The Supreme Court, on Friday, affirmed the Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly, Sherrif Oborevwori, as the bonafide candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for the forthcoming governorship election in Delta State.
The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a five-man panel led by Justice Amina Augie, dismissed an appeal that was lodged against Oborevwori by an aggrieved governorship aspirant of the PDP in the state, Olorogun David Edevbie.
Meanwhile, Olorogun David Edevbie who lost his bid to become the Delta State Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, governorship standard-bearer has congratulated Oborevwori on his victory even as Governor Ifeanyi Okowa urged the winner to be magnanimous in victory by carrying everybody along in the scheme of things.
Edevbie, in a statement released by his Director of Strategic Communications, Fred Edoreh, said the judgement of the Supreme Court put a full and final closure to the dispute and urged Deltans to regard the interest of the state over any above any individual interest. While thanking his supporters for the massive commitment to his mandate, he wished Oborevwori success in the 2023 Governorship election.
The statement read in part: “The Supreme Court’s verdict today brings closure to the process of determining the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2023 Delta State Governorship election. It has undoubtedly been a long, drawn-out struggle in which several long-cherished relationships were strained.
“While the outcome was not what we desired or prayed for, as democrats, we accept it as final. To all our party members and stakeholders, especially the youths and all the good people of Delta state in general, who stood with us in our quest for the opportunity to deliver a modern state, I understand your disappointment.
“At this stage, I congratulate the Delta state gubernatorial flag bearer of PDP, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Francis Orohwedor Oborevwori, and wish him well in the 2023 General Elections.
Governor Okowa, in his admonition, appealed to members of PDP in the state to put their differences aside and work together for the collective interest of the party.
Charging Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori to see his victory at the Supreme Court as a test of his preparedness for greater responsibilities in governance, he noted that it was God who saw the gubernatorial candidate through the difficult stages of the court process.
Okowa who is the Vice Presidential Candidate of the PDP, urged Rt Hon Sheriff Oborevwori to always put God first in all his dealings. He said, “Whatever has been happening in the last few weeks is a test of our faith. And I thank God that you have stayed alive and that you have stayed hopeful in God.
“We give thanks to God. One joy I have in my heart is that from the beginning, I knew that it was a battle of the altar, and I remained confident in God.
There are many things that happen sometimes you almost begin to shake. But I know that since 2015, we have always prayed.
“And, I have always said that if any Governor is coming here and would not glorify the name of God in Heaven, Lord do not create a path way for that governor to come.
“This place is the altar of God; so, the altar in this Government House Chapel must remain alive. I pray that each and everyone of us will find the God that is in this altar because He is alive.
“As I congratulate Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori and his wife, the greatest joy you can give to me is that when you eventually get sworn in, you must make sure that the fire in this altar remains aglow”.
Okowa said that his vice-presidential ambition would not in anyway hamper the developmental agenda of his administration, and called on Deltans to rally round him in advancing the Stronger Delta vision.
In an interview with journalists shortly after the victory thanksgiving service, the PDP gubernatorial candidate and Speaker of the State Legislature, Rt Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, said that his victory at the apex court was for all Deltans, adding that there was no victor, no vanquished.
Oborevwori said the litigation that ended up at the Supreme Court was a family affair, expressing hope that all the actors in the case and their supporters would soon join forces to enhance the electoral fortunes of PDP in the state and in the country.
Edevbie had in his appeal, alleged that Oborevwori submitted false and forged documents to the PDP, in aid of his qualification to contest the election billed for March 11, 2023.
He told the court that whereas Oborevwori had in an affidavit he deposed to, claimed that he was born in 1963, he, however, tendered a West African Examination Council, WAEC, certificate that was issued to someone that was born in 1979.
The Appellant insisted that all the documents Oborevwori tendered to his party, in support of his qualification to contest the election, did not match his name at birth.
Besides, Edevbie, contended that the case provided a unique opportunity for the Supreme Court to make a pronouncement on “the new legal regime introduced by section 29(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022”.
He said the section provided that any aspirant that participated in the primary of a political party and has reasonable ground to believe that any information given by his political party’s candidate, in relation to constitutional requirement for qualification for the election was false, could approach the court to challenge the eligibility of such candidate.
However, in its judgement, the apex court held that allegations the Appellant raised before it was rooted in criminality and therefore ought to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
It noted that in view of “sundry allegations of fraud, false representation and forgery of documents” raised against Oborevwori, the Appellant, ought to have commenced his action through a Writ of Summons that would have allowed the trial court to adjudge the matter through oral and documentary evidence.
It held that Edevbie allegations against Oborevwori could not be resolved through affidavit evidence or Originating Summons.
More so, the apex court, held that Edevbie’s case was premature as PDP had not submitted Oborevwori’s name to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, before he filed the suit.
“Only upon the submission of particulars of a candidate to INEC by a political party will a cause of action crystallize”.
In its lead judgement that was delivered by Justice Tijjani Abubakar, the apex court, said it saw no reason to set-aside the Court of Appeals verdict that earlier upheld Oborevwori’s nomination.
“In conclusion, I found no merit in this appeal and it is accordingly dismissed”, Justice Abubakar held.
Oborevwori had through his lawyer, Mr. Damian Dodo, SAN, urged the apex court to dismiss the appeal for want of merit.
Similarly, PDP’s lawyer, Mr. A. L. Aliyu, SAN, also sought the dismissal of the appeal.
PDP argued that sections 177 and 182 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, made exhaustive provisions regarding the issue of qualification of candidates for an election.
“Submission of forged document to a political party is not a constitutional ground for disqualification.
“The ground for disqualification is the submission of false document to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
“The Appellant did not tarry or wait for the party to submit the name of the 1st Respondent, for his action to crystalize. His suit was premature”, the party argued.
Though INEC was cited as a Respondent in the matter, it was however not represented by any lawyer at the proceedings.
It will be recalled that the Court of Appeal in Abuja had in its judgement on August 29, restored Oborevwori as the governorship candidate of the PDP in the state.
The appellate court, in a unanimous decision by a three-man panel of justices led by Justice Olabisi Ige, vacated the judgement of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which earlier directed INEC to recognise Edevbie as the bonafide candidate of the PDP for the election.
It held that the high court wrongly relied on Originating Summons Edevbie brought before it to disqualify Oborevwori on the premise that he tendered forged certificates to the PDP.
According to the appellate court, trial Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the lower court erred when he granted all the reliefs Edevbie sought in his suit without recourse to evidence of witnesses that would have included institutions that awarded certificates to Oborevwori.
“Facts were irreconcilably in conflict and could not have been resolved without oral evidence”, the appellate court held, adding that the burden of proof in the matter was on the 1st Respondent, Edevbie.
“There is no scintilla of evidence on record to prove that the Appellant tendered forged certificate to the INEC”, the appellate court added.
It held that preconditions stipulated in sections 177 and 182 (j) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, as well as section 29(5) of the Electoral Act, must be met before the right of any aggrieved aspirant to approach the court to challenge the validity of particulars submitted to INEC by any candidate, could crystallize.
More so, the court held that in the event that the case of the 1st Respondent succeeded, he would not be the beneficiary of the judgement as his political party, PDP, would have been disqualified.
Justice Taiwo of the high court had on July 7, disqualified Oborevwori from contesting the 2023 governorship election in Delta State.
The trial court held that evidence before it confirmed that the defendant supplied false and forged documents to the PDP in aid of his qualification for the governorship election.