JUST IN: How Obaseki nailed Ighodalo’s governorship ambition - Reportgist

JUST IN: How Obaseki nailed Ighodalo’s governorship ambition

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More litigations seek to disqualify PDP as APC’s Okpebholo consolidates

By Sebastine Ebhuomhan I Wednesday, 10th July, 2024

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ABUJA, Nigeria – The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has filed a quickfire appeal against the judgment of a Federal High Court in Abuja that dropped its governorship candidate Dr. Akintunde Asuerinme Ighodalo to the precipice of disqualification from the Edo State governorship election scheduled for Saturday, 21st September, 2024.>>>CONTINUE FULL READING HERE

The party’s National Secretary filed the appeal against itself after much bragging and mockery of the initial judgment by PDP leaders.

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The court received PDP’s appeal on Monday despite an escalation of the cold war between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his puppet, Ighodalo. It listed the National Secretary of the PDP as sole Appellant against Hon. Kelvin Mohammed, Mr. Gabriel Okoduwa, Mr. Ederaho Osagie, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and the Vice Chairman of the PDP (South-South) as Respondents.

In the Notice of Appeal with 25 Grounds, the appellant stated, inter alia, “Take Notice that the Appellant being dissatisfied with the decision more particularly stated in paragraph 2 hereof and contained in the judgement of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, holden at Abuja (Coram: Ekwo, J (hereinafter referred to as “the lower Court”) delivered on 4th July 2024 in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/165/2024, doth hereby appeal to the Court of Appeal upon the grounds stated below.”

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On July 4th, the Honourable Justice Inyang Ekwo in a landmark judgment voided the evidence upon which the Governor Godwin Obaseki PDP faction conducted its governorship primary election on 22nd February, 2024 at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City, which Ighodalo won.

Almost all his co-contestants revolted after the election alleging massive rigging by Obaseki that paved the way for his bosom friend, Ighodalo, to win.

The Beginning of Disqualification Moves

The three plaintiffs filed the case on behalf of 381 persons lawfully elected as delegates at the PDP congress of 4th February for the party’s primary, who were unlawfully excluded from voting.

Concerning the main evidence of the PDP, Exhibit PDP 1, the list of elected delegates for the primary, Justice Ekwo said, “Exhibit PDP 1 is a hurriedly manufactured document leaving quite a blazing trail of illegality.” It was signed by two persons for the 192 wards in 12 local government areas as against the original list, Exhibits BID 8A to 8L of the plaintiffs, showing the signed results and names of persons validly elected at the congress.

To further conceal its illegality, the PDP wrongly labelled its 3 Ad-hoc Ward Delegates Congress as Summary Local Government by Local Government of Delegates Congress Results. These infractions are suspected to hide the questionable delegates that voted for Ighodalo. Moving from his discovery, Justice Ekwo mercifully placed the PDP and its candidate on a thin line by ruling that the 381 delegates should not be excluded (even though they have already been excluded since the suit was filed before the primary). The judgement capped an earlier order of 16th February that the PDP should show cause why it was excluding the delegates. The party disobeyed the order and went ahead to organise the primary on 22nd February.

Though the judge did not make a pronouncement on the validity of PDP candidate, it is now known, however, that Ighodalo was elected by unlawful votes of “manufactured” delegates. This makes his primary election a subject of further legal interpretations not only at the Court of Appeal but also in fresh suits that would explore his disqualification from the election since, in law, something cannot stand upon nothing. To make matters worse for the PDP and Ighodalo, INEC did not make any plea beyond an unconditional appearance to abide by the court decision.

Implication of PDP’s Exclusion of 381 Delegates

Before PDP’s primary, Governor Obaseki wanted Ighodalo to win at all costs. He decapitated the deputy governor, Right Hon. Philip Shaibu politically, to weaken opposition to Ighodalo. He allegedly influenced the party hierarchy to exclude the 381 delegates because of sentiments that they would vote against Ighodalo. Today, leaders of the Legacy Group, the largest caucus and foundation members of the umbrella led by the Vice Chairman of the PDP (South-South), Chief Dan Orbih, whose members initiated the suit, have abandoned the party for Obaseki and Ighodalo after the duo purportedly suspended them. They have been decamping in thousands to support the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate, Senator Monday Okpebholo, indubitably affirming Akpakomiza, the Edo Central District lawmaker, as the frontline candidate to win Edo State governorship election.

Both Shaibu, whose impeachment from office Obaseki also influenced later and the harassed ex-Oredo Federal Constituency Representative, Hon. Kingsley Ogbeide-Ihama substantially and significantly boosted the governorship campaign of Okpebholo in June. While Shaibu donated 50 campaign cars, 6 campaign trucks with sound system and a furnished campaign office meant for his truncated governorship ambition, Ogbeide-Ihama donated a centrally-located campaign office at the Sakponba junction of the ever-busy Ring Road, the heartbeat of Benin City, capital of Edo State.

Likewise, the campaign of the Labour Party (LP) candidate, Olumide Osaigbovo Akpata, is also steaming from increased effort to resolve the party’s internal conflicts at both state and national levels.>>>CONTINUE FULL READING HERE

Why Litigations could Nail Ighodalo

The delegates’ suit presents clear conflicts between the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Electoral Act, INEC Guidelines, and the PDP Constitution. The overriding question is: can a validly elected or nominated statutory PDP delegate challenge his or her exclusion in court under Section 82 of the Electoral Act and Article 50 (3) of the PDP Constitution? According to a lawyer, Barrister Lucky Eseigbe, “Yes. A valid political party delegate can sue for exclusion in court, alleging that it violates their constitutional rights or even the party’s constitution. The courts can declare the exclusion null and void by ordering the party to reinstate the delegate’s voting rights.” The challenge for the party and its candidate is how the delegates would be reinstated since the primary has already been conducted with “manufactured” delegates’ votes.

