The National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in Asaba, Delta State, was startled as a politician reported to have died and been buried suddenly appeared physically and testified in court.
The politician, Mr Christopher Anirah, who is member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), stated that he was not only alive but was hale and hearty, adding that all reports the tribunal had received concerning his alleged death were false.
Anirah, stunned the tribunal with his testimony at the on-going trial in an election petition between Gibson Ighofose Akporehe of the APC (Okpe, Sapale and Uvwie federal constituency) and Evelyn Omavowan Oboro of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
While giving evidence in the matter, the former House of Representatives member claimed that his supposed ‘Death Certificate’ was forged.
Anirah had been subpoenaed to testify before the tribunal.
However, Akporehe, the APC candidate in the last House of Representatives election, through his counsel, Mr. Charles Umweni, had told the tribunal that the witness he intended to call (Anirah) could no longer appear before the tribunal to give evidence as he (Anirah) had died.
Akporehe, who is challenging the victory of Oboro in the election, claimed that Anirah died of cardiac attack and, therefore, could not be subpoenaed to give evidence in the ongoing trial.
Nevertheless, the uncommon drama ensued when the Chairman of the three-man tribunal panel, Justice Adebukole Banjoko, called out the Anirah’s name during the resumed hearing of the matter on Wednesday in Asaba.
At that instance, a man who claimed to be Christopher Anirah jumped to his feet and stepped into the witness-box to testify as directed by the tribunal chairman.
It took an appeal from Justice Banjoko to restore calm in the court as the startled audience instantly reacted to the unfolding drama rather noisily.
Anirah, during examination by the respondents’ counsel, Mr. Onome Egbon, told the tribunal that he was the rightful candidate of the APC for the Okpe, Sapele and Uvwie federal constituency in the state in the 2015 National Assembly election until his name was allegedly and “fraudulently substituted” with the name of Ighofose Akporehe on ground that he (Anirah) was dead.
He told the tribunal that Akporehe had deceived the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to remove his (Anirah) name from the list of contestants for the election having allegedly “forged a death certificate from a General Hospital that I died of cardiac failure and hypertension.”
Somebody allegedly made to pose as his family member and testify that the death rumours were true in order to convince INEC to carry out their evil plan of substituting his name, Anirah further said.
He however said he received several death threats through phone calls, warning him to steer clear of the election tribunal premises with the intention of testifying in the on-going trial.
Anirah said: “The notice was supported with a forged death certificate signed by a non-existent Dr Jude Omoefe from a non-existent Government Hospital in Okpe, Orerokpe. It says Christopher Anirah died of cardiac failure and hypertension. Also backing the notice is an affidavit of death dated January 15, 2015, and deposed to by one Okonji at the Ughoton Customary Court, Ughoton in the state.”
He then took the tribunal through the series of events, starting from when he won the party primary election to the morning of March 28, 2015, when he was finally told that he had been substituted.
Anirah said although he got wind of the “evil and desperate plot to rob me of my mandate,” he could do nothing as all his efforts to save it were futile.
“I travelled briefly out of the country. “When I returned on January 23, 2015, I heard that one Cyril Ogodo, the deputy state chairman of my party, had sold my mandate to one Gibson Akporehe while the party claimed not to know about it.
“When I formally reported the matter to the party, the state chairman, Erhue, and the gubernatorial candidate, Otega Emerhor, instructed the deputy state chairman (Ogodo) to go back and restore my name, which he did after collecting some amount of money from me.
“Surprisingly, after my name had entered the final list of INEC, I got wind of their plan to substitute my name on the ground that I was dead. I then wrote to APC and INEC (he also tendered copies of the letter). I went there myself to submit the letters in which I informed them that some people were faking my death in order to substitute my name. That was on January 24.
“Before then, during our campaign at Orerokpe, the APC governorship candidate told the people at the rally that in a few days time, they would know who would be the House of Representatives candidate. After the rally, I met him and asked why he made such statement knowing I was the candidate. He just smiled and didn’t say anything.
“Five days later, I got a call from INEC in Abuja that if I was alive I should come to their office at 7a.m. the next day. The call came at about 9 p.m. That same night, I left Sapele at 11p.m., drove overnight to INEC headquarters in Abuja where I met Mr. Ibrahim Bawa, the head of legal unit of the commission.
“They interviewed me during which I gave them evidence that I was alive.
They then assured me that I could not be substituted because I was alive. They said they were not happy over the issue, asking why the APC of all party did such a thing. They said I should meet the APC national chairman, who signed the letter of substitution, to revoke it.”
Based on the INEC advice, Anirah said he went to the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, who he said apologised and promised to call a meeting to discuss the matter in order to have the substitution letter revoked.
Eventually, that promise by Odigie-Oyegun was never fulfilled, Anirah pointed out. “What I saw was that on March 27, a day before my election, Oyegun, Cyril and Otega conspired and went back to submit the same letter to INEC that I was dead and then submitted the same forged death certificate.
“On the strength of that, INEC headquarters then wrote (he also attached a certified true copy of the letter) to its office in Asaba that I was dead and should be substituted. I was informed at 8 a.m. on the day of the election that I had been replaced,” he said.
The complainant added that since then he had been making efforts to have the alleged culprits arrested all to no avail.
“I want Nigerians to help me fight this injustice, because if they let these people succeed, it could be another person tomorrow. It is unfair and inhuman for a man who is alive to be technically erased from the surface of this earth.
“My mother, children and friends are yet to get over the shock they experienced when they got the news that I was dead”.
In the petition, Akporehe of APC is challenging the election victory of Oboro of the PDP with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), the PDP and eight others joined as respondents.
Meanwhile, Oboro in her preliminary objection filed from Peter Mrakpor’s chambers, is asking the tribunal to dismiss Akporehe’s petition for lack of merit, saying it is an abuse of court process.
However, Anirah has become Oboro’s main witness in the matter.