IT seemed April 14th, 2017 would not come. Every Edo person at home and abroad, and I dare say all Nigerians, looked forward to that day, some with hope for a positive outcome, others with trepidation hinged on pessimism. It all depended on which side of the political divide one belonged. When it eventually came, it arrived with cheers for some and tears for others. The disputed 2016 Edo governorship election result had been settled, hopefully permanently. The three-member Election Petition Tribunal, in a unanimous verdict, affirmed the victory of Governor Godwin Obaseki of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the September 28, 2016 governorship election.
Not satisfied with the declaration of Godwin Obaseki as winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, losers Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu filed a petition at the Governorship Election Tribunal challenging the declaration. At the start of proceedings, five issues where formulated by the parties to the petition for determination by the Tribunal. These were:
‘’Whether having regard to section 31(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended and paragraph 4(1) of the First Schedule, the person who purports to be the 1st petitioner along with the 2nd petitioner in the instant petition is different in law from the person sponsored as candidate of the 2nd petitioner at the Edo State Governorship Election held on 28th September 2016, thereby rendering the petition incompetent and thereby liable to be dismissed/struck out as prayed in the 2nd respondent/applicant’s motion dated 29th November, 2016;
‘’Whether paragraphs 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16, 17,18,19,20,21,22,23, 24,25,26,27,28,29, and 30 of the petitioners’ reply to the 3rd respondent’s reply as well as the witness statements on oath attached thereto are not incompetent and liable to be struck out?
‘’Whether not having claimed any relief based on corrupt practices, the petitioners had not abandoned all allegations of corrupt practices made in the petition;
‘’Whether the election of the 2nd respondent was invalid by reason of corrupt practices in some units and wards being challenged in the petition where the issue(s) of corrupt practices made in the petition was/were specifically pleaded in the petition, and if so, whether the votes credited to the 2nd respondent in such units and wards are not liable to be invalidated or discounted?
‘’Whether on the state of the pleadings and evidence led, the petitioners have established that there was substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act which has substantially affected the Edo State Governorship Election held on 28, September 2016 to warrant an order nullifying the election and for a fresh election to be considered?’’
When the above issues for determination were formulated by the parties, I was convinced that the case had been lost and won before the tribunal sat to listen to the evidence or testimonies of witnesses and the legalese of final addresses. A careful perusal of the issues which came up for determination before the tribunal show clearly that it was the respondents, rather than the petitioners, who had an upper hand in determining the direction of proceedings and averting the mind of the tribunal towards the final outcome. Of the issues listed, only one (issue number 5) had anything concrete, superficially though, to say for what the petitioners had in mind.
That day, the tribunal said that much. The hope of the petitioners rose to the high heavens when the tribunal dealt with the first issue. The tribunal said it believed and, therefore, held that Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, sponsored by the PDP in the governorship election of 28, September 2016, was one and the same person as the first petitioner Osagie Andrew Ize-Iyamu. The smiles, which had lit up the faces of the petitioners’ counsels, servants, agents, privies and members, soon froze as the tribunal painstakingly demolished what the petitioners had thought was a concrete, water-tight, cast-iron case worthy of being taken to the bank.
In all the four other issues for determination, the tribunal found, and held, that none of the over 90 witnesses’ testimonies established a case of serious irregularities or malpractices during the governorship election. According to the tribunal, their testimonies were full of contradictions and hearsay which amounted to nothing to be relied upon.
That was the same day Edo state was engulfed in wild jubilation over the affirmation of the victory of Godwin Obaseki as the duly elected governor of the state, and what came on my mind was different, far outside the general mood. My thoughts were directed at what might have happened to us and our state if the People’s Democratic Party and its candidate, Pastor Osagie Andrew Ize-Iyamu had been declared by the tribunal as the winner of the 28, September 2016 governorship election, and therefore, governor-elect.
I shudder and shiver at the thought that those who managed our state and our lives for nigh on ten years with nothing to show would come again to continue from where they stopped.
Our state resources, our commonwealth, would be ploughed into the coffers of the present kingly occupants of the ‘’Garden of Eve and Adam’’ to hold and use as it pleases the gang leader. We cannot thank the Almighty God enough for yesterday.
There is no doubt that Governor Godwin Obaseki, in the last five months, has steered the governance of our state with admirable dexterity, unwavering determination and boundless courage. The hope and promise of a better Edo state has become more visible in the horizon with affirmation by the tribunal of the mandate freely given to Obaseki by the people of Edo state last September. By the tribunal’s verdict, the distraction contrived by the opposition by filing the petition has now melted to form the asphalt for the pavement of more roads and streets, rehabilitation and reconstruction of more school buildings, health centres, agricultural development and human capital development initiatives for which the applause is loud and clear. Governor Obaseki has already put his hands on the plough. He cannot, and must not look back.