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Abia State Tribunal and False Witnesses

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“There are six things that the lord hates , such that are abomination to him, haughty eyes, a lying tongue and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that

devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes lies and one who sows discord amongst brothers’ (proverbs 6:16-19). The bible goes further to state in Proverbs 19:9, ‘A false witness will not go unpunished and he who breathes lies will not escape”. 

Again in Exodus 20:15, the lord was more direct and explicit in his admonition, “Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor”. Even the New Testament affirms all that God had to say on this subject. Jesus made it clear to his disciples that false testimony was a key indication of an unclean heart. (Matthew 15:16-20). As we all know from the scriptures Jesus himself was a victim of false testimony when he was brought before Caiaphas, the high priest by the Pharisees and falsely accused of blasphemy. (Matthew 26:57-68)

I’ve made these references to the scriptures just to buttress the point that it is a crime before both God and mankind since ages past for one to bear false witness in any setting of any kind. As I read the proceedings of the on-going Abia election tribunal here in faraway New York City, I have been amazed, perplexed and disheartened by the degree of impunity with which most of the respondent witnesses have lied before the court.  I am offended as I am sure most Abians both at home and in diaspora are, not only by the regularity and persistence of the lies but by the boldness and the lack of conscience with which they tell them.

It is absolutely incomprehensible and mind boggling to watch a witness who knew voting did not take place in his polling unit , a witness who knew and in some cases witnessed voters being harassed, or thugs invading and carting away voting materials, a witness who never saw the use of  card readers during the election stand before the tribunal , swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, with God as his witness and then proceed to lie that voting took place and that the exercise was free and fair with no violence of any kind. Such has been the experience at the ongoing Abia tribunal hearings.

In most cases when confronted by the Petitioners attorneys with contradictory evidence during cross examination on the veracity of their testimonies, they have been quick to develop amnesia and most times have suddenly developed partial blindness; hence they could not read any of the documents before them including their own sworn written testimonies without the aid of reading glasses. Glasses which of course they conveniently did not have with them. One will think that someone who has a problem reading without glasses would carry one with him at all times. 

But no, these witnesses are a different breed; their eye problems come and go depending on the situation, circumstance and environment. The issue of their partial or temporary blindness notwithstanding there was also the issue of their sudden lapse in memory. Most during cross examination could no longer remember who they saw, spoke to or who signed the result sheets they submitted. One or two witnesses could not recognize their own signatures nor could they reproduce them when asked to do so. Most of them also conveniently forgot to bring their PVC cards to court. One of the witnesses who did was exposed on cross examination when it was revealed that the polling unit he claimed to have voted at was different from the one assigned on his PVC card. As expected after this exposure other witnesses conveniently left their PVC cards at home.

The most astonishing display of mendacity was the testimony by one Mr Solomon Ogunji, the State agent of the PDP who claimed he was able to visit 10 local Government areas between Ukwa and Umuahia in the space of a few hours after voting in his polling Unit. As if this bold faced lie was not enough this man went further to testify under oath that he did not see the ex-Governor, T A Orji, Senator Alaribe, Mr Oliseh Metuh and other PDP stalwarts at the Umuahia INEC office when they came and held the Resident Electoral Commissioner hostage, forcing him to reverse the cancellation of the elections in Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala Ngwa South. 

When asked on cross examination what it was that the Resident Commissioner reversed, he suddenly became dumb and speechless. How is it that this man who called the Ex-Governor to come to INEC office suddenly could not remember seeing the T A Orji there? That this man could tell such a lie and get away with it without any sanctions of any kind is a complete mockery of our judicial system and processes.

We are well aware that lying about oneself or something with the intention to deceive is a common occurrence and falls under ‘Lying Tongue”., but lying about an event or incident under oath and before a judge not only deceives but affects the ability of the judge to render a fair judgment. ‘I swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God’ is a mantra we hear all the time. However it is a mantra that has been trampled upon and bastardized by the likes of Mr Ogunji and others of his ilk who have so far testified on behalf of the respondents at these tribunal hearings. They all have committed such unimaginable perjury and in so doing caused so much damage to the course of justice and fair play. In most civilized countries, perjury is a crime punishable by no less than 5 years in jail. I guess in Nigeria’s judicial system, perjury is an acceptable crime, sometimes aided and abetted by lawyers.

The respondent lawyers may claim that false testimonies resulting from confusion, temporary lapse in memory or mistakes in written depositions is not perjury. The truth however is that conflicting testimonies such as we have seen during these proceedings when the witnesses are subjected to cross examination is perjury. If a witness who claims he does not remember an event or incident when questioned at one point but who clearly recalled aspects of the incident when cross examined has no doubt committed perjury. As we can rightly recall ex U S President Bill Clinton was impeached because of conflicting testimonies.

Having followed closely the proceedings at the Abia tribunal so far, I find it difficult to believe that the respondent attorneys are unaware of the fact that their witnesses were all lying under oath. On many occasions, they, the lawyers have given themselves away by objecting vociferously each time any of their witnesses was about to be caught in a lie. In the practice of law, there is something called ‘Suborning Perjury”. This is when an attorney willfully encourages a witness to bear false testimony and in the legal profession, lawyers could be severely sanctioned for this. One of the respondent’s lawyers, Chief Chibuike Nwokeukwu is a man I know. 

If it is the same Nwokeukwu I am referring to, we attended the same high school. He was 2 or 3 classes ahead of me. He is a fine gentleman and an experienced lawyer who has made a name for himself and I have a lot of respect for him. However I will want to believe and hope that he does not damage his reputation or jeopardize his legal profession by continuing to stand behind those false witnesses. He and his fellow attorneys representing Dr Ikpeazu, the PDP and INEC can be as creative as they want to be in claiming that a lapse of memory by the witnesses does not constitute perjury, the truth remains, lying under oath as long as the testimony is material to the issue before the court is perjury.

There is a saying by Sophocles that goes thus, “there is no witness so terrible and no accuser as powerful as conscience which dwells within us”. To people like Mr Ogunji and others who have deliberately lied before the tribunal, I hope their conscience eventually catches up with them someday. For those who were paid to lie, such ill-gotten wealth will never deliver them from poverty and misery. As it is said in the scriptures, ‘The sins of the father will be visited on their children and their children’s children.”. They may enjoy all the good things the money can get them today but they will never escape the punishment that awaits them and even if they do, their children will not.

Someday, their children or loved ones will be victims of false witnesses. That’s the law of retributive justice. We all reap what we sow either in this life or the life beyond. It is my fervent hope that all or some of the people who have testified falsely before the tribunal would recant before the court proceedings are over and tell the truth about what they saw , did or experienced and the truth as they say will set them free. It is also my fervent hope that these eminent judges would see through these lies and false testimonies and render the right judgment. For those false witnesses, whether they recant or not, the truth has a way of manifesting itself in the end. We can always delay the truth but it can never be denied.

Nnanna Ijomah B.Sc., M A (International Relations) a resident of New York City was a former Assistant to Chief Emeka Ojukwu; Nna2ijomah@aol.com

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