Eric Ikhilae, Abuja Bisi Olaniyi,
A Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday dismissed the alleged certificate forgery suit brought against Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and one of its members, Edobor Williams.
The APC and Williams claimed, in the suit, marked: FHC/B/CS/74/2020, that Obaseki forged his West African School Certificate O/level and A/level, and the first degree certificate from the University of Ibadan (UI), which he submitted to the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC) in his bid to contest the September 19, 2020 governorship election.
They, among others, prayed the court to disqualify Obaseki for allegedly breaching Section 31 (5) and (6) of the Electoral Act and Section 182(1)(J) of the Constitution.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed, in a judgment on Saturday, held that the plaintiffs failed to discharge the burden of prove required of them under the law.
Obaseki and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) hailed the judgement as triumph of the rule of law.
But the APC said it was going to appeal the verdict
Justice Mohammed held yesterday that “another fundamental flaw in the case of the the plaintiffs is that, while the plaintiffs alleged forgery against the first defendant (Obaseki), the evidence they brought was completely at variance with the allegation.”
The judge noted that, like the plaintiffs, the six witnesses called by them admitted not seeing Obaseki’s original credentials and that their claim that he forged certificates was based on the photocopies of the certificates they saw.
He said not only did Obaseki deny the plaintiffs’ claims, he effectively explained, through evidence led, that the absence of the signature of UI’s Registrar and the certificate of issue on the photocopy of the degree certificate he submitted to INEC was as a result of an error on the part of the person who photocopied the certificate.
Justice Mohammed added that Obaseki also did not only tender the original copies of his certificates, from primary to university level, he called a Deputy Registrar from UI, who confirmed that the governor attended the institution and that the certificate he parades is genuine, authentic and was duly issued to him by the school.
But, on the part of the plaintiffs, Justice Mohammed noted that none of the witnesses they called was able to prove that the certificates were forged.
He added: “Interestingly, all the defendants admitted, under cross-examination, that none visited UI to verify the authenticity of the first defendant’s degree certificate
“One would have expected the plaintiffs or any other witnesses to endeavour to check or enquire for the university authorities about the authenticity of the degree certificate issued to the first defendant.
“What played out in this case is that the plaintiffs only relied on the photocopies. of the first defendant’s certificates, submitted to the third defendant (INEC) via Exhibit PL2 (Form EC9).
The allegation of forgery bothers on crime, which must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
“No iota of evidence, talk less of proof beyond reasonable doubt, as required law, was brought by the plaintiffs to substantiate the allegation of forgery against the first defendant.
It’s triumph of rule of law, say Obaseki, PDP
Governor Godwin Obaseki and his party,PDP,described the court judgement as triumph of the rule of law.
Obaseki, in an online statement said: “The verdict of the FHC, Abuja, delivered by Hon. Justice Ahmed Mohammed, is well received and a victory for the rule of law. It was a most needless attempt by desperate individuals trying to undo the will of the people through the backdoor, but we are happy today (yesterday) that justice and truth have prevailed.
“The verdict confirms, once again, that Edo people were well-guided in trusting me to lead them in the September 19, 2020 governorship election.
“I promise to continue to prioritise the development of Edo State, not minding the darts thrown by those who are embittered by their loss and continue their attempts to put spanner in the works, even when they have been roundly beaten on all fronts. “
In its own reaction, Edo PDP, through its Publicity Secretary, Chris Nehikhare, described the judgement as a testimony to the fact that the government was enthroned by the wish of Edo people and had the blessings of God.
He said: “It is now clear that Edo APC and the stories that the members propagated were built on falsehood, social greed, intellectual imbecility and pathological irresponsibility. Edo people are advised not to only punish them with their votes on election days, but to consider them public enemy number one, henceforth.
The PDP in Edo also stated that all hands must be on deck, in order to move the Southsouth state forward.
APC to appeal verdict
The All Progressives Congress (APC), Edo State chapter, said it would proceed to the Court of Appeal to challenge the judgment.
Chairman of its Caretaker Committee, Col. David Imuse (rtd.), said the party’s legal team would immediately move to study the judgement and file an appeal.
He hoped the judiciary would remain upright and would always ensure that the will of the people and rule of law prevail.
He said: “We thank God for also granting all the lawyers and the judge very good health, with which they all contributed to bringing the whole litigation process to this interesting stage. It is not the end of the road.
“All APC members in Edo State are very hopefu, like the good democrats and believers in the rule of law that they are, that the judiciary will continue to show that it is the last hope of the common man.
“I plead with all APC members in Edo State to be calm and to go about their normal activities without animosity, as the party appeals the verdict.”