The news broke out Tuesday morning that “The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, has stopped the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, from participating in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primary election slated for Thursday, as reported by saharareporters.com and other media.
The online news medium also went further to say that: “According to the ruling seen by SaharaReporters, the court on Monday granted an order restraining the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, Emmanuel Ogidi and four others from allowing Obaseki or any member of the party that have purchased forms and were not screened within the time stipulated in the timetable to contest the PDP’s primary.”
It went further to say that: “The case, which was filed by Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, an aspirant and lawmaker representing Oredo Federal Constituency, was adjourned for motion on hearing to 24th June,” which was actually stated in the order granted by the court.
What is contentious is the emphasis on the restraining order SaharaReporters said the court had granted in its publication with the headline: “Court Stops Obaseki From Participating In Edo PDP Governorship Primary.”
The story after publication has been widely circulated both on SaharaReporters website and its social media, especially on Twitter where it has been retweeted 428 times, and liked 948 times. Likewise on Facebook it has welcomed 1.2K likes, 820 comments and 850 shares, as of the time of writing this.
The story has equally been popularised by other news platforms with wider reach such as thenationonline.net, m.guardian.ng and punching.com and even the thenigerialawyer.com, among others.
The PDP had, last week granted a waiver to Obaseki and Philip Shaibu, his deputy, to contest on its platform, after both resigned from the All Progressives Congress (APC), consequent upon the party’s disqualification of Obaseki from participating in its governorship primary election after faulting his academic certificate.
For Obaseki to fully integrate his presence in the party and participate in its governorship primary election, the PDP, after absorbing him into the party, gave him a waiver, because the period of purchase of expression of intention form had lapsed, while it also postponed its governorship primary earlier scheduled for Tuesday, June 23 to Thursday, June 25.
ALSO READ: Edo 2020: I’ve officially joined PDP to seek reelection — Obaseki
As a result of this “VIP” treatment, after some of the party’s governorship aspirants had earlier purchased the expression of interest and contest in the primary election, hoping to emerge the party’s candidate in the Edo State September governorship election, the party’s leadership had attempted to rally support for Obaseki among the aspirants, but Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, who disagreed with the PDP’s decision vowed not to step down for Obaseki.
Rather, the aggrieved Ogbeide-Ihama, went to court to file an application with suit no: FHC/PH/CS/69/2020, seeking a court injunction to stop Obaseki from participating in the June 25 primary election in the state.
His argument being that there was no need for a waiver for Obaseki to participate when he didn’t buy the form qualifying him to do so, and he, Obaseki, recently joined the PDP, and as he said, only those who purchased the forms during the stipulated window should be allowed to participate in the primary election.
The case came up on Monday, June 23, at a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, with nine defendants listed thus, the PDP national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, Emmanuel Ogidi, Kingsley Chinda, Debekeme Boyleyefa, James Manager, Ajibola Muraina, the PDP, Obaseki and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as first to ninth defendants respectively.
Ogbeide-Ihama had prayed the court to stop the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, from participating in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primary election slated for Thursday.
But the presiding judge, Justice E.A. Obile, who presided over the case granted an order allowing the applicant to serve the defendants through substituted means in two national dailies and adjourned till June 24 for hearing of the summon.
Ogbeide-Ihama, had, through his lawyers, Mr Donald Denwigwe (SAN) and Chief F. Orbih (SAN), and leader of PDP in Edo State, had prayed the court to stop Obaseki because his defection to the party, a few days to the primary, was unreasonable and aimed at destabilising other aspirants.
However, Justice Obile, after listening to the submission of Denwigwe and Orbih, ordered that the order and other court processes be served on Secondus, Ogidi and Chinda by substituted means at their residences in Port Harcourt.
Same, which are the order and other processes are also to be served on the PDP at its national headquarters in Abuja and Obaseki at the Government House in Benin-City, while the court adjourned till Wednesday, June 24, on the eve of the primary election to hear the motion on notice.
