Edo Election Tribunal Commences Sitting


By Adibe Emenyonu

The Edo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal yesterday commenced sitting on petitions filed by five political parties contesting the outcome of the September 19 governorship election, which declared Governor Godwin Obaseki as winner.

Obaseki, who contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was declared winner of the governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), having scored the highest number of votes cast.

The political parties seeking to nullify the victory of Godwin Obaseki include, Action Democratic Party (ADP), Action Peoples Party (APP), Action Alliance (AA), Allied Peoples Movement (APM) and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

At the inaugural sitting in Benin City, Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Abdulrazaq Abdulkareem, said they were committed to concluding the five petitions before the tribunal within the stipulated time frame.

While soliciting for co-operation from all parties and counsel, he assured that the tribunal would perform its duties without prejudice for any party.

During the sitting, the petitioners sought for an ex parte motion for substituted means of service against their respective respondents.

Following the petitioners’ applicant motion, the presiding justice granted their orders, and adjourned to Monday, December 7, for pre-hearing process.

The Justice Abdulkareem-led three-member Election Petitions Tribunal, 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, which will drag to the first week of April next year.

Chairman of the tribunal which has two males and one female judge, 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.

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.