The judgment unleashed a flurry of reactions, interpretations, explanations and accusations by lawyers, politicians, and laymen. Many hailed the judgment as good for intra-party democracy. Some argued that the court should not meddle in a political party’s affair, whatsoever. In asserting jurisdiction, Justice Ekwo clarified that the suit is challenging unlawful exclusion of valid delegates, not the outcome of PDP primary election, which only participants have the locus standi to challenge.

Members of Ighodalo’s campaign organisation and PDP leaders literally turned the heat on the plaintiffs’ counsel, Barrister Adaze Emwanta, whose media interview outside the court that the judgment literarily disqualified Ighodalo increased their blood pressure. They extended their animosity to Justice Ekwo, who they disrespected in derogatory terms. Particularly, Obaseki, Edo government, the PDP and the campaign organisation’s spokespersons, appointed arm-chair lawyers and bloggers derided the judgment as “academic” since the unlawful primary has already produced a winner. They advised the PDP to appeal only against the issue of jurisdiction, which Justice Ekwo resolved to the plaintiffs’ advantage.

In a different opinion, however, the Chairman of the PDP Edo State Governorship Campaign Council and governor of Adamawa State, Alhaji Ahmadu Fintiri agreed without persuasion that the judgment is a setback for the party, which would be rectified at the Court of Appeal. Addressing a PDP leaders’ meeting, Fintiri said, “Yes. There is a little setback, temporarily. God will see us through it.”

At the meeting, Ighodalo reportedly conceded that the challenges ahead are no child’s play. he remarked, “I know it is not going to be easy. It is going to be difficult. We have already seen the signs that this is going to be a difficult election not only about issues but on distractions. Sometimes, distractions are more difficult to deal with than issues,” Ighodalo, who is reportedly unhappy with Obaseki for the hostility the governor’s disapproving character and unpopular actions have created for his campaign, stated.

Counting PDP’s Court Cases in Edo State

While the PDP leaders have been holding onto the fact that Justice Ekwo did not make a pronouncement that nullified the status of their candidate, evidence show that court cases from cheated and disenchanted members have continued to pile against PDP and its candidate in Edo State before, during and after the primary. At the last count, the party has over eight court cases, according to its National Legal Adviser, Mr. Kamaldeen Ajibade.

Ajibade confirmed, “In Edo State, we have a lot of challenges. We have eight cases that we are battling with. Out of the eight cases, we are done with seven. The one of the day before yesterday (the 381 excluded delegates’ suit on appeal) was the seventh. We still have one pending before the court and by God’s grace, it will go the same way the other cases have gone.” Ajibade said the PDP would appeal the case to the highest court since the situation was not new to the party.

Can Ighodalo and PDP Survive Legal Storm?

Can Ighodalo survive the relentless legal storm battling his candidacy? Just as the PDP appealed against the victory of its excluded delegates, more suits are lurking. In a case that could potentially, significantly and consequentially impact the election, the Federal High Court in Abuja is waiting to subpoena Ighodalo on 19th July to explain how he obtained his INEC Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC).

At the last hearing, the plaintiff, Shaibu through another PDP governorship aspirant and litigant, Hon. Anselm Ojezua, tendered evidence from INEC to support his forgery claim against Ighodalo. Following the closing of evidence, Justice Kalowola James Omotosho directed the defence counsel to ensure Ighodalo appear in court subsequently.

Until May 2024 when he formally registered at Idirio Primary School in Ewohimi, the 65-year-old boardroom lawyer was alleged not to have ever registered or voted in Edo State. It is not known whether he transferred a voting centre to Edo State. But a pictured display of his INEC voter’s card during PDP congress had sent tongues wagging before his co-contestants slammed forgery against him. Observers believe INEC’s Continuous Voters Registration in Edo State jeopardised him. Lawyers say this case is as serious as the one on appeal.

In yet another related suit to alleged PVC forgery, a complaint instituted by one Comrade Gabriel Ehikioya, the FCT Chief Magistrate’s Court has written the FCID of the Nigeria Police Force to question Ighodalo for allegedly lying under oath in his nomination forms with INEC. The letter dated 5th June, 2024, had a two-week deadline of 20th June.

As Ighodalo struggles in court to unshackle himself, more suits are being initiated. As this reporter exclusively learnt, Shaibu is returning to court to pursue a N50 billion defamation suit against Edo government just as he would seek justice for human rights breach in another suit. A devastating pronouncement looms over the candidate and his once dominant traditional party in Edo State now ravaged by intractable internal conflicts, resulting in haemorrhage, threatening to deliver the ultimate blow to their shaky governorship dream. Even if Ighodalo escapes the sword swinging capriciously to decimate him before the election, he stands to be stripped of victory for invalid party nomination at the election petition tribunal, if he wins.

Okpebholo Demonstrates Readiness to Govern

Meanwhile, the APC candidate, Okpebholo and running mate, Hon. Dennis Idahosa, continue to consolidate for anticipated victory with a Five-Point Agenda that comprises: Security, Water and Food Security, Value-driven Education, Affordable Healthcare, and Road Development. Their engagements continue to gain the endorsements of critical stakeholders, individuals, groups and institutions even as they continue to dispense their responsibilities to Edo people as federal lawmakers.

Extolling the boundless potentials of the Edo youth, Akpakomiza urged all at the Youth Empowerment Programme, themed: Advance, “Let us all work together, hand-in-hand, to advance Edo State towards a brighter future.”>>>CONTINUE FULL READING HERE

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