Governor Duoye Diri of Bayelsa State has said that he would approach the Court of Appeal to challenge the majority decision of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal which nullified his election as the governor of the state.
The Tribunal had, in a split decision of two to one, nullified Diri’s election on ground of exclusion of Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP)’s name and logo from the November 16, 2019 ballot paper by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
While two members of the panel, Justices Owei Woniwei and Yunusa Musa voided the election, the Chairman of Tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo delivered a dissenting judgement affirming Diri’s election.
However, counsel to Diri, Chris Uche (SAN), who spoke after the Tribunal’s sitting, said his client will challenge the majority decision at the Court of Appeal. He added that Diri re
mains the governor of the state until the Supreme Court gives a final verdict on the matter.
Also speaking after the judgement, Governor Diri said he has instructed his lawyers to file an appeal against the judgement of the tribunal. The governor, in a statement issued by his acting Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Alabrah, said he will appeal the ruling and has consequently instructed his lawyers to file the necessary papers. ”
We trust in the judiciary and we are appealing the judgement. With God on our side, we will get justice. “This is a court of first instance and I have instructed our lawyers to file an appeal. We have a right of appeal even up to the Supreme Court.” The governor urged members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his supporters not to panic and to continue to remain calm and law-abiding.
The ANDP and its governorship candidate, Lucky King-George, had approached the tribunal praying for the cancellation of the November 16, 2019 gov-ernorship election because his name and the logo of his party were excluded from the ballot paper.
INEC had explained that it excluded ANDP from the elections because David Esinkuma (34-year-old), the party’s initial deputy governorship candidate, did not meet the age requirement of 35 years to contest in elections. But ANDP submitted that Esinkuma was duly substituted within the allowed time frame, following his disqualification by INEC.
Counsel to ANDP, Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN) informed the tribunal that the primary election of the party was monitored by INEC, adding that their witnesses, including the commission, admitted that the party was excluded from the election.
The party, therefore, prayed the tribunal to order for a fresh conduct of the poll. In its majority decision, the tribunal held that it found merit in the petition. Justices Woniwei and Musa consequently nullified the election and ordered INEC to conduct a by-election in the state within 90 days.
The two members, in their majority judgement, agreed that INEC illegally excluded ANDP and its governorship candidate, King George, from the election. Justice Musa, who delivered the lead judgement, held that: “The said election of November 16, 2019 was unlawful due to the exclusion of ANDP and its candidate in the exercise. “The INEC is hereby ordered to conduct a fresh election in Bayelsa within 90 days of this judgement.”
However, Justice Sirajo, who delivered a dissenting judgement, affirmed Governor Diri’s election. Disagreeing with the majority verdict, the tribunal chairman, Justice Sirajo, said there was evidence that ANDP was disqualified from the election for fielding an ineligible candidate.
He noted that the party nominated an underage deputy governorship candidate, who admitted that he was 34 years old, instead of the 35 years age bracket the constitution stipulated. Justice Sirajo said there was evidence that the party failed to substitute the candidate till the statutory window for such substitution elapsed.
He noted that Exhibit P8 before the tribunal was a letter that INEC wrote to the party on September 21, 2019, wherein it notified ANDP that the period for substitution of candidates had expired.
According to Justice Sirajo, what the petitioners brought before the tribunal was a pre-election case since INEC’s decision that disqualified its candidates occurred before the actual election held on November 16, 2019. He held that under section 285(9) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the
reparty ought to have, within 14 days after it got the notification from INEC, gone to a Federal High Court to challenge it. The tribunal chairman held that failure of the party to do so made its petition against Governor Diri’s election, statute-barred.
Besides, Justice Sirajo held that section 138(1) (d) of the Electoral Act provided grounds upon which an election could be challenged at the tribunal, vis-a-vis section 285(14) of the Constitution which defined disqualification of the candidate by INEC as a pre-election matter.
He held that since the Constitution is superior to the Electoral Act, it takes pre-eminence. He further held that the disqualification of ANDP by INEC was not unconstitutional because it nominated an underage candidate.
The Justice stressed that since the disqualified candidate did not meet the constitutional requirement, he was, therefore, not a valid candidate that could claim right of exclusion. He held that a political party must have a valid nomination before the is-sue of exclusion could arise. Consequently, Justice Sirajo dismissed the petition as lacking in merit, even as he upheld the election of Governor Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In a similar development, the tribunal dismissed the petition filed by the Accord Party challenging Diri’s election. The tribunal premised the dismissal on ground that the petition was lacking in merit.
New Telegraph recalls that the tribunal had earlier on Saturday dismissed as lacking in merit, three other petitions that sought to sack the governor on the premise that his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, submitted forged NYSC certificate to INEC for the purpose of the election.
The dismissed petitions were brought before the tribunal by Alliance for Democracy (AD) and its candidate, Owei Woniwei; United Peoples Congress (UPC) and its candidate, Ibiene Stephen, as well as that of candidate of the Liberation Movement (LM), Vijah Opuama.
It is further recalled that though Diri came second in the governorship election, he was later declared the winner after the Supreme Court, in judgement on February 13, disqualified the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), David Lyon, following discrepancies in documents his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo, attached to the Form CF001 submitted to INEC.
Meanwhile, there was jubilation by APC supporters in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, over the nullification of the governorship election. But the APC is unlikely to benefit from the verdict even if the apex court upholds the judgement. Governor Diri said the tribunal judgement was not enough to slow the wheel of governance.
He spoke while receiving state legislators who paid him visit for their show of solidarity. While expressing confidence in God to complete what his administration had started, Diri noted that although the legal fireworks had not ended, he is confident that it would end in his favour.