The 2023 general elections in Nigeria will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most contentious and controversy-riddled electoral processes since the inception of civilian democracy in 1999. The electoral crisis has unfolded as expected, as each election cycle typically brings its own set of challenges.
However, the 2023 elections have taken the controversies to new heights. As I write, the battle continues, with political gladiators clashing in the courts sitting as Election Petition Tribunals at various levels.
Among the myriad of issues that have arisen, one of the most prominent is the submission of fake, false, or forged documents by candidates who vied for various offices under their party’s banners. This issue has affected all four levels of elections, from the Presidential, Senate, House of Representatives, down to the State Houses of Assemblies.
Defining Fake, False, or Forged Documents
Before delving into the legal implications of these issues, let’s first understand the definitions of fake, false, or forged documents, both in ordinary language and the legal context.
- Ordinary Definitions:
- The Oxford Advanced American Dictionary defines it as “the crime of copying money or documents in order to cheat people” (synonym: fake).
- Thesaurus.com provides synonyms for forgery, including “imposture, fraud, trick, artifice, con, copy, counterfeit, deceit, deception, fabrication, fake, feint.”
- Legal Definitions:
- According to Legal Dictionary|Law.com, forgery is “the crime of creating a false document, altering a document, or writing a false signature for the illegal benefit of the person making the forgery.”
- Law Insider defines a fake document as “any document in paper or electronic form that misrepresents any person’s identity, residency, finance, taxes, or employment, or otherwise misrepresents the document source, provenance, authenticity, or accuracy.”
The common thread in these definitions is that fake, false, or forged documents constitute a crime.
The Legal Perspective on Forged Documents in Elections
In Nigeria’s legal framework, various bodies of law address crimes, including the Criminal Code applicable primarily in the Southern States, the Penal Code applicable in the Northern States, and various State Criminal Laws, all rooted in the Constitution of the Federation.
However, when it comes to forged documents in the context of elections and the electoral process, a distinction is made from general criminal trials. Courts at different levels have established this differentiation through their decisions.
For example, in the case of Saleh vs. Abah & Ors (2017), the Supreme Court emphasized that forgery of certificates for elections and electoral processes differs from forgery under criminal law. Forgery under the Electoral Act specifically pertains to the forgery or presentation of forged certificates for election purposes. The court held that election tribunals, rather than general criminal law trials, are the appropriate forums for addressing electoral forgery.
Similarly, the Court of Appeal, in Wabu & Anor v Gololo & Ors (2019), defined forgery as “the act of making a false document or altering a genuine one for it to be used.” Forgery can take either of two forms: creating a false document or altering a genuine one.
Relevance of Applicable Laws
It’s important to note that these legal definitions are based on the relevant laws governing elections and the electoral process in Nigeria. The 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act (with multiple amendments) contain provisions for both the qualification and disqualification of candidates running for various political offices in Nigeria. The presentation of forged documents to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is a significant disqualifying factor, and the courts have consistently taken a strict stance against such infractions.
Recent Cases Highlighting the Issue
Recent elections in Nigeria have seen a surge in cases involving the submission of forged documents to INEC. Notable cases include:
- Bayelsa State 2019 Governorship Election: In the case of PDP & Ors v B. Degi-Eremienyo & Ors, the APC candidate David Lyon and his deputy B. Degi-Eremienyo were disqualified over the submission of certificates bearing different names and dates. The Supreme Court ruled against them, emphasizing the fraudulent nature of using multiple names to deceive.
- Delta State Governorship Election: Governor Sheriff Oborevwori faced a disqualification suit over alleged document falsification, but the Supreme Court dismissed the case for lacking merit.
- Kano State Senatorial/House of Representatives Election: Hon. Idris Dankawu’s election was voided due to allegations of forging his secondary school certificate. Legal battles over similar issues are ongoing in various Election Petition Courts.
The outcomes of these cases will have significant implications for Nigeria’s political landscape, and Nigerians await the final decisions with anticipation.
The 2023 general elections in Nigeria have been marred by controversies, with an unprecedented surge in the submission of forged documents by political candidates. The legal framework, as established by the Constitution and Electoral Act, provides clear guidelines for disqualifying candidates involved in such activities. The courts have played a pivotal role in upholding the integrity of the electoral process by addressing these issues. As the legal battles unfold, Nigeria faces a critical moment in its democratic journey, where the purification of the political arena from the scourge of forgery is imperative for the nation’s progress.