•This victory will spur me to work harder for my people – Gov
By SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
A seven-man panel of the Supreme Court, presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter S.N.Onnoghen, had last Monday July 10, 2017 brought to end the legal tussle between the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the September 28, 2016 governorship election in Edo state, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, and the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr Godwin Obaseki. The apex court upheld the election of Obaseki as governor of Edo State after it affirmed the concurrent verdicts of the Court of Appeal in Benin City, and the Edo State governorship election petition tribunal presided over by Justice Ahmed Badamasi.
The journey to this epic legal battle commenced shortly after the result of the election was declared, and Ize-Iyamu and his party the PDP, rejected the outcome of the exercise and headed to the tribunal. They hired the services of Yusuf Ali (SAN) who led other senior counsels such as 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 and over fifty other counsels to pursue their case. On the other hand, Obaseki assembled similar team that had defended the immediate past governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, while claiming his mandate. Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) led the legal onslaught on behalf of Obaseki. Others in the team included Adetunji Oyeyipo (SAN), Ken Mozia (SAN), A.J.Owonikoko (SAN), Dr Oladapo Olanipekun(SAN), Chief N.Ekanem, SAN, Joseph Odibeli Esq and others, while APC has Lateef Fagbemi SAN, Ricky Tarfar SAN, Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN), Austin Alegeh SAN, Rotimi Oguneso SAN, Dr J.O. Olatoke SAN, H.O.Afolabi SAN and others. And to also defend the election which it insisted was conducted according to the Electoral Act, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was reprented by A.B.Mahoud SAN, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), H.M.Liman SAN, Ahmed Raji SAN, Mathew Ugwuocha Esq, Obumneme Esq, Onyinye Anumonye Esq and others.
Ize-Iyamu asked the tribunal to declare him winner of the election haven polled the highest number of valid votes; alternatively, cancel the entire election and order a re-run, alleging malpractice and improper accreditation of voters by INEC. But in the cause of the trial, Ize-Iyamu’s counsel withdrew the issue of malpractices and now alleged over voting and improper accreditation of voters by INEC. But, unfortunately for Ize-Iyamu, Obaseki’s ferocious legal team, led by Olanipekun (SAN), shut down the allegations after puncturing the arguments put forward by Yusuf Ali. Olanipekun insisted that the petition was dead on arrival since there was no evidence to prove the allegation of over voting and improper accreditation made by the PDP.
And on Friday, April 14, 2017, which was the day Christians all over the world celebrated Good Friday, Justice Badamasi, in what looked like a water tight judgment, dismissed Ize-Iyamu’s petition and upheld the election of Obaseki, after he declared that “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”.
Not satisfied, Ize-Iyamu headed to the Appeal Court, raising 41 grounds of appeal and nine issues for determination. They prayed the court to determine whether the trial Tribunal was correct in its approach in considering and dismissing their case, considering the defence of the respondents. They prayed the court to allow the appeal, upturn the judgment of the Tribunal and grant the main reliefs sought pursuant to Section 15 of the Court of Appeal Act. But again, Obaseki’s legal team rose to the occasion and urged the court to dismiss what they described as an empty petition before it. And in treating the matter, on Friday June 9, 2017, the five man Appeal panel led by Justice Justice M.B Dongban-Mensem, in a unanimous decision, described Ize-Iyamu’s appeal as unmeritorious, agreeing with the Edo State Election Petition Tribunal led by Justice Ahmed Badamasi, for returning Obaseki as governor, saying that Ize-Iyamu and the PDP failed to prove before the trial court why Obaseki’s victory should be upturned. While Fridays seems to mean goodluck for Obaseki, it has proved not too good for Ize-Iyamu as long as this legal battle is concerned.
While Obaseki and APC members in the state went on wild jubilation, Ize-Iyamu vowed to see the end of the matter at the Supreme Court. But the Benin monarch, Oba Ewuare 11, while congratulating Obaseki for the victory, admonished Ize-Iyamu to accept the verdict of the court rather than embarking on another futile journey. It was also learnt that some Benin leaders prevailed on Ize-Iyamu to accept the Appeal Court verdict since he hails from the same Edo South senatorial district like Obaseki. But Ize-Iyamu was vehement as he believed sincerely that justice had not been done in the matter. He proceeded to the Supreme Court with his legal team and, finally, last Monday, July 10, 2017, judgment came. As it seems, the PDP leaders appeared very optimistic of victory. Apart from Ize-Iyamu and his running mate, John Yakubu who were glued to their seats in the court, you have other PDP leaders such as the state chairman of the party, Chief Dan Orbih, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Tom Ikimi, Henry Tenebe and the entire PDP National Assembly members from the state, apart from EJ Agbonayinma, were all in court to witness the final verdict. As a matter of fact, the presence of the large contingent of PDP leaders in the court threw jitters into the camp of the APC in the court room. While the judgment was being delivered, Governor Obaseki was in Lagos attending to the retreat organised for the new commissioners by the state government. He decided to deploy his deputy, Philip Shaibu, the Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion Ogie, the state chairman of the APC, Anslem Ojezua, APC state secretary, Lawrence Orka. Others included former governor of the state, Prof.Osarhiemien Osunbor, Senator Francis Alimekhena, Hon.Pally Iriase, Hon.Peter Akpatasan, and the Solicitor General of the state, Wole Iyamu.
However, at about 9:45am, the CJN led six other Judges into the court room and the tension in the two camps heightened. The case was called and after the introduction of the Counsels, the CJN made few remarks while the Counsels adopted their briefs. The CJN asked that the court be adjourned for one and half hours. The court resumed at about 11:30am and the CJN declared it was time for judgment. The judgment on the interlocutory appeal which the PDP prayed the court, to allow the recordings of one of the Judges at the lower tribunal rather than that of the chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ahmed Badamasi, was read by Justice Iyang Okoro who dismissed the appeal on the ground that it lacked merit. On the main appeal, the apex court declared, “after careful consideration of all the arguments and processes filed by parties in this matter, I am of the firm view that this appeal is devoid of merit and deserves an order of dismissal and accordingly the appeal is hereby dismissed”. The CJN added further that “I want to assure you that we have gone through the records before now, we have looked at it thoroughly and we found out that the Appeal lacks merit. We shall give reasons on the 24th of July 2017”. Shaibu led other APC leaders into wild jubilation while the PDP leaders, visibly disappointed, left the court room quietly.
Finally, Ize-Iyamu congratulated Obaseki and thanked his supporters for being there for him.
On his part, Obaseki expressed gratitude to God and the people of the state for their support, saying the victory will spur him to work harder for the people.
For Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, “we have always said it that PDP did not win any election. All their lies and blackmail has come to an end now. We thank God because we know he knows our heart and has been with us. He used us to set this state free from bondage and he has been with us. We will keep serving our people to justify the confidence he has in us. We are happy that Obaseki is doing well and I congratulate him for what he is doing so far and this sweet victory”.