Now, reading carefully through the printed order of the court signed by its Registrar, Mrs Chukwuka Ngozi, The Daily Leaks found out that, there was no where it was mentioned in the order granted restraining Obaseki from participating in the Thursday, June 25 PDP governorship primary election, rather, it stated that the defendants be served the court processes by substituted means in two national dailies and adjourned till June 24 for hearing of the summons.
For further interpretation and clarification of the court order, perhaps there is an ambiguity, The Daily Leaks engaged two legal luminaries, with many years of experience as Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, to interpret the court order.
Mr Madueke Okafor, when interpreting the whole process and the court submission, said, “The applicant sought to bar Governor Godwin Obaseki from participating in the PDP primaries for the reasons stated by the applicant and he sought this order ex parte, that is to say, without hearing from the respondents.
“After hearing the application, the court ordered that the respondents be served with the summons to enable them respond to same before the court reaches a decision, and then court adjourned the matter to June 24.
Further to this Okafor said, “Even the 24th, they may not achieve much because the respondents stay in different parts of the country.”
He said, “Assuming they serve them today (Tuesday) and the court is sitting tomorrow (Wednesday), one day may be too short for them to engage counsel, prepare their responses, file same and serve on applicant’s counsel, and meet up with other processes.
Then, could the court order have been misinterpreted by the news media that said Obaseki had been restrained, or that was the implication of the order the court granted?
Okafor, responding, said, “I think the error is partly from the court’s language. The court inferred granting application before listing the specific orders made,” which to him had been misunderstood by reporters.
“Then, the applicant actually prayed for Obaseki to be barred. The journalists assumed all prayers were granted, whereas, the court listed the orders it made.
“Finally, since the primary was scheduled for 25th and the court was going to sit on 24th to hear parties, it would be odd to take such decision when it would still have time on 24th before the primary,” Okafor said.
In his submission on the Edo political crisis, Okafor said, “In my view, I think it is quite worrisome that our democracy has become a democracy of the courts rather than a democracy of the ballot box simply because politicians of all the parties have refused to play by the rules.”
Another lawyer, Mr Chimaobi Onuigbo, further interpreting the court order, said “Looking at the court processes, it was discovered that it was actually an application for substituted service that was brought. The order of the court is for substituted service, so, the court has not given any decision yet in respect to the application.
“The court only said that the defendants should be served openly in the newspapers and the rest. It said leave was granted to serve the defendants through other means.”
With this submission, Onuigbo was of the view that, before the court could grant an order for a substituted service, there must have been an application submitted requesting for that.
“They might have brought an application for substituted service. The court did not say anything about Obaseki’s status. The court only said that the parties involved should be properly served, that the court notification should be put forward to the defendants by substituted means,” Onuigbo added.
On the viral media publication saying the opposite, the lawyer said, “The media must have misinterpreted the order. If you look at it, the order sought is different from the order granted. In fact, the order that was displayed is not the same application that was brought.
“The order that was made is in relations to an application for substituted service, meanwhile, the process that was displayed was for the injunction, the substituted service was not displayed.”
Onuigbo noted that, “The applicant must have prayed for substituted service, but it was not displayed in the process, the court won’t grant a leave for substituted service unless it is prayed for. The process did not display the content of what was sought after that the court granted.
“The court can’t say a leave be granted if there was no such application. That is why the court introduced the person as an applicant. An applicant is someone that applies for an order, who submits an application, which is different from the normal process.”
The law expert explained that, “Once you bring an application, your status changes to an applicant, that is why he was not introduced as a plaintif. There must have been an appliction before the court introduces someone as an applicant.”
According to him, “There is nothing restraining Obaseki yet from participating in PDP primary election. It is until the order of the court is made that the party should maintain status quo ante bellum, that is, no action should be taken pending the conclusion of the matter, that is when Obaseki can be restrained.”
So, as it is the lawyer said, “For now, everything is still open.”
As explained by the two lawyers, and another Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who though chose to be in the background, when The Daily Leaks spoke with him, as he would not want to be involved in the inter party squabbles in Edo State, said, there is no order yet.
There is no order restraining Governor Godwin Obaseki from contesting the PDP governorship primary election in Edo State yet.