Fresh from 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 with BANJI ALUKO, says the verdict of the tribunal cannot stand and that vital parts of their petition were not addressed, amongst other issues.
HOW will you describe the judgment of the tribunal that affirmed the victory of 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 judgment, one has other avenues to seek redress. I want to state very clearly that the the Edo PDP rejects the judgement. I took 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 judgement so that we will be able to prepare our appeal.
It was due to the injustice that was done by INEC that made us to approach the tribunal in the first place. The injustice that was evident in the judgement of Justice Badamasi has also informed our decision to appeal the judgement. 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 ever, 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 do not exceed the total number of registered voters, there is no problem. It means that it is possible for a 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 own 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 judgement 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 claims 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?
I strongly feel that the trial judge was economical with the truth. 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; the 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 elections. Conduct of an election is not a free-for-all exercise where anyone is at liberty to apply his own discretion. If the INEC guidelines state that once your name is identified in the voters register, your name should be ticked to show that you have 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 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 was never admitted at the tribunal after all?
Again, we are beginning to see that the interpretation of the Electoral Law by Justice Badamai 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 after seeing what happened today?
What happened today 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.