By A. A Emwanta
‘Conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it.’ Usman Dan Fodio.
The refusal of members of the Edo People’s Movement (EPM) to accept the defeat of their candidate in the September 19, 2020 governorship election in Edo State remains an act of open betrayal to the collective will of Edo people, who elected Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki as their Governor.
It goes without saying, therefore, that the only legally permissible mode of occupying elective public office in Nigeria is by election. This is an undisputable fact that the wild ‘ambitionists’ of the EPM fold have refused to accept.
In a rather antithetical fashion, they have chosen to launch a media trial of the mandate delivered by Edo people to Godwin Obaseki, to occupy the office of Governor of Edo State, under the guise of all manners of incongruous allegations.
For starters, they begun with the tale that the Governor presented forged certificates to INEC to secure his nomination as a candidate in the September 19 election. After the landmark decision of the Federal High Court Abuja on January 9 2021, which cleared the Governor of that false allegation, the EPM via its agents have begun a new social media sing song that the Governor is liable for perjury, (false declaration), and that the Abuja Court failed to address this particular issue.
Arising from the above, it is worth emphasizing that the main objective of this write-up is to harmlessly interrogate the propriety or otherwise of the said allegation of false declaration and to accordingly state the correct factual situation, together with the true position of the law on the subject matter.
To achieve the foregoing, reference will be made to an excerpt of the judgment in Suit No. FHC/B/CS/74/2020 (APC & Anor v. Godwin Obaseki & 2 Ors), the provisions of the Criminal Code Act, Electoral (Amendment) Act & Evidence Act, and a dictum of a highly respected jurist of the Nigerian apex court.
We shall first deal with the factual situation, and thereafter state the correct position of the law.
The Factual Situation
In Suit No. FHC/B/CS/74/2020 (APC & Anor v. Godwin Obaseki & 2 Ors) the trial judge, Justice A. R Mohammed of the Federal High Court Abuja was faced with the task of resolving the conflicts in affidavit evidence before the court. The affidavits included, but were not limited to the Governor’s (1st Defendant’s) deposition(s) on oath in INEC form CF001 of 2016, INEC form EC9 of 2020, the Witness Statements on Oath of PW 1 & 5 on the one hand and the Witness Statements on Oath of DW 1 & 2. What is more, Justice Mohammed made the factual situation even clearer when in his final judgment of January 9 he held thus:
‘The crux of the Plaintiffs case as depicted in the statement of claim are:-
(a) That the information given by the 1st Defendant in his INEC Form EC9 of 29th June, 2020 that he obtained a Degree certificate from the University of Ibadan in 1979, is false as the 1st Defendant did not obtain the said Degree from the University of Ibadan in 1979.’
In respect of the foregoing factual situation, as adumbrated by the judge, the plaintiffs in their final written address formulated a single issue for determination, namely, that the court should determine if they have discharged the onus of proof on them in respect to the above factual situation.
Position of the Law
The main issue for interrogation here is whether the issue(s) for determination in Suit No. FHC/B/CS/74/2020 (APC & Anor v. Godwin Obaseki & 2 Ors) bordered on perjury or conflicts in affidavits? A proper dissection of this controversial issue, without much ado, will put to final sleep the idle phantom viciously flying around the social media that the Judge failed to make a pronouncement on the allegation of perjury made against the 1st Defendant, (Governor Obaseki). It must be emphasized that an allegation of providing “false information” within the meaning of Section 31(5) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act is not the same as an allegation of perjury.
Section 117 of the Criminal Code Act provides that;
‘Any person who in a judicial proceeding, or for the purpose of instituting any judicial proceeding, knowingly gives false testimony touching any matter which is material to any question then pending in that proceedings, or intended to be raised in that proceedings, is guilty of an offence which is called perjury.’
On False Information:
Section 31(5) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act provides that;
‘A person who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a candidate in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate is false may file a suit at the High Court of a State or Federal High Court against such person seeking a declaration that the information contained in the affidavit is false.’
On Conflicts in Affidavits:
Section 116 of the Evidence Act, 2011 provides that;
‘When there are before a court affidavits that are irreconcilably in conflicts on crucial facts, the court shall for the purpose of resolving the conflicts arising from the affidavit evidence, ask the parties to proffer oral evidence as to such facts, and shall hear any such oral evidence of the deponents of the affidavits and such other witnesses as may be called by the parties.’
In FSB Int. Bank Ltd v. Imano (Nig) Ltd (2000) FWLR (Pt.19), 392 at 408, the apex court per Achike JSC held that:
‘Conflicts in affidavit on fundamental issues to the matter in controversy must be attended to and not just glossed over.’
It was in keeping faith with the above admonition of the apex court and to give judicial approval to the clear intendment of Section 116 of the Evidence Act that Justice Mohammed in APC & Anor v. Godwin Obaseki & 2 Ors heard a total of 9 witnesses, who, inter alia, came to give oral evidence in resolving the aforesaid “conflicts”.
Of all the witnesses called to give oral evidence in resolving the conflicts in affidavits, the testimony of DW 2, (the Deputy Registrar of the University of Ibadan), stood out. Apart from identifying the original Degree certificate of the 1st Defendant, as a genuine document of the University, he also supplied both documentary and oral evidence to fully establish that the 1st Defendant was admitted into the University of Ibadan in 1976 and graduated in the year 1979. Justice Mohammed in his judgment agreed with the consistency between the affidavit and oral evidence of the Deputy Registrar (DW 2) when he held thus;
“The depositions of DW2 in paragraphs 7, 8, 9 and 10 of his witness statement on oath and the original copies of all relevant educational certificates of the 1st Defendant have put to rest any argument as to whether the 1st Defendant was properly and validly admitted into the University of Ibadan to read Bachelor of Arts in classical studies and whether his said certificates were forged.”
Having analysed the factual situation together with the position of the law, l beg to conclude this write-up, without much ado.
The legal team of the Governor must be commended for the fantastic job they did. The work of the legal team provides an open red sea of legal and other authorities that will swallow up the election petitions against the mandate given to the Governor by the good people of Edo State. The judgment of the court has already confirmed that Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki came to equity with clean hands.
Andrew Adaze, EMWANTA, a Justice of the Peace, is a University law teacher and constitutional lawyer.