The inaugural sitting of the Edo State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal was held on Friday with Chairman of the three-man panel, Justice Abdulrazak Abdulkareem, ordering a substituted service of the petitions and processes to be posted on the wall of PDP’s state secretariat and Government House, Benin, while the pre-hearing sitting had been fixed for December 7, 2020, for the five petitions.
This followed complaints by the petitioners that incumbent governor of the state, Godwin Obaseki, who was the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the September 19, 2020 election, his deputy/running mate, Philip Shaibu; and the PDP; were evading service of the five petitions and processes filed against them. The tribunal has up till the first week of April 2021 to give its judgment in the matter.
The battle for the governorship of Edo State had shifted to the tribunal which is sitting at the Edo State High Court complex on Sapele Road, Benin, following the dissatisfaction of five of the participants in the election with the outcome of the exercise in which Obaseki was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Though the governor’s main challenger, Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress, APC, rejected the result, he however resolved not to challenge it at the tribunal. Petitions were however 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).
The petitioners are seeking the nullification of the September 19 return of Obaseki and Shaibu for a second term in office, calling for a fresh election by INEC but excluding the PDP, Obaseki and his running mate. They called for the disqualification of the candidates over alleged forgery of their certificates.
Exparte applications were filed by Douglas Ogbankwa, A.I. Osarenkhoe, F.I. Agbokha and E.S. Osaigbovo, counsel 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 ex parte 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 as 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, which excluded its governorship candidate, Igbineweka Osamuede, alleged irregularities during the September 19 governorship election and that Obaseki and Shaibu were not qualified to contest the poll. The petition had INEC, PDP, Obaseki and Shaibu as respondents.
The party also prayed for an order nullifying the entire governorship election of September 19, 2020 in Edo state, as well as order for a fresh election, for alleged 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.
The petition by Agol, who did not join her political party, the NNPP, but with INEC, PDP and Obaseki as respondents was based on the ground that the governor was not qualified to contest the September 19 election. She claimed 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. She alleged that the governor presented forged/false certificate to INEC, contrary to Section 182 (1) (J) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.
Agol 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.
Alternatively, she 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.
The APP, in the petition with Obaseki, PDP and INEC as respondents, claimed that it was unlawfully excluded. On its part, the 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.
In his inaugural speech, the tribunal chairman, flanked by the two other judges, a male and a female, pledged not to succumb to any 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.”
In his response 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.