The Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the All Progressives Congress (APC) to open its case against Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki in the alleged certificate forgery suit preferred against him.
The APC had filed a suit against Obaseki, accusing him of forging the first degree certificate which he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to enable him contest the September 19, 2020, governorship election in Edo.
The party also claimed that there are discrepancies in the subjects Obaseki claimed he passed in his West African Examinations Council (WAEC) exam.
Through his counsel, Ken Mozia (SAN), he had challenged the competence of APC’s reply to his defence. He asked the court to remove some paragraphs in the plaintiffs’ statement of reply.
But in a ruling on December 2, 2020, the presiding judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, dismissed the governor’s motion.
The governor thereafter headed to the Court of Appeal to ask for a stay of proceedings. The court dismissed his application on December 16.
The appellate court ordered the lower court to continue with the trial on day-to-day basis.
At the lower court on Tuesday, Obaseki’s counsel urged the court not to proceed with the trial as his client has entered an appeal at the Supreme Court against the decision of the Court of Appeal, including an application to stay further proceedings on the matter.
Mozia urged the court in the circumstances, to await the decision of the apex court on the appeal.
“My lord, the first defendant is not satisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal, and has filed an appeal against the ruling and the consequential orders to the Supreme Court, which is the final court,” he said.
The governor’s counsel argued that once a party has taken steps to contest a decision of Court of Appeal by way of a further appeal to the Supreme Court and follows it up with an application for stay of proceedings, the judgement of the Court of Appeal will not be treated as final until the steps taken are completely resolved.
He also argued that the trial cannot be conducted during the Christmas vacation as contained in a circular issued by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
The said circular stipulates that only matters bordering on national interest, human rights-related issues and release of vessels shall be entertained during the vacation which begins on Tuesday, December 22 and ends on Friday, January 8, 2021.
Mozia noted that the vacation Judge for the court is Justice Evelyn Maha who is not involved in the case.
“Today, being within the period declared for Christmas vacation and this case not being one of the cases listed as those that can be entertained by vacation Judge, including the fact that your lordship is not a vacation judge, the court cannot exercise any jurisdiction on the matter,” he said.
Mozia told the court that the defence team has withheld their consent for any proceedings to be done during the Christmas vacation period.
The counsel to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Isenalumhe Razak, aligned himself with the argument canvassed by Obaseki’s counsel in urging the court to suspend proceedings and await the outcome of the appeal before the Supreme Court.
However, counsel to the plaintiff, Akin Olujimi, SAN, disagreed with the defendants’ counsels and urged the court to discountenance the submissions of the defence team and proceed with the trial in compliance with the ruling and order of the Court of Appeal.
Olujimi, who noted that the matter is time-bound, argued that section 285 (a) of the 1999 Constitution (4th Alteration Act) is a compelling provision that proceedings at the trial court should not be stayed based on preliminary and interlocutory issues.
“The compelling provisions of section 285 (a) is to the effect that where a preliminary or interlocutory issue is raised, the court shall suspend its ruling and deliver it at the stage of final judgement,” he said.
The APC’s counsel submitted that the position of the law, as settled by the Supreme Court is that where time is of the essence in a case before the court, there shall be no stay of proceedings pending appeal.
“What the defendants are asking the court to do is to go against the directive of the Court of Appeal, which has not been set aside. I urged the court to decline such an invitation,” he further pleaded.
In his ruling, Justice Mohammed stated that the court will comply with the order of the Court of Appeal directing the court to continue with the trial on day-to-day basis.
The judge maintained that his court will continue with the trial as directed by the appellate court until the order is set aside by any other court of competent jurisdiction.
According to Justice Mohammed, his court must obey the hierarchy of courts in line with the provisions of the law.
He noted that given the order of the Court of Appeal and the nature of the case, the Christmas vacation is not enough ground to stay proceedings.
Accordingly, the the judge directed the plaintiff to open and close its case within two days beginning from Thursday, December 24 to Tuesday, December 29, 2020.
Justice Mohammed equally gave the defendants two days to open and conclude their defence from Wednesday, December 30 to Thursday, December 31, 2020.