Supreme Court upholds election of Obaseki as governor

The Supreme Court yesterday declared Godwin Obaseki as the duly elected governor of Edo State. While delivering a judgment in an appeal filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the apex court dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit.

Ize-Iyamu had filed an application, challenging the decision of the Appeal Court, which earlier upheld the election of Obaseki. The panel of seven Supreme Court Justices led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, which gave the verdict, would give reasons for dismissing the appeal on July 24.

Ize-Iyamu had approached the Supreme Court, asking it to upturn the decision of the Appeal Court in Benin, Edo State, which had upheld the decision of the Election Petition Tribunal in favour of Obaseki.

When the matter came up yesterday, the counsel to the appellant, Yussuf Alli (SAN), after adopting his brief, urged the court to allow the appeal and grant the prayers of his client.

But counsel to the respondents comprising Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) and Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), after adopting their respective briefs, urged the court to dismiss the suit.

Following the adoption of briefs by the counsel, the panel then stood down the case for an hour to enable the court to take a decision on the matter. When it reconvened, the CJN directed a member of the panel, Justice John Okoro to deliver the judgment.

Justice Okoro held that the appeal lacked merit and was consequently dismissed. No cost was, however, attached. The Court of Appeal sitting in Benin had dismissed Ize-Iyamu’s appeal for lacking in merit, and upheld the decision of the Election Petition Tribunal which in its judgment of April 14, declared Obaseki as winner of the September 28, 2016 governorship election.

The court, led by Justice Dongban-Mensen, ruled that the Justice Ahmed Badamasi-led tribunal did a pain-staking job in its judgment, and as such, deserved commendation.

In the judgment read by Justice M.O. Bolaji Yusuf, the Appeal Court held that PDP, from the evidence tendered, did not prove its case to warrant the nullification of the election or a declaration of Ize-Iyamu as the winner.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Obaseki of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner, having pulled the majority of the votes cast.

Not satisfied with the INEC’s declaration, the PDP candidate had approached the election petition tribunal, asking it to declare him winner of the said election. But the tribunal affirmed Obaseki winner of the election.

However, still not satisfied, Ize-Iyamu filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal with 41 grounds, which were reduced to nine issues for determination. In its reaction yesterday, the Edo chapter of the Conference of Nigeria Political Party (CNPP) commended the Supreme Court for the judgment.

The State Chairman, Roy Oribhabo described the verdict as well researched and articulated. Oribhabo said “This judgment has further vindicated us (CNPP) and the good people of Edo State who freely voted en masse for Obaseki in the last election but some people believed otherwise.”

In his congratulatory message, Ize-Iyamu said: “I accept in good faith this decision of the highest court of our country, which affirms Obaseki as the governor of Edo State. I therefore congratulate Obaseki and assure him of my goodwill.

“I also want to use this opportunity to thank all our supporters and party men and women for their immense support for our struggle right from the time of the election to this day that it ended at the Supreme Court. Let me assure them of my acknowledgement of their various sacrifices and promise that I will always be there for them.

“I thank all Edo people who have been part of our struggle all the way. In our various ways we should keep the fire burning in the quest for an Edo State of our dreams.”

Meanwhile, Justice Onnoghen has issued a circular limiting the number of junior counsel appearing with a lead counsel in any matter at the Supreme Court to five.

The circular came on the heels of an embarrassing situation experienced in the open court recently where lawyers who could not find seats had to stand up while many sat on the floor of the court room.

According to Justice Rhodes Vivor, also of the Supreme Court, there is nowhere in the world where such a situation exists.

According to the apex court, the large number of lawyers appearing in a case defeats the utilitarian value of junior persons appearing with a senior person in court. It noted that many of the junior lawyers who appear with the lead counsel have nothing to do with proceedings in terms of rendering assistance to the lead counsel in the course of proceedings.

Chief Olanipekun (SAN) had attempted to intervene by pleading for increase in number but to no avail. The CJN maintained that the circular has already been issued and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has been notified.

ccording to the CJN, the circular may be varied later but it remains binding for now.

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