Governor Godwin Obaseki had one legal strategy in response to accusations of certificate forgery leveled against him by the All Progressives Congress at the Abuja High Court: employ series of delay tactics to ensure trial exceeds the 180-day period set aside for hearing of pre-election matters.
To pursue this strategy, the Governor and the PDP introduced several hurdles to impede smooth hearing. The moves went from the bold to the ridiculous. They hurriedly filed a suit at the Appeal Court seeking to evade trial at the Abuja High Court – a move which spectacularly failed as the Appeal Court returned them back to the High Court for the continuation of trial.
In December, seeking reprieve from the barrage of witnesses and evidence presented by the APC in court to argue its case, the Governor amusingly demanded that the Abuja High Court neglect its professional and constitutional duty to ensure the dispensation of justice by instead embarking on a compulsory ‘Christmas Holiday’ – but that also failed as the Judge maintained his willingness to continue trial out of consideration for the nature of the case.
More recently, following growing frustration at the failure of previous moves, an intervention of the Edo State High Court was sought to disqualify the APC candidates over a matter that is legally statute-barred, according to unanimous opinions of independent legal experts.
While pursuing these delay efforts, Governor Godwin Obaseki left the question of his fake certificate largely unanswered. Although the APC provided witnesses and independent forensic examination to back its claims that the governor’s filed certificate was doctored, Obaseki’s impotent defense was premised on a discredited excuse of a photocopier error and witnesses who merely communicated unverified hearsays.
The thrust of the case which demanded an explanation to the indicting omission of authenticating elements such as the Registrar’s signature and the date of issue, alongside an inconsistent Vice-Chancellor’s signature noted in Obaseki’s degree certificate from the University of the Ibadan went without any coherent answer on the part of the governor’s legal team.
They had banked on their efforts to evade justice by dragging out hearing beyond the stipulated 180-day period. The failure of this strategy has left the Governor exposed and he now faces a serious prospect of imminent sack from office as the court could disqualify his participation in the Sept. 19 election on Saturday.
The dawning realization has added further strains to already worsening relationships in the Governor’s camp over a battle for dominance between his ferried followers from the APC who are wrestling control of the PDP with members and leaders they met in the party.
Some have blamed the Governor’s woes on the former PDP Chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, who, four years ago, championed the first legal challenge to the authenticity of the Governor’s academic credentials.
The game of hide and seek played by Obaseki in court, as opposed to defending his certificate, has diminished the confidence of his supporters and there are muted concerns in his camp that the Governor may have no legal defense to the accusations – a fact that could render their victory at the polls futile.