The basic academic qualification of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in Kaduna state for the February 2023 election, Hon. Isah Mohammed Ashiru, is now a matter of dispute at a Kaduna State High Court.
The suit is listed as KDH/KAD/638/2021
A former governorship aspirant of the party, Prof Mohammed Bello, who has since decamped to the All Progressives Congress (APC) is averring that the GCE certificate presented by the PDP candidate to enable him to contest the governorship election does not belong to him, as required by law.
Prof. Bello, who is the defendant in an action for defamation instituted at a Kaduna High Court before Justice Edward Andow by the PDP candidate is reinforcing earlier allegations he made against Ashiru to the effect that he had no school certificate, which formed the basis of the defamatory action.
In the litigation reminiscent of the suit that led to the voiding of the 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa state, won by David Lyon of the APC as a result of certificates presented by his running mate Dr. Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, the Kaduna Court is being asked to hold that the PDP candidate presented a false certificate to INEC based on conflict of names in his certificates.
In his statement of claim, the plaintiff, Hon. Ashiru, is seeking damages amounting to N100m for alleged pains suffered as a result of an interview granted by Prof Bello accusing him of forgery and presenting a false certificate to INEC.
Led by his lawyer, Hon. Ashiru, averred that Prof Bello at a press conference and in an interview with the BBC Hausa Service made disparaging allegations to the effect that his (Ashiru’s) GCE O’Level is forged.
Hon Ashiru maintained that the said words were defamatory in their plain and ordinary meanings and had therefore thoroughly disparaged his reputation as a governorship candidate and an upright and responsible citizen who has built his good name over time.
He presented to the court copies of a 1980 GCE O’Level certificate, diplomas from the Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic, Kaduna Polytechnic and a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from Bayero University Kano among several certificates, claiming that the allegation of forgery against him by the defendant was false and maliciously aimed to lower his acceptability among the electorates of Kaduna State.
Besides Ashiru avers that Prof Bello made the statements maliciously “in that it was meant to advance the defendant’s relevance and acceptance in his new political party (APC) while affecting the plaintiff’s reputation negatively…thereby diminishing his chances of becoming Governor of Kaduna State.”
He, therefore, urged the court that apart from an order compelling the defendant to pay damages of N100m, further orders compelling him to retract his defamatory/libelous statement by publishing retractions in the social, print and electronic media and a perpetual injunction from further defamatory utterances was required.
Prof. Bello a former PDP Governorship aspirant turned APC chieftain r pleaded justification and fair comment, insisting that the plaintiff was not entitled to any damages for statements that were true and factual.
He insisted that the plaintiff not only presented a false school certificate to INEC but also lied severally in the INEC form CFOO1 in almost all the answers he provided to questions asked and deposed to an oath purporting the said false answers to be true.
He pointed out that the 1980 GCE claimed by the plaintiff displays the name of Mohammed Ashiru different from all other certificates which display Isah Mohammed Ashiru or several other variations which are not and cannot be said to be the same as the name displayed in GCE O’ Level he submitted to INEC as his own.
He said the plaintiff presented no evidence to INEC or in the documents pleaded before the court that he was indeed the same person in the subsequent certificates and in the forms submitted to INEC which shows different variations of the names Isah Mohammed Ashiru or Ashiru Mohammed Isah or Mohammed Isah Ashiru or Isa Mohammed Ashiru or Isa M Ashiru or Isa Ashiru.
He maintained that in the absence of an affidavit or any other evidence to draw a nexus between these names the court must hold that the PDP candidate Isah Mohammed Ashiru cannot be said to be the same person referred to as Mohammed Ashiru captured in the 1980 GCE O’Level presented to INEC and therefore an assertion that he has no certificate cannot be defamatory.
Relying on several precedences including the recent case of PDP vs Degi-Eremienyo (2021) 9 NWLR (pt 1781) at Pages 290 to 291 and Modibbo vs Usman (2020) 3 NWLR the defendant maintained that it was already settled in law that there’s evidence of fraud when the names in documents purportedly belonging to one person are varying and are conflicting.
In PDP vs Degi-Eremienyo, the case that aborted the governorship election of the David Lyon of the APC hours to his swearing the Supreme Court had held that Lyon’s running mate Biobarakuma Wanagagha Degi-Eremienyo had forged his certificates because of variations in the names of the various documents he presented.
” the 1st respondent did not explain why in 1990, in spite of an alleged error in 1984, Rivers State University of Science and Technology still inscribed the name: ‘Degi, Biobarakuma’ on the certificate on page 62 and not Biobarakuma Wanagagha Degi, his name at birth or Biobarakuma Degi appearing on his 1990 declaration of age.
“It is clearly fraudulent for one person to allegedly bears several names that he used variously, chamelonically to suit the changing environment.”
Legal analysts are unanimous that the ruling of the court will be of significance to the election. If the court agrees with the plaintiff that he had been defamed the issue of his basic qualifications would be deemed to have been favorably resolved but if on the contrary, the court accepts the defense of justification by the plaintiff it would portend grave consequences for the qualifications of the plaintiff as a governorship candidate.
The case has been adjourned to November 15, 2022.