…Three weeks after Federal High Court cleared Audu of forgery.
The legal battle for the governorship of Edo State following the outcome of the September 19, 2020 governorship election is getting messier. Incumbent governor and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Godwin Obaseki was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, but his main challenger, Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress, APC is challenging his eligibility for the election based on allegation of certificate forgery.
Curiously, while Nigerians wait with bated breath the judgment within the week, of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja hearing the certificate forgery case against the governor, an Edo State High Court on Wednesday nullified the candidacy of the APC candidate and his deputy, Ganiyu Audu. The court, presided over by Justice Helen Adesuwa Courage-Ogbebor held that Audu presented false information to INEC in his Form EC9 to enable him contest the election.
The case was brought before the court by Sunday Kadiri, from Ogbona ward, in Etsako West Local Government Area (LGA) of Edo State.
Recall that three weeks ago, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had dismissed with cost a similar suit against Audu filed by the Action Democratic Party, ADP. In the suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/758/2020, the party sought Audu’s disqualification on the ground that he had presented forged documents to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. It further alleged that the documents contained misleading discrepancies especially in name arrangement.
Given conflicting judgments from two courts of coordinate jurisdiction, legal experts say a superior court would resolve the conflict. Henry Ogbodu, senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN told Tell that “the judgment remains until it is set aside. What the current court is saying is that they were not supposed to run based on faulty credentials. So, until that decision is set aside, it means APC had no candidate for the election”.
Patrick Obahiagbon, spokesman of the national campaign council of the APC during the Edo election, aligns with Ogbodu, stating that “the two judgments can’t cancel themselves out. So, until the highest court resolves that, it shows that that particular matter will be litigated up to the Supreme Court”. Obahiagbon however said “let’s wait for what the judgment of Federal High Court would be on the issue of Obaseki’s certificates. They (Obaseki and PDP) just finished their defence today. We finished our case yesterday and the court has directed that they must submit their written briefs and come and adopt same latest tomorrow because that case would meet 180 statutory days on Sunday.
“If they are able to do that tomorrow as the judge has said, it means Friday, Saturday, the judge will give a pronouncement. So let’s see what happens then”.
But according to Ogbodu, should the court nullify Obaseki’s election, “ordinarily, since Edo High Court says the APC candidate and his running mate were not qualified to run, and if the Federal High Court, Abuja now says the governor presented fake certificates, then the parties have to go for another election since both had no candidates”.
And according to law, should this be the case, the speaker of the House of Assembly is expected to step in as acting governor. Interestingly, the leadership of the House is also being contested in different courts.
Candidate of the APC has however accepted the verdict with calm equanimity. Ize-Iyamu however described the judgment as “unfortunate and utterly wrong” stating that it would be appealed. In a personally signed statement Wednesday afternoon, the pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, and former secretary to the state government, SSG, said “I have received the news of the judgment delivered today 6th day of January 2021 by the Edo state high court sitting in Benin City disqualifying me and my running mate, Hon Gani Audu from contesting the gubernatorial election held in Edo state on 19th September 2020.
“This judgment to say the least is unfortunate and utterly wrong. I have already instructed my counsel to appeal against the judgment, as I am convinced that the Court of Appeal will dispassionately consider the facts presented before the court and arrive at a just decision in accordance with the law.
“I urge all my teeming supporters to remain calm and law abiding. Justice will surely prevail in this matter to the glory of our God”.