Nkanu East to be delayed. They delayed it, they kept the result to know what the outcome will be. Then, they realized the LP under Chijioke was leading with 11,000 votes.
What was the difference in votes at the time between LP and PDP based on information at your disposal?
This is remarkable that at the time, the difference between LP and PDP was 11,000 votes, LP was leading.
At what point did the results change?
The results changed when results from the 17th LGA, the LGA of the PDP candidate came in. it was kept and they recorded 30,000 votes for the PDP candidate and entered only 1,800 for LP. The returning officer, reacting to popular disclaimers in that hall realized that 30,000 votes was completely outside the BVAS, because BVAS captured 15,000 accredited voters. 30,000 was a clear overshot. They brough in a result that gave the PDP a lead of 10,000 votes and was unanimously rejected even within the collation hall and the returning officer agreed that there was something wrong and he was not going to announce the results because the accredited voters were confirmed to be 15,000, so where did 30,000 come from? There was a stalemate and Abuja then intervened and called for all the record and then constituted a panel in Abuja, as I understand, because I was not invited, and they reviewed the results without inviting the LP. We understood somebody in the South East office of INEC constituted a panel and reviewed the result. Let me tell you that meeting was illegal. There is nothing in the Electoral Act that allows INEC to suspend the result, and then go to their office and announce the results that way. What the law permits is that when the result is announced and you are not happy about the outcome you write petition. They constituted a panel in Abuja and reviewed the results and announced that 30, 000 to be 15,000 and gave PDP a lead over me of about 3,400 votes, after three days of working on it in Abuja. So, there is a difference of about 3,400 votes.
You were not satisfied, that was why you went to the Tribunal.
What are the grounds upon which your petition is based, and what hope is there that you might get justice?
Immediately that result was announced, we complained, and we were asked to make a formal complaint to INEC office which we made detailing the shortcomings we noticed. INEC did not reply, so we then went to court. Our petition to the court was on three grounds. The first part of our petition was that we said the PDP candidate, having submitted a forged NYSC discharge certificate, was not qualified ab initio. And that the votes allocated to him should be discountenanced, and that I as the second person should be declared as the winner of that election. We made our case clearly and convincingly in a manner that Supreme Court has specified with regards to forgery. The NYSC Director of certification came to the Tribunal and testified that the document submitted by Mr Mbah was forged. The NYSC sent a Director of Certification who came to the Tribunal and testified publicly at the Tribunal that the document submitted by Mr Mbah of PDP was forged. An NGO also wrote to NYSC relying on the right to know as enshrined in the Freedom of Information Act to verify the authenticity of the discharge certificate presented by Mr Mbah. NYSC also replied the NGO that the document presented by Mbah did not come from them. INEC also came to agree, in court, that Mr Mbah in submitting his form EC9 also attached that forged document. We think that the first part of our petition has been proved and we have achieved our aim.
Number two, we pointed out what we called Arithmetical errors in two Local Governments what PDP and INEC did.
Was it INEC in Enugu or INEC in Abuja that you suspect is complicit in these unholy acts?
INEC in Abuja, held their meeting coordinated by Mt Festus Okoye. They did not give us the parameters for their discounting. They just slashed it to 14,000 thereabout from 30,000.
Did you also protest that?
I told you we did. We wrote a formal letter of complaints to INEC that what they did was not right. The law provides for a complaint after the results were announced. In our own case it was like what happened in Adamawa. They arrested our results for three days and then announced it.
What justification or explanation did they give for holding on to the results?
No justification. Up till now INEC has not told the world or us in Enugu why they held our results for three days. From 18, 19, 20, 21 until 23rd. And let me tell you that the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture in Umudike, when he was announcing that result, he said he was announcing it because he was under order from above. He expressed his disenchantment, and he was saying like his hands were tight.
The second part of our petition is that they should correct the mathematical errors which we noticed in the process of reviewing the results. In two LGAs, in Udenu and Igbo-Eze North, what the INEC officers did was that LP won in the polling units. For instance, LP will have 84, and PDP will have 14 at the polling unit, and so down the line, but at the point of collation, they will now reverse it removing the victory of LP and give what is due to LP to PDP and vice versa. That was what happened in substantial part of Udenu. And we have documentary evidence with the relevant EC forms, the polling unit results, the collation results, the ward results, we have all of them and INEC certified them as documents emanating from them and we have tendered them in court. We asked the court to realign those figures so that the victory that I got from those collating units should only come to me.
