Abia Tribunal: PDP wants removal of Alex Otti over ‘strange’ NYSC document, Labour membership registration

The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP in Abia state, Okey Ahaiwe, is challenging the validity of Governor Alex Otti of the Labour Party’s nomination prior to the state governorship election over the latter’s presentation of a letter purportedly from the National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC), court documents have shown.

In the court filing on Friday, Mr Ahiwe’s lawyers said his team would argue that Mr Otti “was at the time of the election not qualified to contest the election by reason of the fact that he failed to submit his NYSC discharge certificate” to INEC when completing his nomination form.

Mr Otti presented a letter to INEC which was purportedly written in 1992 and appeared to certify the politician as having completed his mandatory one-year national service in Lagos.

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, he has not been able to receive his certificate of national service,” the letter, which appeared to have been generated from a contemporary NYSC boilerplate at the time, said. “This will be issued to him as soon as it is received from our head office in Abuja.”

Mr Otti, born February 18, 1965, said in INEC filings that he graduated in 1988 from the University of Port Harcourt with a degree. Mr Otti’s submission to the electoral office would require his presentation of a discharge certificate from the NYSC, as his biodata showed he graduated at 23 and was required to enrol in the youth corps exercise.

A spokesman for Mr Otti did not return a call seeking comments on Saturday afternoon. But the governor’s legal team have reportedly started preparing to challenge the PDP’s argument in court next week.

Mr Ahiwe and PDP are the claimants, while the electoral commission, INEC, Mr Otti and Labour are the first, second and third defendants, respectively.

The electoral office declared that Mr Otti won the March 18 governorship elections after he scored 175,467 against Mr Ahiwe, who polled 88,529, ending the PDP’s domination in the state since the establishment of the second republic in 1999.

Mr Ahiwe, a former chief of staff to former Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, has since rejected the result, vowing to challenge it before the election tribunal.

In his petition, the PDP candidate declares in an attempt to preempt that any NYSC discharge certificate submitted by Mr Otti in his form EC9 (affidavit of personal particulars) during the tribunal proceedings should be declared a fabrication.

“By the extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a person who fails to complete the compulsory youth service to Nigeria is not qualified to occupy public office,” Mr Ahiwe’s legal team, led by Donald Denwigwe, a senior lawyer, said in the petition.

While people have been elected into governorship and other political positions throughout the country without presenting any NYSC certificates to INEC, Mr Ahiwe argued that citizens who attended tertiary institutions, especially a university, after 1973 must obtain either a discharge certificate — for those who finished below the age of 30 — or exemption certificate, for those who finished after 30 years of age.

Since Mr Otti, a retired top-tier bank executive, confirmed obtaining a university degree at 23, Mr Ahiwe’s lawyers said there were no legal exceptions for him not to have a discharge certificate from the NYSC. They described the 1992 letter Mr Otti presented to INEC in his 2014 submission for his failed governorship bid in 2015 as “strange.”

They also noted the contradictory huddles the Labour Party would face in arguing in seeking to overturn the election of Peter Mbah of PDP in Enugu over his NYSC certificate scandal while dismissing Mr Otti’s failure to present the same document in Abia as unnecessary under the Nigerian Constitution.

However, Mr Otti’s team said Mr Mbah’s case was different because the politician was accused of forging his NYSC certificate, which contravened the Constitution and the electoral law. Mr Otti did not present a forged NYSC certificate, they argued. Instead, he presented a letter that confirmed his youth service participation and explained his inability to obtain a certificate afterwards.

Mr Ahiwe is also asking the election tribunal to declare Mr Otti’s election null and void, claiming that the Abia state governor was not a registered card-carrying member of the Labour Party at the time of the election and that, as a result, his name was missing from the Labour Party’s membership register, which the party was required by law to submit to the electoral commission 30 days before the conduct of its primary election.

The PDP challenged the Tinubu/Shettima candidature suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja on 28 July 2022. However, in a unanimous decision handed by Justice Adamu Jauro on May 26, the Supreme Court concluded that the PDP lacks locus standi, or a right to file a lawsuit, to initiate legal action against the APC’s internal affairs.

The court also imposed a fine of N2 million on the PDP in favour of INEC and the All Progressives Congress (APC), as well as Messrs Tinubu and Shetimma, who were the first to fourth respondents in the appeal.

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