Certificate Scandal: Why The Court Could Send Obaseki Packing

Following an intriguing election last year which saw a strange and desperate alliance between Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, and the incorrigible Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that disparaged him as a failure in his third year mark in office, the Governor is once again embattled and walking a tight rope.

The ghost of his troubled academic credentials past, first exhumed by the former chairman of his present party, Chief Dan Orbih, has come to haunt him. Come Saturday, the 9th of January, the court could abruptly terminate his second-term in office over unsettled conflicts and omissions observed in his academic certificates, notably that which he claimed to have gotten from the University of Ibadan.

Obaseki has typically denied any wrongdoing, but available evidence tell a different story and they are compelling. It was Chief Dan Orbih who raised the first alarm in 2016 when the Governor suspiciously claimed that he had no record of any of his academic certificates. Where Chief Dan Orbih stopped, the APC has continued – with stronger claims.

Obaseki has been dragged before the Abuja High Court to explain the source of the certificate he submitted to INEC following indicting discoveries that they lacked relevant signatures, including that of the issuing institution’s Registrar, and a date. No one can satisfactorily answer the question of when Obaseki graduated from the University of Ibadan; certificates that say 1976, 1979, and unspecified date have all been sighted, all of them bearing the Governor’s name.

He says he studied Classical Studies in the famed institution – but duration remains unclear giving the multitudes of certificates paraded, a situation that has made his circumstance a classic understudy of forgery.

Forensic auditors of documents have been summoned and their verdict did not spare the Governor. In addition to flagging the missing signatures and date, they have also rubbished Mr. Godwin Obaseki’s excuse that a photocopier omitted the important details. The logo, font, character spacing, and other elements of the certificate Mr. Obaseki submitted to INEC is alien to that of the University of Ibadan’s institutional certificate branding and template, they submitted.

Whether or not Obaseki has the original certificate of this degree of Classical Studies is immaterial. The crux of the matter, and what could form his fatal undoing, is that he misled INEC and violated the Electoral Act when he submitted the certificate in contention to the body, swearing an oath certifying it to the true in the process.

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Moreover, if indeed a photocopier so radically and remarkably alters a document in the process of duplicating it, can it be said to be a true copy of the original to the degree where it can be submitted to the electoral body to contest the exalted office of Governor? Obaseki’s claims is tantamount to sloppiness and lack of due diligence – the evil twin traits his detractors say have imperiled his administration. In the eyes of the law, ignorance cannot be an excuse and the crime of forgery doesn’t border on intent (no one can objectively adjudicate that), it borders instead on action. The action here is that Obaseki portrayed a false document to be true. Incompetence comes with a cost.

Obaseki’s legal counsels have not done well by him. His photocopier defense fell like a pack of cards, and so did the feeble attempts to stall the hearing. The witnesses brought to defend him could not materialize any central claims; they did not know, they weren’t there. What they know, they were told. No court of law deals in hearsay, not when the opposing party has put forward facts so verified by independent authorities.

One of his witnesses, also a graduate of the University of Ibadan, agreed his own certificate carries the signature of the Registrar, a date, and a full signature of the Vice-Chancellor – all of which are missing in the one Obaseki surrendered to INEC. In trying to save his friend, he nailed him to the cross.

When Obaseki was declared winner of the Sept. 19 election, he performed an elaborate dance and proclaimed his enemies defeated. But which of his enemies? Dan Orbih and the PDP sowed a seed in 2016. It may now germinate and blossom in 2021. Obaseki faces the exit. Not many will mourn his departure.

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