Despite assurances from the camps of Sheriff Oborevwori and David Edevbie that their disagreement over who is the authentic Peoples Democratic Party governorship candidate in Delta State will not cost the party victory in the state in 2023, anxiety has enveloped the state, Alex Enumah writes
With the combatants in the struggle for the governorship ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Delta State, Sheriff Oborevwori and David Edevbie not ready to sheathe their sword, there is no doubt that it is the court, very likely the Supreme Court, that will decide their fate.
Recall that a Federal High Court in Abuja had early in July ordered the PDP and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to replace the name of Oborevwori with that of Edevbie as the lawful PDP candidate for the March 11, 2023, gubernatorial election in the state.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo disqualified Oborevwori, who is the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, from contesting the 2023 election in the state. He held that Oborevwori was not eligible to contest the election because he supplied false information to INEC to back his nomination as the party’s candidate.
The judgment followed a suit filed by Edevbie, a former Commissioner of Finance in the state and strong ally of former Governor James Ibori. Edevbie came second behind Oborevwori in the May 25, 2022, primary election of the PDP.
In the originating summons he filed, Edevbie alleged, among others, inconsistencies in the names on the academic certificates submitted by Oborevwori to INEC. He further alleged that Oborevwori forged/presented a fake WASC result bearing the name of someone else entirely.
The plaintiff prayed for the disqualification of the 1st defendant going by the provisions of Section 182(1) (j) of the 1999 Constitution.
The plaintiff by reliefs 6 and 7 of his document, sought to be declared the winner upon the disqualification of Oborevwori by the court.
Upon service of the plaintiff’s processes, Oborevwori through his lawyer, Joe Agi (SAN), filed a counter-affidavit and written address asking the court to hold that the complaint against his qualification to contest the primaries was not justiciable. He also contended that the plaintiff could not initiate the suit according to Section 29 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
On its part, PDP through its lawyer, A. T Kehinde (SAN), argued that the plaintiff’s suit was premature, academic and of no utilitarian value. He also denied the allegations.
In his judgment, Justice Taiwo Taiwo held that several weighty allegations of fraud were raised in the affidavit in support of the originating summons as well as the further and better affidavit filed by the plaintiff and the said allegations were not addressed by the first and second defendants. He said denial in a matter of this nature must be specific and not general.
Justice Taiwo pronounced that in view of the failure of the first and second defendants’ to controvert the depositions of the plaintiff, the court is left with no choice but to believe and rely on the deposition as uncontroverted. He held that it is trite law that the court must give credence to uncontroverted averments as in the instant case.
Justice Taiwo held: “From the facts before this court and the documents which I have referred to earlier, the plaintiff who is also an aspirant, in my well-considered view, has proved the statutory duty placed on him to prevent persons with questionable credentials, who have submitted false information or forged documents in order to gain an undeserved advantage given the falsity in the documents from succeeding in their ungodly enterprise.
“The plaintiff has proved the allegation within the confines of the law. Therefore, I find and hold that the issues for determination in prayers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are answered in favour of the plaintiff. I so hold.
“With respect to prayer 3, I see no reason not to grant prayer 3 also in favour of the plaintiff. Same is accordingly granted. I have held that the plaintiff has proved his case against the 1st and 2nd defendants.
“I, therefore, see no reason not to grant reliefs 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. These reliefs are accordingly granted. In order to cement the success of the plaintiff and to give more flesh to the judgement of the court, I also grant orders 6 and 7 as prayed intoto. This is the judgment of the court.”
The judge added: “The reliefs 6 and 7 of the originating summons are reproduced for clarity: (6) An order of this honourable court disqualifying the first defendant from participating as the candidate of the second defendant in the forthcoming 2023 gubernatorial elections in Delta state, scheduled for 11th March, 2023 by the 3rd defendant.
“(7) An order of this Honourable Court commanding, directing or otherwise mandating the second and third defendants to replace, forthwith, the name of the first defendant with that of the plaintiff as the lawful candidate of the second defendant for the forthcoming gubernatorial elections in Delta State, now scheduled for 11th March, 2023 by the third defendant.”
Having been jolted by the verdict, Oborevwori quickly filed a notice of appeal to challenge it, arguing that Justice Taiwo erred in law.
In a nine-ground notice of appeal, he asked the appellate court to set aside the judgment given by the lower court. He also filed a motion on notice before the Federal High Court in Abuja for stay of execution of the judgment pending the determination of his appeal.
He contended among others, that Justice Taiwo misdirected himself in law when he assumed jurisdiction to entertain the claim of the plaintiff, predicated on Section 29(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022 before submission of his name (the appellant’s) to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Oborevwori faulted the trial judge for allegedly ignoring the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Modibbo Vs Usman (2020) 3 NWLR (PT. 1712) 470, in which he claimed the apex court held that Section 29(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022 which is the same with Section 31(5) of the Electoral Act, 2010 has settled the law that cause of action only arises when the name of a candidate is submitted and published by INEC.
Reacting to the verdict, the Chairman of Ika North East Local Government Area of the state, Hon. Victor Ebonka, faulted the verdict, saying that it was perverse, based on hearsay and without documentary evidence to prove their submission.
Ebonka who is also the Chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) in Delta State, while speaking on ARISE NEWS Channel, said: “Yes, it is on record that there was a judgment but we thank God for the constitutional provisions that allows that when you disagree with any judgment you go to the Court of Appeal and that we have done. Our basis for going to appeal is that the judgment was perverse and without basis. There is nothing new about the case raised against Sherrif Oborevwori
“They have not written a letter to any of the schools that they disclaimed the certificates. They have not crossed the burden of proof.”
Ebonka, a lawyer quoted several cases to prove his point and most pointedly, referred to the recent forgery case brought against Governor Godwin Obaseki by the APC in Edo State.
Also citing legal procedures, he said that the Supreme Court has laid the rules that to prove that a certificate was forged that there must be a written submission by the issuing authority to that effect, saying that in the case in point that there was no such evidence.
“The burden of proof is on them. If they want to find out that a certificate is forged it is for them to go to the issuing authority. The onus is on you as with the Obaseki case. In that case the University of Ibadan came and said they issued the certificate.”
Ebonka also submitted that the Edevbie camp were hiding the truth that they had written to WAEC which confirmed the validity of Oborevwori’s certificate but that they had decided to hide that fact.
“They have written to WAEC and WAEC has told them that the certificate was issued by them,” he submitted.
But a former Special Adviser to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, Evans Ivwurie, accused the Oborevwori camp of failing to address the claim in the petition that he forged his papers and rather relying on the technicalities such as that the case was filed out of time.
Ivwurie, who is also an ally of Edevbie, said: “I will say that there is no cause for alarm and Nigerians are aware that there was a court judgment in Abuja where there was a definite, subsisting and valid judgment of a competent the court of law that the candidate of the PDP is Olorogun David Edevbie. The judgment is very clear and unambiguous and the next thing is for the PDP and INEC to respect this judgment.
“Instead of going to court to defend the allegation, Sheriff relied on technicalities and unfortunately for them the technicality has suffered a major loss. It is a shame that the two major institutions that should strengthen democracy, the PDP and INEC will flout a valid court order,” Ivwurie said.
The interesting thing is that despite their disagreement, both camps are, however, insistent that their battle will not cost the PDP the state, which it has consistently won since 1999.