The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, yesterday refused to stop the trial of Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, over an alleged certificate forgery case before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja. The three-man panel presided over by Justice Stephen Adah, declined to grant the application for stay of proceedings brought by Obaseki on the grounds that the law does not permit granting of a stay in either pre-election or election matters.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) and one Williams Edobor had dragged the governor before the Court, accusing him of forging his Bachelor of Arts Degree certificate, which he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in aid of his qualification for the last governorship election in Edo State. But, Obaseki in an application had prayed the lower court to strike out certain paragraphs of the APC in their response to his reply. However, his prayer was not granted, forcing him to appeal the ruling of Justice A. R Mohammed.
Following his appeal at the appellate court, Governor Obaseki then applied to the Federal High Court to adjourn the matter indefinitely. But, ruling on the application on Tuesday, Justice Mohammed agreed with Obaseki’s counsel that the proper thing to do once an appeal against a ruling has been confirmed at the Court of Appeal, is to halt further proceedings at the lower court. According to him, once a lower court is aware of an appeal at the Court of Appeal, it will be wrong to ignore such an application and go ahead with the suit.
“This suit is hereby adjourned sine die to await the decision of the Court of Appeal for the first defendant’s application for stay of further proceedings,” the judge held. However, when the matter came up at the Court of Appeal yesterday, the appellate court disagreed with the position of Justice Mohammed, noting that Section 258 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, does allow for a stay of proceedings in a pre-election or election matter. The panel in their unanimous decision then ordered a return of the case to the trial judge, adding that the trial should be on a day to day. By the rule governing pre-election matters, a High Court has 180 days to hear and take a decision on a case, as anything done outside the 180 days becomes statute barred and a mere academic exercise.