By Carl Umegboro
EDO state governor, Godwin Obaseki has become the first casualty of the verdict of Justice Mary Peter-Odili led panel of the Supreme Court that heard the appeal filed by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) against the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and his running mate, David Lyon and Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo who emerged governor-elect and deputy governor-elect respectively after the poll.
The height of it is that the disqualified Bayelsa deputy governor-elect as he then was, regularized the discrepancies in his names accordingly through court affidavits as done all over the world and under rule of law. Yet, the panel knocked him out not minding that Supreme Court as the apex court sets precedents for all lower courts. Though, the verdict hit directly at APC and its Bayelsa flag-bearers and deprived their control of the state just a day to inauguration, but it goes beyond them.
Recently, Governor Obaseki was disqualified by the APC Screening Committee over a discrepancy in his name which hitherto wouldn’t have been a serious issue. Obaseki’s surname was misspelt as “Obasek” in his National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) discharge certificate omitting the last letter which he possibly considered as minor and never bothered to regularize. Sensibly, such a discrepancy ought not to be contentious as any rational mind would understand it as a typographical error.
However, as the apex court made discrepancy count despite sworn affidavit, it became relevant, and above all, precedent. Unfortunately, the verdict goes beyond the immediate victims; the disqualified Bayelsa governor-elect and deputy governor-elect. As it stands, the verdicts will regulate all activities in all political parties as a precedent from the apex court in the land. It therefore implies that many innocent and proficient Nigerians that may have goodwill to participate in politics may also experience unjustifiable disqualification as Obaseki over discrepancies.
As court affidavits may no longer credibly regularize discrepancies in names at the moment, a determined aspirant may have to first go up to the Supreme Court to get cleared over any discrepancies prior to buying nomination form to vie any political office as no strong political party may take the risks to present such candidates with discrepancies in their credentials. It cost APC shockingly lose Bayelsa it won.
This is where the country is at the moment. With any discrepancy in the credentials which possibly could be a typographic error or change of a name, the holder of the certificate may be disqualified as an illegitimate aspirant irrespective of what the aspirant has to bring to the table. Certainly, millions of Nigerians will fall victim to the gaffe. It is disgusting that a candidate could be disqualified by an omission of one letter in his name resulting from a precedent. Meanwhile, same certificate qualified him to contest first term he is presenting serving out as apex court hadn’t hit its gavel then. Nigeria we hail thee!
Without a doubt, some forces within the party particularly the camp of the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole may not like Obaseki to fly the party’s flag in Edo state having embarrassed the party’s boss with purported suspension which the Court of Appeal later vacated. But having found a legitimate ground to strike back, it would be subjective to allude it to vendetta. The clear datum is that Obaseki was found wanting by the discrepancies in his credentials which may put the party at a loss considering the verdict of the apex court in Bayelsa governorship poll. Any other suspicions or insinuations can wait for now.
The second reason why Obaseki was disqualified points to the Constitution of the party. As purported, there is ‘arbitration clause’ in APC Constitution which mandates all members to first seek alternative dispute resolution mechanisms prior to litigation. As a matter of fact, many organisations now input ‘arbitration clause’ in contracts to guide relationships, and where there is noncompliance, it would always be a ground to suspend actions.
Unfortunately, Obaseki approached the court without compliance to the rule which is binding on all members of the party. This is where Obaseki misfired, possibly, was misled by some forces. Nonetheless, this can be remedied by reconciliation and waiver if approached with remorse. But the former; discrepancy, is a more serious matter having cost the party to lose a state it won.
The crux of the matter is that with the verdict of the Supreme Court in force, many citizens will continue to cry over unnecessary disqualifications even with enviable credentials. In fact, it is believed that one in every thirty persons has one discrepancy in the credentials or the other. If it is not for willful change of name, it could be in the date of birth or other spelling mistake.
It therefore suggests that there is fire on the mountain with the Bayelsa verdict in force. Certainly, many will be disenfranchised to be mere observers in the political activities in the country without active participation as contestants. Some legal luminaries that sensed the danger approached the court to review it but met a brick wall on the ground that the apex court does not reverse itself. Where then do we go from here with such reckless disqualifications deterring citizens from taking part in the nation’s electoral system?
Impliedly, there are now two categories of citizens in the country; first-class and second-class as far as politics is concerned. Those without any discrepancy in their credentials will be on first choice – on merit; while those with any; under probability whether regularized by court affidavits or not. Thus, any discrepancy in the credentials will reduce aspirants to second-choice irrespective of profile and proficiency. It’s Obaseki’s pains today. Nobody knows the next victim. Terrible.
Umegboro, a public affairs analyst and Associate, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators can be reached through: firstname.lastname@example.org