By SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
•Court has proved us right — Governor
•PDP filed Akara petition —Oshiomhole
•Accept verdict in the interest of our people —Oba of Benin
•Opposition party’s candidate kicks: I may head to Supreme Court in the end
It was another setback for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State on Friday as the governorship election petition tribunal, sitting in Benin-City, threw away the suit filed by its candidate in the September 28, 2016 election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. Ize-Iyamu had run to the court to contest the declaration of Godwin Obaseki, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as winner of the election.
Obaseki had polled 319,483 votes as against 253,173 scored by Ize-Iyamu. However, it was a legal contest which the PDP and Ize-Iyamu were optimistic they would win. The party, as a matter of fact, opened a secretariat, called Mandate Recovery Group, in Benin-City, stating that the target of the group was to ensure that their mandate was recovered. But the APC kept laughing at them, saying: “Nobody gave Ize-Iyamu any mandate; so we wonder what they want to recover. The people’s mandate is with Obaseki; so there is nothing missing. But we know Ize-Iyamu’s strategy is to make sure that his people kept hope alive because, after this court case, the PDP will be dead in Edo”.
To show that he was not joking in the legal battle, Ize-Iyamu went for a senior advocate, Yusuf Ali, who led a team of lawyers, including Emmanuel Ukala (SAN), Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), Adebayo Adelodun (SAN), Roland Otaru (SAN), D.C. Denwigwe (SAN), Ferdinand Orbih (SAN), Chief H.O. Ogbodu (SAN), Akintola Kehinde (SAN), Kehinde Eleja (SAN), Dr P.A. Otaigbe. But Obaseki, APC and INEC paraded those adjudged to be among best lawyers in election matters to send a signal that the people of Edo had given Obaseki their mandate. Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) led the the case for Obaseki. Others in the Olanipekun team include Adetunji Oyeyipo (SAN),Ken Mozia (SAN), A.J. Owonikoko (SAN), Dr Oladapo Olanipekun (SAN), Chief N. Ekanem (SAN), and Joseph Odibeli. APC had Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Ricky Tarfar SAN, Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN), Austin Alegeh SAN, Rotimi Oguneso (SAN), Dr J.O. Olatoke SAN, and H.O. Afolabi (SAN).
INEC was represented by A.B. Mahoud, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu, H.M. Liman, Ahmed Raji, Mathew Ugwuocha, Onyinye Anumonye among others. Ize-Iyamu asked the tribunal to declare him winner of the election having polled the highest number of valid votes or cancel the election and order a re-run, alleging that INEC failed to conduct the election according to the electoral law while there were malpractices. But in the course of the trial, Ize-Iyamu’s counsel withdrew the issue of malpractices while alleging over voting, improper conduct of the election and accreditation of voters by INEC. Olanipekun, lead counsel to Obaseki, pointed out that having expunged the issue of malpractices from the applicants’ pleadings, the petition was dead on arrival and therefore admonished Yusuf Ali to withdraw the entire petition as there was nothing to argue anymore. At the end, that seemed to be the decision of Justice Ahmed Badamasi when he struck out Ize-Iyamu’s petition. However, the PDP further argued that the failure by voters not to tick both in the right and left shows that there was no proper accreditation before voting.
Another issue that came up during the trial was recounting of ballot papers used in the election. The tribunal acceded to Ize-Iyamu’s request for recounting of ballot papers but they could not do much before the 14 days given to each party expired. The PDP ran to the Appeal Court on the matter, asking it to order the lower court to conclude the recounting.
But the appellate court disagreed, saying election matters are special cases with time-frame, agreeing that the tribunal was right to stop the recounting after 14 days given to them had expired. Another major issue that gave the PDP hope was the failure by INEC to present witnesses during the trial. INEC counsel, Ikpeazu had told the tribunal that INEC was not obliged to produce witnesses and that the parties who called witnesses came with INEC materials. But the PDP believed it was a big deal for INEC to fail to produce witnesses and hoped that the election was going to be annulled.
But in responding to the arguments made by Ize-Iyamu and PDP, Olanipekun tried to discredit the petition. His argument was that Ize-Iyamu in his INEC form described himself as Ize-Iyamu Osagie but, in his petition, he identified himself as Osagie Ize-Iyamu Andrew. Obaseki’s strategy through his counsel was to ensure that Ize-Iyamu’s petition was thrown out based on the seeming inconsistency in his name as stated in his petition and his INEC nomination form or his failure to continue the issue of malpractices which the PDP earlier pleaded.
