In a dramatic turn of events, Hon. Okpulupm Etteh, the House of Representatives Member-Elect for Eket/Onna/Esit Eket/Ibeno Federal Constituency, representing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), failed to present his defense in the ongoing certificate forgery case brought against him by the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Hon. Eseme Eyibo.
Eyibo had taken the member-elect to the tribunal in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, challenging Etteh’s victory in the February 25 elections. Eyibo claimed that Etteh was ineligible to contest the election due to the presentation of forged certificates and inconsistencies in his name on the documents submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
During the hearing, Etteh, who had previously stated that he would testify as the sole witness, failed to appear before the tribunal, causing further confusion and raising questions about his defense strategy.
In an attempt to support Etteh’s claim of attending Temple Gate Polytechnic, Aba (formerly School of Management Technology), one Ozemene Goodluck James, who claimed to be the Registrar of the institution, presented various documents, including an attestation letter, admission form, result after program completion, ND certificate, and an application letter written by Etteh to obtain the certificate.
However, under cross-examination by Jumbo Umoh Esq, counsel to the petitioner, James admitted that Etteh obtained his First School Leaving Certificate (FSLC) in 1988 and gained admission to the polytechnic in 1990, two years after completing primary education. James also acknowledged that Etteh obtained his WAEC certificate in 2002, ten years after obtaining his ND certificate.
However, when confronted with a list of tertiary institutions in the country dating back to 1926, neither the School of Management Technology nor Temple Gate Polytechnic was found, casting doubt on the authenticity of the presented documents. As a result, the tribunal rejected the attendance register tendered by Etteh’s defense.
Another witness, Alexander Anukam, a Deputy Registrar from the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State, presented documents including an IT letter, HND admission letter, marketing certificate, and pre-national results.
However, the petitioner’s counsel objected to the lack of an admission letter to support the claims, as well as the absence of a result for admission into any tertiary institution, particularly a federal polytechnic like Oko.
Akaninyene Inyang, the Deputy Director of the Examination Certification Division in the Ministry of Education, Akwa Ibom State, testified as a witness on behalf of the PDP. Inyang tendered the FSLC issued to Hon. Etteh in 1998 upon completion of primary school education, asserting that the document was not forged.
However, inconsistencies between the name on the FSLC and the name on the birth certificate filed before INEC raised doubts about the credibility of the presented evidence.
Furthermore, Mr. Oku Johnny, an administrative officer representing the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, presented additional documents to support Etteh’s defense.
During the hearing, Eyiboh subpoenaed the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), the agency responsible for accrediting and regulating polytechnics. The NBTE’s director of legal, Rekiya Shuaibu, Esq, confirmed that the school that issued Etteh’s diploma certificate did not exist.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), represented by Gyang Dung Esq, tendered the disputed certificates submitted by
Etteh to the commission. This further raised doubts about the authenticity of the certificates presented by Etteh.
The tribunal, headed by Hon Justice Kudirat Jose, with Hon Justice Philomena Nweke and Hon Justice Mua’zu Abubakar as members, adjourned the proceedings for the exchange of briefs of arguments. The adjournment provided an opportunity for both parties to present their final written submissions and legal arguments.
The absence of Etteh during the hearing and the inability of his defense team to provide substantial evidence to counter the certificate forgery allegations have cast a cloud of uncertainty over his eligibility to hold public office. The case has sparked public interest and raised questions about the credibility of the electoral process.
The outcome of this case will have significant implications not only for Etteh and Eyibo but also for the larger political landscape in Akwa Ibom State. The tribunal’s decision will determine whether Etteh’s declaration as the winner of the February 25 elections will be upheld or overturned in favor of Eyibo.
As the proceedings continue and the exchange of briefs of arguments takes place, all eyes are on the tribunal to deliver a fair and just verdict. The resolution of this case will not only impact the political future of the individuals involved but also serve as a precedent for future cases involving certificate forgery and the integrity of the electoral process.