By Josef Omorotionmwan
WE have maintained, perhaps with monotonous regularity, that in Nigeria, the cure for democracy is less democracy. Elsewhere, democracy and the Universal Adult Suffrage, which feed on the right of every adult citizen to vote and be voted for, are good bed-fellows.
This explains why people must file out periodically to vote for their representatives at various levels of government.
Paradoxically, though, in this clime where people hardly accept defeat, elections end up in the court where three or four Judges veto the collective choices of thousands, and sometimes millions, of voters, thus ascribing on such Judges, the status of super humans.
Despite its imperfections, resort to court action still remains the most civilised way of addressing electoral disputations.
We have come a long way in Edo State. The last gubernatorial election came and passed without major incidents.
The scene soon shifted to the Election Petitions Tribunal. On Friday, April 14 2017, the Tribunal gave its verdict.
We commend this watertight judgment to everyone. In the judgment, we see diligence on the part of the Judges. We see a total vindication of the stand that the Judiciary is the last hope of every citizen, not just the proverbial common man. The truth is constant and truth crushed to death shall rise again. Indeed, the best candidate has won and he will continue to win.
What goes around comes around. Edolites are not in a hurry to forget the abysmal performance of the PDP when it held sway in the State about a decade ago.
Providentially, the short time at the Tribunal was a test period that accorded Governor Godwin Obaseki an opportunity to show Edo people and his constructive critics, including this writer, that he is focused and capable of following the developmental strides of his predecessor.
It would be recalled that Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, at the September 28 2016 election approached the Tribunal, praying it to declare him winner of the election, having polled the highest number of valid votes cast, or in the alternative, cancel the election and order a re-run as the National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, failed to comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
In the portfolio that Ize-Iyamu and the PDP took to the Tribunal, the issue of corrupt practices was very prominent but midstream, they got a more attractive offer – substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act.They then went on a frolic and a voyage of discovery by clinging tenaciously on the issue of non-compliance, thus abandoning the issue of corrupt practices.
The three-man panel led by Hon. Justice Ahmed Badamasi expresses this view most succinctly: “The petitioners wanted to be clever by half when they chose to confine themselves to non-compliance and in a nutshell, they abandoned their pleadings in respect of corrupt practices”.
That was how the petitioners failed to prove their allegation of corrupt practices beyond reasonable doubt with all the concomitant effects: first, failing to prove the allegation of corrupt practices fatally destroys the relief sought for the nullification of the election. Hon. Justice Badamasi concludes, “We are left with no means of separating the pleading of corrupt practices with the other averments… Accordingly, these two issues are resolved against the petitioners”.
The question of over-voting was another contentious issue raised by the petitioners. Relying on the case of Nduke Louis vs INEC, the Tribunal held that over-voting can only occur when the total number of votes cast exceeds the total number of registered voters at the polling units. It has nothing to do with the number of accredited voters. That was how the petitioners’ case of over-voting collapsed like a deck of cards.
With the petitioners, it was abandonment galore. They might have had the best cases ab initio but one by one, they collapsed at the doorsteps of abandonment. For instance, they challenged the election on the basis of non-compliance in 2,627 polling units throughout the State but they called only 92 witnesses, a bulk of who were collation agents.
In effect, the petitioners abandoned their case in virtually all the polling centres, Wards and Local Governments by a serious act of omission – not calling witnesses in all the areas.
Whereas Section 126 of the Evidence Act requires that in all cases, oral evidence shall be direct; all the collation agents that testified at the tribunal could not give direct evidence of what happened at the polling units. They relied on the information supplied by the agents at the polling units. Of course, it couldn’t be otherwise as the collation agents were not ubiquitous. Barring the power of magic, how do you ask an agent at Eguaeholor to give an eye-witness account of what happened simultaneously at Oghada, Obanisi, Ugbeze, Ekudo and Okhuokhuo?
One issue that also raised a lot of furor and sensationalism at the Tribunal was INEC’s failure to call witnesses. This is a settled ingredient. The Tribunal pointed to the case of Omisore vs Aregbesola where the Supreme Court held that INEC’s failure to call witnesses does not affect the case in any way.
These were the factors that entered into the Tribunal’s decision, “the return of Godwin Obaseki as Governor is hereby upheld”.
Edo State can only have one Governor at a time. He is Governor of the entire State, not of a political party. We, therefore, join our Royal Father, Omo N’ Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, Oba of Benin, in calling for truce. The combatants have fought a good fight. In times like these, every Edolite, irrespective of party affiliation; and religious or ethnic differences, must quickly banish from his heart, all feelings of disappointment, all sense of chagrin; and like the gallant soldier, fall in line; salute colours so that together, we can face the common enemies – unemployment, extreme poverty in the midst of plenty, insecurity, health-care and educational systems that are virtually comatose, infrastructural deficiencies, environmental degradation, etc. This is the only way to go!