A Federal High Court in Abuja has elected to first hear a motion by Edo Governor Godwin Obaseki querying the competence of the response by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to his defence in a suit querying the validity of his academic credentials.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed took the decision in a ruling on Monday after listening to lawyers representing parties in the suit, marked: FHC/B/CS/74/2020 filed by the APC and a member, Edobor Williams.
Justice Mohammed agreed with Obaseki’s lawyer, Ken Mozia, to the effect the court must first determine the competence of the processes filed by parties, which formed pleadings in the case, before proceeding to conduct substantive hearing.
The judge said since Obaseki’s application, challenging the competence of some paragraphs of the plaintiffs’ reply to his defence was pending, it must be heard first and determined one way or the other before the court could proceed to hear the main suit.
At the mention of the case on Monday, plaintiffs’ lawyer, Akin Olujinmi (SAN) told the court that he was ready for the hearing of the main suit, and that his first witness was available, a position Mozia objected to, arguing that the plaintiffs could not yet proceed to trial when some interlocutory applications were pending.
Mozia said out of the four pending motions, he filed two while the plaintiffs filed two.
He said he was willing have his own heard even if the plaintiffs have elected to abandon theirs.
Olujinmi recalled that on the last date, the court granted the plaintiffs three days to conduct their case, and argued that he was at liberty to decide how he should go about his clients’ case.
He relied on the provision of Section 285(8) of the Constitution to support his position that even if the motions were to be heard, the hearing would not affect the plaintiffs’ plan to open its case since the court could defer its decisions on the motions till the time of judgment.
Mozia and lawyer to the second defendant – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – Razak Isenalumhe- faulted Olujinmi’s argument, insisting that Section 285(8) only applies to applications that are challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
Mozia said his pending motions, including the one filed on November 4, 2020 which the other parties had responded to, are not challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
Isenalumhe insisted he was not properly served with a copy of one of the plaintiffs’ motions (the one for leave to file additional documents), following which a copy was served on him in court.
After listening to the lawyers’ arguments, which lasted for almost two hours, Justice Mohammed was of the view that the court could not proceed to hear the case until it resolves the challenge to the competence of the plaintiffs’ reply.
The judge reminded parties that the case, being a pre-election one, they should remember that time was of the essence, and proceeded to adjourn till November 18 for the hearing of Obaseki’s application.
Although there was evidence it was served with hearing notice, the third defendant, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was not represented by any lawyer.
The plaintiffs are claiming, in their writ of summons, that Obaseki forged his university certificate which he presented to INEC in aid of his qualification for the governorship election in Edo State.
They are equally claiming that there are discrepancies in the subject Obaseki claimed he passed in his West African Examination Council (WAEC) exam and that in his testimonial.
The plaintiffs want the court to declare that Obaseki’s claim in his INEC form EC9 at column C, sworn to on June 29, 2020 at the Federal Capital Territory High Court Registry to the effect that he obtained from the University of Ibadan in 1979, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Classical Studies is false and contrary to Section 31 (5) and (6) of the Electoral Act, 2010.
They are also praying the court to declare that Obaseki lied on oath when he swore to an affidavit on June 29, 2020 that he worked in Afrinvest Limited from 1994 to 2014 when he retired.
The plaintiffs want a declaration that Obaseki “is disqualified from contesting election to the office of Governor of Edo State for non-fulfilment of the constitutional requirement in Section 182(1)(j) of the Constitution of Nigeria and upon presenting false/forged certificate to INEC contrary to Section 31 (5) and (6) of the Electoral Act, 2010.”