The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governoship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu Friday lost in their bid to upturn the declaration of Mr. Godwin Obaseki as the winner of the September 28, 2016, Edo State gubernatorial election, by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The petitioners had among other reliefs, urged the tribunal to declare Pastor Ize-Iyamu winner of the election, or in the alternative, to nullify the election and order a fresh election, alleging that the conduct of the September 28 election was fraught with irregularities and corrupt practices.
But in a unanimous judgment read by the Chairman of the three-man Tribunal, Justice Ahmed Badamasi, the tribunal distilled five issues, including the identity of Pastor Ize-Iyamu, for determination.
Others were whether the election of Godwin Obaseki was invalid as a result of electoral malpractices and whether by reasons of evidence, the petitioners had established non-compliance with the electoral act and nullification of the election.
On Ize-Iyamu’s identity, the tribunal held that contrary to 1st Respondent Counsel’s argument that he as a person who contested the election was different from the petitioner, his identity was not in doubt, as Edo people were not misled in the election.
“We are of the view that the name Ize-Iyamu Osagie is the same as Pastor Ize-Iyamu Osagie Andrew,” the tribunal held.
The tribunal had at the beginning of its judgment, pointed out that “in an election petition, the petitioner can only succeed on the strength of his case and not on the weakness of of the respondents.”
On the issue of corrupt practices, the tribunal while holding that the burden of proof lies on the petitioners, noted that they (petitioners) made clear allegations of corrupt practices in many paragraphs of their petition bordering on several polling units of Owan East but failed to call a single witness to prove the allegations.
The tribunal said the petitioners chose to confine their petition to non-compliance with the Electoral Act and abandoned their pleadings.
“The petitioners did not prove their allegations of corrupt practices beyond reasonable doubt. The evidence of witnesses did not go to any specific issue and we so hold.”
On the issue of non or improper accreditation of voters, the tribunal also held that the petitioners failed to show where there was over registration of voters, pointing out that in the entire petition, there was no averment on the ticking of the register to the right or left, that witnesses evidence on the allegation did not go to any issue.
“The 1st Petitioner did not challenge 15 units where he won with voters ticking once but he did so for other units won by the 2nd Respondent. This in our view, does not show good faith,” the tribunal held.
Referring to the Electoral Manual, 2016, the tribunal said it provides for continuous registration and voting and therefore, the provision for accreditation before voting has been abolished, adding that the petitioners’ heavy reliance on the election manual for registration was misplaced.
“For the petitioner to prove over-voting, he has to tender voters register, ballot. Papers and the results. The petitioner did not tender the. Evidence of witnesses in that regard. The petitioner having failed to tender voters register, ballot papers aand the results, has failed to prove over-voting.”
Commenting on the ballot papers recount for four local governments, the tribunal noted that the recount for three local governments were partial and held that report of the recount was not tendered in court and subjected to evaluation, just as it held that most of the evidence produced by the 1st Respondent on subpoena were not tendered.
“We found no probative value in the result as well as the chart produced by the petitioners…the petitioners abandoned their pleadings in several units and failed to call evidence. It is trite law that pleading without evidence is deemed abandoned,” the tribunal held.
It pointed out that Collation Officers that testified did not give evidence about what transpired in the units and wondered why the Collation Agents were not called to testify about what happened in their units.
“The Polling Agents who gave evidence, their evidence were discredited and even if their evidence was accepted and the votes deducted, it will not affect the result of the election. The much talked about improper accreditation was not specifically pleaded. Complaints of improper counting of ballot papers was not proved. This issue is hereby resolved against the petitioner,” the tribunal further affirmed.
In reviewing the 1st Petitioner Counsel’s argument that failure of INEC to call any witness was fatal to its case, the tribunal held that all the evidence extracted from witnesses were evidence of INEC which also tendered documents, adding that the electoral body could not be deemed to have abandoned it’s case.
According to the tribunal, “the argument of the 1st Petitioner does not hold water and we so hold.”
It further held that the petitioners merely dumped their documents on the court and failed to tie them to any aspect of their case, stressing that the court was not in a position to ascribe any probative value to the documents.
“In the petitioners’ attempt to prove their case of non-compliance, they called witnesses without evidence. None of the witnesses showed where there was misapplication of scores of the 1st petitioner.
“The petitioners have not by credible evidence shown that they are entitled to their reliefs. We hereby dismiss the petition. Accordingly, the election of the 1st Respondent is hereby upheld,” the tribunal said.
Counsel to the petitioners, Kehinde Eleja, SAN, in his reaction, commended the tribunal and urged that copies of the judgment be made available soonest, just as INEC Counsel, Doris Owolabi (Mrs.) appeciated the tribunal.
Similarly, Counsel to Obaseki, Olatunji Oyeyipo, SAN, commended the court for avoiding technicalities and dealing with the merit of the case, while Counsel to APC, Victor Oyosumor, alligned himself but added that the judgment has confirmed the wishes of Edo people that the election was fair.
Meanwhile, former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, has called for the amendment of the Electoral Act, with a view to punnishing frivolous petitioners.
Oshiomhole who was present in the court, described the petition filed by the PDP and Ize-Iyamu as an abuse of the court process.
He advised that the Electoral Act should be amended such that if a party brings a frivolous case such as that of the PDP and Ize-Iyamu, sufficient cost should be awarded against them to serve as deterrence to others.
He said, “I knew our people will never vote for the PDP and the didn’t vote for the PDP. They thought they could do smuggling through the court.
The judiciary has shown that they have men and women of impeccable character and I’m happy about that.”
On his part, the victorious Governor Godwin Obaseki, described his victory at the election petition tribunal on Friday as victory for the entire Edo people.
The Governor who spoke at the premises of the tribunal, said as father of all, it would spur him to work harder for the people of the state.
“It is victory for Edo people and it will spur us to work harder for the people of the state,” Obaseki said.
Meanwhile, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, has described the judgement as porous.
This is even as chairman of the PDP in the state, Chief Dan Orbih, has said that his party would appeal Friday’s judgment.
Addressing PDP elders, leaders and supporters at his campaign office after the judgement, Ize-Iyamu who was not present at the venue of the tribunal during the delivery of the judgement, described the judgment as unacceptable and one that cannot stand at the higher court.
He said, “From the snippets I heard of the tribunal judgement it cannot stand in the higher courts. This case must be pursued up to the Supreme Court.”
He however expressed gratitude to all who had been present at the tribunal venue while it lasted, without any form of compensation, just as he assured them that the journey ahead will be shorter.
“I want to thank God that we have all been able to reach this part of the journey. What gladdens my heart is that God will vindicate us in the long run.
“Don’t be dismayed. We are still hoping for your support. I urge you all to be calm and refrain from being provoked into violence. Even if they push you, laugh,” Ize-Iyamu said.
On his part the state chairman of the PDP in the State, Chief Dan Orbih, confirmed that the party would challenge the decision of the tribunal at the appellate court.
“I want to tell you that we have just started the journey as a party. I have no doubt that we are fighting a just cause. Definitely we are going to appeal against the judgement. We reject the judgement of the tribunal; it is not acceptable to us.
“We have told our lawyers to appeal the judgement. The issues we raised in the petition were not addressed by the tribunal.
“I appeal to Edo people to remain calm but be resolute in our bid to reclaim the mandate given to Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu,” Orbih said.
Commending elders, leaders and supporters of the party across the state for their show of solidarity, he said, “The mandate that was freely given to us by Edo people, we have a duty to retrieve it. The party will go on appeal.”
He also commended all Edo people for their support even as he described Pastor Ize-Iyamu as a very good candidate who will definitely become the governor of Edo state in the long run.