The third part of our petition is that they should respond in accordance with the Electoral Laws with regards to over voting. In Nkanu East, the home community of the PDP candidate, and in several other places we noticed cases of over voting and they gave PDP more than 5,000 votes. For instance, BVAS will record 285 and at the point of writing the result, they will write over 900 and we have proved that at the court with evidence including the result sheets, the voter register and we brought witnesses to prove our case. Even some of their witnesses agreed that there was over voting. I have listened to the court and some of them agreed with our positions.
So you are very confident with the evidence you have presented before the Tribunal that you will get justice in the end?
One cannot be too confident.
If at the end of the day you don’t get justice, what will be your next line of action?
There are three legs of our pursuit of justice. The Tribunal has wrapped up with the hope that they will invite us again.
So why are you not confident that you may get justice in the end?
I believe there is difference between hope and confidence. The issues are in the hands of mortal men, and you are helpless. Anything you get you work with it. We have hope, but I am not sure we have confidence. We are prayerful.
It does appear that you joined Labour Party in protest of what happened to you in the PDP, the same way Peter Obi left PDP in protest for lack of internal democracy and joined Labour Party.
It was not protest really. Let me tell you why I said it was not protest. That election held in May 25. I even congratulated Mr Mbah although I noted some irregularities but I did not win. What made me leave PDP was the volume of pressures I received from people all over Enugu state, men, women, young, old, the clergy and across society asking me not to give up on the struggle for a just society. And secondly, the fortuitous presence of an alternative platform. Even if you are angry and there is no platform for you what will you do. The response to the massive outcry that attended the PDP primaries was the driver. Without being immodest, the misfortunes of PDP reached its crescendo after the primaries. It was clear following the massive outcry that I was the preferred candidate. When the Enugu people could not to terms as to why the PDP did not pick me, as far as they were concerned, I was the most credible and most experienced. I was the one they preferred. Even what happened in PDP shows you something good was following me. A few months after I joined LP, I built it into a movement that torpedoed the ruling party in the state and defeated the incumbent governor.
The manner in which LP, though comparatively young, came out strong in that election was surprising. What was responsible for that?
It was largely due to my approach. We defeated an incumbent governor even in his polling unit, defeated a former governor Chimaroke Nnamani in his own area, and put in seven members of the LP in the House of Representatives, and two in the Senate. It is unprecedented.
If eventually you get justice, what type of leadership do you hope to give to the people of Enugu state?
The leadership that people who knew me know I was going to provide. A leader that has empathy, a leader that has courage of his convictions based on values. I was brough up on the precepts of the holy scriptures and those values that my father infused into me has been with me all my life. Let your yes be your yes. My father taught me contentment, he taught me empathy, he taught me transparency, he taught me courage of my conviction. Enugu people have been with me all my political life and they know what I represent and what I stand for. And they know the values I will bring into governance, especially of incorruptibility. I had challenged the governor that if he has anything against me of misappropriation, misapplication, use of funds illegally he should publish it. There are a few people who have been in politics as long as I have been who can make such challenge. So, Enugu people know that I am beyond corruption. They know that I will work hard, and that I will have empathy for the poor, the downtrodden. They know that pension issues, gratuity issues, misapplication of LGA funds and all those things that bedevil governance will not be there when I become governor.
Assuming you lose at the highest court, what will be your next line of action?
No, No. No. We are firm positive. I am not contemplating a loss at any of the courts. There is the hand of God in the processes that have attended my governorship aspiration. From the efforts that have been made to stop me even at the Labour Party it is clear. Immediately I joined the LP, the plethora of law suits to stop me were instructive, from the High Court to the Appeal Court to Supreme Court clearly instigated by the state government that did not want me to emerge from Labour Party. By the grace of God we will overcome all those things.
What will be your message to people of Enugu state?
They should remain prayerful. We are going through a process, a spiritual process, a legal process, a political process. They should remain prayerful. It is all for their good. We know that the hand of God is with us. In the end, Justice will prevail because God is a God of justice. They should not be afraid but keep praying for me, knowing that when I come, their aspiration, their fears and anxieties will be addressed.