• Tony Igele

Edo Governorship: Justice is tough but achievable – Orbih, PDP chairman

Good Friday meant separate things to the different tendencies at the time of Jesus, the Christ. To the Jewish leaders of the era, the killing of Jesus on Good Friday was the final step towards ridding Palestine and mankind of the strange doctrines as espoused by Jesus.

However, to later day believers of Jesus, Good Friday has turned into the cornerstone of the faith, a day without which they claim Christianity would have been vain. Echoes of such were abundant on April 14, 2017 when the Edo State Governorship Tribunal gave its judgment on the governorship election that took place last September in the state.

The Good Friday judgment has not surprisingly been received with different interpretations leading to political contextualisation of the judgment along partisan political lines. Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the state, Chief Dan Orbih and the All Progressives Congress, APC’s Anselm Ojezua responded to the judgment in separate interviews with Vanguard. The common thread by the leaders of the two major political parties in the state was of a long drawn out battle for the soul and destiny of the Heartbeat State.

Following the judgement of the Edo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that affirmed the election of Governor Godwin Obaseki of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and dismissed the petition filed by his party and their candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Dan Orbih, in this interview affirms reasons why his fight for justice will not be derailed among other issues.

HOW will you describe the ruling of the tribunal that gave victory to the APC and Governor Godwin Obaseki?

It is a journey we just started, and the beauty of it is that if one is not satisfied with the ruling, we have other avenues to seek redress. I want to state very clearly that the Edo PDP rejects the judgment. I took the pain to listen to the verdict read out by Justice Ahmed Badamasi and his team, and I can tell you for certain that they did not take into account issues we raised in our petition. I want to tell you that members of our legal team are already putting their heads together. We will obtain the certified copies of the judgment so that we will be able to prepare our appeal.

It was due to the injustice that was done by INEC that made us approach the tribunal in the first place. The dissatisfaction that was evident in the judgment of Justice Badamasi has also informed our decision to appeal the judgment. Whatever be the outcome, we want to show the world that our interest is to retrieve the mandate that was freely given to us. Instead of addressing the issues in our petition, I observed that the chairman of the tribunal found it difficult to redefine what constituted over-voting. For the first time, a judge redefined over-voting as a situation whereby the total number of votes cast exceeds the total number of registered voters. Is that not laughable.

To him, irrespective of the number of accredited voters, as long as the number of votes allocated to the parties does not exceed the total number of registered voters, there is no problem. It means that it is possible for presiding officers to allocate 800 votes to a party in a situation whereby 200 people came for accreditation in a place where you have 1,000 registered voters. Does elementary knowledge of the electoral process not tell one that it is only those who completed accreditation that are allowed to vote? In a unit where you have total number of votes exceeding the total number of accredited voters, votes in such units are supposed to be cancelled.

What about the other issues that were raised by the judges such as your party not calling enough witnesses to prove your case?

From my layman understanding, I think he only turned the law on its head. How can he say that we should have called witnesses in all the units of the state? He must have forgotten that in our petition, we were specific in the units we challenged the results of the election. We produced documents from INEC showing that those results were not valid. To him, except we called on witnesses from all the units in the state, our case cannot be considered on merit. The beauty of it all is that we have an ample opportunity to challenge the judgment of Justice Badamasi and his team. I believe this is good for our democracy and for justice. We will not hesitate to avail ourselves the constitutional opportunities to challenge this verdict.

The judge appeared to have dealt your petition a big blow when he stated that your claim of ticking the names of prospective voters to the left of the voters’ register was not valid. The judge stated that the provision was meant for election officials and that it was not necessary in the conduct of election. Is that not where you lost the case?

By the time a judge says that you don’t need to use voters’ register, you don’t need to do accreditation or you don’t need a handbook which is a subsidiary legislation, you don’t need the manual in an election, what he is saying in effect is that the presiding officer in an election is at liberty to adopt any process he likes in conducting an election. That cannot be correct; those rules and guidelines are there so that there will be uniformity in the procedures for the conduct of an election. The rules are there so that the presiding officer in Ogbonna Ward 4 will not be doing anything different from the presiding officer in Oredo Ward 2.

Those guidelines are supposed to be the bible and authority of the presiding officers in the conduct of elections. Conduct of an election is not a free for fall exercise where anyone is at liberty to apply his discretion.

Liberty to apply his discretion

If the INEC guidelines state that once your name is identified in the voter’s register, your name should be ticked to show that you have been accredited and that your name should also be ticked to show that you have voted, I believe the guidelines should be strictly adhered to.

What Justice Badamasi has stated is that the guidelines, the rules, the manual for the conduct of the election are not necessary and that they are just there to teach the presiding officers what to do. He was simply saying that whether the presiding officers followed the regulations or not did not matter. I think these are the salient issues that we will challenge. I have no doubt that in the areas we are challenging the election when you reconcile the results, we have the majority of the valid votes.

So the results of the inconclusive recounting exercise were never admitted at the tribunal after all?

Again, we are beginning to see that the interpretation of the Electoral Law by Justice Badamasi will certainly be called into question at the Court of Appeal. Those things he said were totally unacceptable, and those are the grounds we will use to challenge the verdict.

What is the hope for the Edo PDP after this defeat? Are you not afraid that you may lose many loyal party members, who perhaps are tired of remaining in the opposition party for too long.

We have reached out to our party members and supporters, who massively voted for Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. We have informed them to remain calm and that we shall secure justice at the end of the day.

Are you certain of victory at the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court?

What happened at the tribunal is of no relevance to what will happen later. What happens most time is that people, along the line, give up even when they are certain that they are fighting a just cause. In this instance, we are prepared to go as far as the Supreme Court to get justice.

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