Bisi Olaniyi, Southsouth Bureau Chief

 

Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, who was the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the September 19 election in the state; his deputy/running mate, Philip Shaibu; and the PDP; are evading service of the five petitions and processes against them.

The Justice Abdulrazak Abdulkareem-led three-member Election Petitions Tribunal, yesterday ordered substituted service at the inaugural sitting, with the petitions and processes to be posted on the wall of PDP’s state secretariat and Government House, Benin, while the pre-hearing sitting would hold on December 7 for the five petitions.

The sitting took place at the Edo State High Court complex on Sapele Road, Benin, with the tribunal having 180 days from the date of filing the petitions to conclude hearing in the matters and deliver judgments, thereby dragging to the first week of April next year.

The chairman of the tribunal, in his inaugural speech, pledged to avoid external influence and to act in good faith.

Justice Abdulkareem said: “As you are very much aware, our assignment is time bound. As such, we do not have the luxury of time. With the help of God Almighty, the tribunal is committed to complete its work on the five petitions filed before it, within the time frame allowed for it to complete its assignment.

“We, therefore, solicit the maximum cooperation of all the parties and their counsel, and urge you all to be ready to work within the mandatory period stipulated by law.

“We wish to assure you that in our quest to get to the truth of the matters before us, we shall act in good faith, and shall do our work with open mind, without any form of bias or appearance of any pre-conception. We also pledge not to lend ourselves to any form of external influence.”

While responding on behalf of all the counsel at the tribunal, Ken Mozia, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), assured that they would do their best to assist members of the tribunal to succeed, without wasting the time of the tribunal with frivolous applications/motions.

With the October 10 deadline, five petitions were filed, seeking the nullification of the September 19 re-election of Obaseki and Shaibu, while calling for fresh election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), but to exclude PDP, Obaseki and his running mate, in view of the call for their disqualification over alleged forgery of their certificates.

The petitions were filed by Action Democratic Party (ADP) and its governorship candidate, Iboi Emmanuel; Action Peoples Party (APP), without joining its governorship candidate, Amos Areloegbe; Action Alliance (AA) and its governorship candidate, Ukonga Onaivi; Allied Peoples Movement (APM), excluding its governorship candidate, Igbineweka Osamuede, and Tracy Agol, without joining her political party, the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

Exparte applications were filed by the counsel: Douglas Ogbankwa, A.I. Osarenkhoe, F.I. Agbokha and E.S. Osaigbovo to the ADP, APM, Agol and APP respectively, seeking order to serve the applications and processes through substituted service, by posting them on the wall of the state secretariat of the PDP in Benin, the state capital, which was unanimously granted by the tribunal.

The petition and processes from AA, as prayed by the counsel, E.S. Osaigbovo, in the exparte application, would be served through substituted means, by posting them on the wall/gate of Government House in the Government Reservation Area (GRA), Benin, for the attention of Obaseki, which was also unanimously granted by the tribunal.

ADP and its governorship candidate, in the petition with reference number: EPT/ED/GOV/01/2020, with INEC, PDP, Obaseki, APC and its governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, as respondents, prayed the tribunal to disqualify Obaseki over his controversial first degree certificate from the University of Ibadan (UI) and nullify the votes cast for him, thereby ordering INEC to conduct a fresh election involving all other qualified governorship candidates, excluding PDP and Obaseki.

APM filed a petition with reference number: EPT/ED/GOV/04/2020, excluding its governorship candidate, Igbineweka Osamuede, with INEC, PDP, Obaseki and Shaibu as respondents, while alleging irregularities during the September 19 governorship election and that Obaseki and Shaibu were not qualified to contest the poll.

APM also prayed for an order nullifying the entire governorship election of September 19, 2020 in Edo state, for substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, and the extant Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, thereby ordering a fresh election.

The petition from Agol, who hails from Okpella in Etsako East Local Government Area of Edo state, with reference number: EPT/ED/GOV/05/2020,  without joining her political party, the NNPP, with INEC, PDP and Obaseki as respondents, while insisting that Edo governor was not qualified to contest the September 19 election.

Agol’s sole ground for filing the petition was that Obaseki, at the time of the poll, was not qualified to contest the election, quoting Section 138 (1) (a) of the Electoral Act,  2010, as amended, while alleging that Edo governor presented forged/false certificate to INEC, contrary to Section 182 (1) (J) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended.

Edo chapter of PDP, through its Publicity Secretary, Chris Nehikhare, however, stated that the attempt by the governorship candidate of APC in the state to justify the legal actions against the governing party in Edo (PDP), Obaseki and Shaibu was disingenuous and destined to fail.

PDP in Edo agreed that Ize-Iyamu had the right to approach the courts for whatever reason, but claimed that it was trite for him to allude to the 13 suits the PDP filed against him and his running mate, Mallam Gani Audu, as the reason for his legal actions.

The NNPP’s governorship candidate also prayed for an order to compel INEC to conduct fresh election involving all the qualified candidates, excluding PDP and Obaseki, whom she alleged were constitutionally disqualified from contesting the 2020 governorship election, while the certificate of return issued to Obaseki by INEC must also be nullified.

Agol, alternatively sought a declaration that Obaseki’s participation in the election should be declared null and void, having participated in the primary election process of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and later PDP, in respect of the same governorship election in Edo state.

APP, in the petition against Obaseki, PDP and INEC as respondents, with reference  number: EPT/ED/GOV/02/2020, claimed that it was unlawfully excluded.

AA and its governorship  candidate, in the petition with reference number: EPT/ED/GOV/03/2020, against Obaseki, PDP and INEC (respondents), claimed that Onaivi was also excluded unlawfully, in spite of being the validly-nominated candidate of the party, in line with the Electoral Act.

AA and its governorship candidate prayed the tribunal to nullify the September 19 governorship election in Edo state, with fresh election to be ordered within 90 days, while the validly-nominated candidate (Onaivi of AA) should be included in the new ballot papers.

Ize-Iyamu, a senior pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), on October 5, disclosed that he would not approach the election petitions tribunal on the declaration by INEC of Obaseki as the winner of the bloody and violent poll, where two persons lost their lives and many people were injured, with thuggery and vote-buying becoming the order of the day.

He revealed that he would continue with the two pre-election cases in court, against the PDP, Obaseki and Shaibu, challenging their eligibility to contest the election.

Ize-Iyamu, a former Secretary to the Edo State Government (SSG), in a press statement he personally signed, declared that the September 19 election in Edo was not free and fair, as claimed in some quarters.

He said: “Elections are far more than actual voting, just as democracy includes more than just elections. It is in this light that we draw attention to the fact that the PDP and its standard-bearers (Obaseki and Shaibu) have continued to pursue many pre-election suits in various courts against us, all totalling 13. One of such cases came up in the High Court, Benin on October 2, 2020, days after the election.

“On our part, we had filed two pre-election cases against the PDP and its standard bearers, challenging their eligibility to contest the election. These are all lawful and integral parts of the electoral process in any democracy, which we must all respect and acknowledge, as genuine democrats.

“The outcome of these pending cases has direct effect on the election. Consequently, we have decided to continue with our pre-election cases in full exercise of our legal rights, just as our opponents have considered it their prerogative to also continue with their pre-election cases against us.

“Our cause to uplift our state, using the democratic system, is a noble mission, from which we shall never waiver. As law-abiding citizens, we must all continue to believe in the electoral process as an important part of the democratic system, as it remains the best method of choosing who leads the people, devoid of violence and avoidable acrimony.”

The Nation