This was how pertinent issues that came up during the trial were resolved in favour of Obaseki. On the issue of Ize-Iyamu’s name, Justice Badamasi said, “There is nothing to show that the people of Edo were misled by the use of the name Ize-Iyamu Osagie instead of Ize-Iyamu Osagie Andrew. The case cited by the applicant are not relevant because there were no further documents to determine the actual name. We are of the view that the name Ize-Iyamu Osagie that appeared on exhibit one is the same as Ize-Iyamu Osagie Andrew and we so hold”.
However, on the allegation by Ize-Iyamu that INEC did not conduct a free and fair election as provided by the electoral law, the issue of ticking to the right and left, the presiding judge disagreed with the petitioner and dismissed the petition. “INEC was said to have failed to abide by the mandatory requirement of the approved guidelines as stipulated in the manual of the election of 2016 and the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, particularly in the polling units and wards being challenged. Over voting, collation of the result in favour of Obaseki, ballot papers unaccounted for irregularities which affected the result of the election and declaration of Obaseki as winner of the election.”
On the issue of INEC not producing witnesses, Badamasi punctured the petitioner’s argument too, saying: “In the case between Omisore VS Arigbesola, the Supreme Court ruled that the non-calling of any evidence by INEC did not affect the case adversely in any way. In order words, by the very act of cross examining the witnesses of the petitioners, it is not in dispute that all the evidence extracted during cross examination of the witnesses are evidence of INEC. From the above Supreme Court authorities INEC cannot be deemed to have abandoned his pleadings merely because he did not call witnesses.
The position of the law is that a party can establish his case through the witnesses of the other party by revisiting evidence under cross examination. Evidence gotten during cross examination is as good as evidence given during cross examination.
The argument that INEC did not call witnesses does not hold water at all. In the petitioners attempt to prove their case of none compliance, they called witnesses without evidence. The petitioners have not in our view led credible evidence to justify the grounds of their relief. On the whole we hold that the petitioners have not by credible evidence proved their case and have failed to show that they are entitled to their reliefs. Accordingly this petition is hereby dismissed. The return of Godwin Obaseki as governor is hereby upheld.”
The judgment elicited thunderous celebrations in Benin City as Obaseki, his deputy, Philip Shaibu, and immediate past governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, went round the streets with APC supporters in celebration.
A joyous Obaseki said: “I thank God for this victory because it has shown that our people voted for me and my party. It has rekindled my resolve to work harder for my people. PDP in the first place had no case from what we saw at the tribunal. Our people rejected them at the polls and the court has proved that. I know they will keep making noise but we will not be distracted. I urge my opponents to join hands with my administration to develop our dear state. We should leave our individual interest and pursue the interests of our people. I am more determined to fulfill my campaign promises to our people. We are going to create jobs as promised and serve our people transparently and sincerely.” But addressing PDP elders, leaders and supporters at his campaign office, Ize-Iyamu described the judgment as unacceptable and one that cannot stand at the higher court. “From the snippets I heard of the tribunal judgment, it cannot stand in the higher courts.
This case must be pursued up to the Supreme Court. I want to thank God that we have all been able to reach this part of the journey. What gladdens my heart is that God will vindicate us in the long run”, the PDP candidate said. Reacting also, Oshiomhole said: “Pastor Ize-Iyamu and the PDP have no case in the first place. I think because there is no cost, people tend to go to court with frivolous reasons.
I think the Electoral Act should be amended that if you bring a frivolous case like this one we had, and you did not make sufficient effort to prove it, such person should be penalized. Listening to the judgment, you will see that this was like Mama Akara looking for trouble.
I know that our people never voted PDP and they thought they could smuggle themselves through the judiciary but our judiciary has credible men and women with proven character. This was just a busy body petition”.
On his part, Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare 11, described the judgment as good for Edo people. In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Desmond Agbama, the monarch said: “The affirmation came at a time the services of Governor Obaseki was needed most, especially in the sanitization of the society, provision of jobs for the teeming unemployed youths as well as infrastructural development. This is a landmark judgment.
Everybody should join hands with the governor to move Edo forward. There is no victor no vanquished and I urge the PDP and its candidate Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu to accept the decision of the tribunal in good faith and forge ahead in the task of providing dividends of democracy for our people”.