By Victor Ahiuma-Young, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Simon Ebegbulem
…As court declines to okay probe of his certificates
There was wild jubilation in different parts of Edo State Friday, as youths, market women throng the streets of Benin City and Auchi, celebrating the judgment of the Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling of the Edo State Election Petition Tribunal, striking out the issue of the educational qualification of Governor Adams Oshiomhole as a pre-election matter, thus making the matter technically dead.
Youths including Okada riders (commercial motorcyclists) chanted victory songs round the streets of Benin in convoy, appealing to Oshiomhole to go for presidency after his tenure as Governor of Edo state, as according to them, the impact his administration in the state would never be forgotten.
The state Deputy Governor, Dr Pius Odubu, described the judgment as victory for democracy just as the Esogban of Benin Kingdom and chairman of the Benin Forum, Chief David Edebiri, declared that “the oracle has spoken again, no body can doubt the Oracle, not even Airhiavbere.”
PDP Stakeholders in the state in a statement signed by Chief Aisulimhen Ighodaro, called for the expulsion of Airhiavbere for “disobeying the decision of the party not to contest the result of the election in the court” even as the VANGUARD for a Better Edo, VFBE, has also hailed the Supreme Court for setting aside the ruling of the Appeal Court which ordered the fresh hearing of General Charles Airhiavbere’s petition arising from the July 14 governorship in Edo State by the Election Petition Tribunal.
The Executive Director of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, Rev.David Ugolor, also said that “through this judgment, the judiciary has once again shown to the people that they are not just the defender of the ordinary man, but also the protector of the ordinary man”.
The Supreme Court yesterday declined to order the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Benin City, Edo State to probe the authenticity of the governor’s educational qualifications.
A seven-man panel of justices of the apex court in their unanimous judgment, upheld two separate appeals that were filed before them by Governor Oshiomohole, challenging the verdict of an Appeal Court sitting in Benin which ordered retrial of the petition querying his primary and modern school qualifications.
The gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the July 14, 2012, governorship election in Edo State, General Charles Airhiavbere, rtd, had said that Oshiomhole was not qualified ab-initio to contest both the 2007 and 2012 elections on grounds of his academic qualification as provided for in the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution.
According to him, the certificates he (Oshiomohole) used to secure clearance from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, were bogus.
Specifically, the PDP flag-bearer claimed that Oshiomhole only tendered a Modern School Leaving Certificate without a primary School certificate, which he said going by the constitution, did not qualify him to contest the election.
He told the court that the modern school certificate the Edo state Governor presented on oath to INEC was discovered to be fake.
Meanwhile, though the Tribunal led by Justice Suleiman Ambrusa, had in a judgment it delivered on September 27, dismissed the contention of the petitioner as baseless, however, the appellate court, on November 15, 2012, maintained that the PDP candidate’s application had merit and should be heard afresh (de-novo).
Besides, the Tribunal which comprised Jusices Ambrusia, Esor Teetito and Danlami Senchi, was eventually dissolved in October, 2012, based on a petition by lawyers representing Airhiavbere, even as a new penal was constituted to hear the matter afresh.
Meanwhile, querying the legal propriety of the Appeal Court verdict, Oshiomohole, through his team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, told the Supreme Court that Airhiavbere did not specifically plead the issue of his qualification in the substantive petition pending before the Tribunal.
Oshiomhole argued that the appellate court erred in law by deciding on an issue not pleaded by the petitioner, adding that having struck out the two principal reliefs that were sought before the tribunal, case of the PDP candidate ought to have terminated.
He further urged the apex court to take cognizance of the fact that the petitioner merely challenged results in five out of 18 local governments in Edo state, noting that PDP which sponsored Airhiavbere, honourably withdrew from the petition considering that it was “hopeless” and “lifeless.”
In his response however, Counsel to Airhiavbere, Chief Efe Akpofure, SAN, urged the apex court to dismiss the appeal and affirm the judgment of the lower court.
While refuting claims that his client only challenged results in five local government areas, Akpofure, said the tribunal never held that there was no ground to sustain the allegation that Oshiomhole was not qualified to contest the elections.
He argued that the fact that non qualification was not made a separate ground on the petition was not a sufficient basis to hold that there was no ground in the pleadings to sustain the allegation that Oshiomhole was not qualified.
More so, he said the tribunal had found that the allegation of Oshiomhole’s non qualification was raised in the pleading but held that it was a pre-election matter.
In its judgment yesterday, the apex court upheld Oshiomohole’s arguments, adding that having gone through the entire processes filed in the matter, it was satisfied that the only issue for the determination of the Tribunal bothered on allegation that the election was conducted in substantial non-compliance to the Electoral Act and constitution.
In the lead judgment by Justice Bode Rhodes -Vivour, the Supreme Court maintained that the PDP candidate, in his appeal, failed to formulate any ground in relation to alleged non-qualification, adding that the only issue for the Tribunal to decide was encapsulated in paragraph 30(1) of the petition.
While remitting the case back to the Tribunal, the apex court held that the “appellate court lacked the constitutional powers to make a case for the petitioner.”
Meanwhile, National Assembly members from the state in the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, including Senator Ehigie Uzamere, Samson Osagie,Rasaq Bello Osagie and Pally Iriase, have hailed the judgment, saying that Edo people never doubted the educational qualification of Oshiomhole.
However, addressing a large crowd of people who were celebrating the victory, the Deputy Governor, Odubu said, “We want to thank God Almighty for making it possible. If you recall, our very first outing at the Tribunal, I told the whole world that the petition is dead on arrival. What has happened today is just a confirmation of what we already knew that the petition was just wishy-washy.
“First the oracle spoke, they did not believe. Now God has spoken through the Supreme Court loudly and clearly. The Supreme Court ruling today said the issue of qualification is not the ground of the petitioners petition. What that means is that the petitioner is left with the issue of electoral malpractice at the lower Tribunal. But if you were at the tribunal yesterday you will discover that the petitioner has abandoned the issue of malpractices.
“So what remains for the Tribunal now is to give the petition befitting burial. The case is dead and buried. We were confident from the beginning and we know justice will be done. Airhiavbere lost his unit, lost his ward, lost his Local Government and how do you expect such a person to win governorship.We thank God.”
On his part, Chief Edebiri, stated that “The judgment is what every good minded Nigerian expected because the Appeal Court ruling came as a surprise to many people. We thank God that the Supreme Court in its usual style has given hope to many people who have lost hope in our system. We now wait patiently for the Tribunal’s ruling which will come like that of the Supreme Court because what they have there now is a carcass. The Oracle has spoken again”.
In its reaction, the PDP stakeholders said “Arhiavbere’s unilateral decision which was at variance with that of the party at the national and the state levels is not only curious, but also shows that Airhiavbere is not a good party man, he holds the PDP in contempt.”