The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the certificate forgery suit filed against Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State by the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Delivering judgment in the case, a five-man panel of the apex court said the suit lacked merit and awarded a punitive fine of N100 million against the APC and its co-appellant.
The APC and one of its members, Williams Edobor, had commenced the suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja before the September 2020 governorship election in Edo State.
Mr Obaseki was seeking a second term in office on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the election. He later won the election and has since been sworn in for his second and final lap in office.
But claiming that Mr Obaseki forged his certificates including his university degree certificate tendered for the election, the plaintiffs had asked the court to disqualify him as the governorship candidate of the PDP in the poll.
Delivering his judgment on January 9, the trial judge, Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja, had dismissed the suit for lacking in merit. The APC and his co-plaintiff, however, went on an appeal against the verdict.
A panel of the Court of Appeal in Abuja led by Stephen Adah also unanimously dismissed the appellants’ appeal on March 18, and affirmed the Federal High Court’s verdict.
Still not satisfied, the appellants further appealed to the Supreme Court.
But delivering judgment on Friday, the apex court held that the appellants failed woefully to prove their case against Mr Obaseki.
Describing the appeal as unmeritorious, the appellate court dismissed it and awarded N250,000 cost in favour of governor Obaseki and another N50 ,000 each in favour of the PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), joined as a party to the suit.
The fine awarded against the appellants had totaled N350,000.
A five-member panel of the apex court held that the appellants did not provide any evidence to show that the University of Ibadan and the issuing authorities of the other contested certificates tendered by Mr Obaseki denied issuing the certificates.
In the lead judgment delivered by a member of the panel, Emmanuel Agim, a member of the apex court upheld the concurrent decisions of the two lower courts to the effect that the appellants did not meet sufficient requirements to prove their case.
The court awarded N100 million against the appellants – APC and Mr Edobor.
Earlier delivering judgment in the case on January 9, the Federal High Court in Abuja held that the plaintiffs failed to discharge the burden of proof regarding their forgery allegation.
“None of the witnesses called by the plaintiffs was able to prove that the certificates were forged,” the judge held.
“Interestingly, all the witnesses admitted that none of them went to the University of Ibadan to confirm the authenticity of the certificate.
“What played out in this case is that plaintiffs only relied on photocopies that were attached to the Form EC9 the first defendant (Mr Obaseki) submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
Mr Ahmed added that despite that the allegation of forgery was criminal in nature and required to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, the plaintiffs failed to bring any evidence in support of their case, not to talk of proving it beyond reasonable doubt.
“In this instant case, no evidence, not to talk of proof beyond reasonable doubt, was brought to prove the allegation of forgery against the first defendant,” he said.
“The evidence of the plaintiffs is at variance with their allegations,” the judge had also said.
He noted that the original copies of the various certificates of academic qualification of Mr Obaseki including his UI degree certificate tendered in court were “direct evidence” which the plaintiffs were unable to puncture.
Appeal Court’s earlier verdict
The Court of Appeal, which similarly dismissed the appellants’ case on March 18, offered the same arguments.
Stephen Adah who delivered the court’s lead judgment held that the testimony of the Deputy Registrar (Legal), University of Ibadan, Abayomi Ajayi, confirming the authenticity of the certificate tendered by Mr Obaseki for the September 2020 election settled the matter.
Mr Ajayi’s testimony confirmed that Mr Obaseki attended the University of Ibadan in 1976, fulfilled admission requirements for Classical Studies, and was issued a Bachelor of Art certificate upon graduation, he said then.
The judge ruled that the testimony ”was a direct proof that the governor was not guilty of forgery of the certificate or making of any false claims about his academic qualifications which he submitted to INEC in aid of his candidature for the governorship election”.