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Bayelsa: Supreme Court upholds Diri’s election

…dismisses appeal against dep gov

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the election of Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State. A full panel of the apex court dismissed the six appeals seeking to nullify the election of Diri. The panel of the court, led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta in a unanimous judgement, upheld the election of Diri and his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, after all the appellants withdrew their cases against them.

Those that applied and withdrew their appeals were the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP); Alliance for Democracy (AD) and its governorship candidate, Owei Woniwei, Liberation Movement and its candidate, Vijah Opuama, as well as the Accord Party. Diri of the PDP came second in the last year’s governorship election in the state. He was later declared governor in a subsequent Supreme Court judgement disqualifying the APC candidate David Lyon who earlier emerged the winner of the poll.

He was sworn in on February 14, a day after the Supreme Court sacked Lyon, and his deputy, Degi- Eremieoyo. Lyon’s election was nullified after his deputy was accused of submitting forged certificates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Diri’s victory has been challenged a number of times.

The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division had, in a judgement it delivered on October 2, set aside the verdict of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal that nullified Diri’s election.

The appellate court had, in a unanimous decision by a five-man panel of Justices, voided the majority judgement the tribunal delivered on August 17, which ordered INEC to conduct fresh election in the state within 90 days.

The tribunal had based its decision on the ground that INEC unlawfully excluded one of the registered political parties, ANDP, from the governorship election that held in the state on November 16, 2019. While two members of the tribunal panel, Justices Sikiru Owodunni and Yunusa Musa, upheld ANDP’s petition, chairman of the panel, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo gave a dissenting judgement that upheld Diri’s election.

Dismissing the petition for being statute-barred, 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 under-aged deputy governorship candidate, who admitted that he was 34 years old, instead of the 35 years age bracket the Constitution stipulated. Dissatisfied with the majority judgement of the tribunal, Diri, his party – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – and INEC, separately lodged appeals to set it aside.

The governor contended that the judgement of the tribunal occasioned grave miscarriage of justice against him, insisting that it was “manifestly against the weight of evidence”. Upholding the appeals, the appellate court, led by Justice Adzira Gana Mshella, held that the majority verdict of the tribunal that invalidated Diri’s election was “perverse” and “contemptuous of the law”.

Likewise, in four other separate judgements, the appellate court dismissed appeals that were lodged by candidate of AD, Woniwei, that of LM, Opuama and candidate of Accord Party, Ebezimo Diriyau. The appeals were dismissed for being statutebarred and for containing pre-election matters that are beyond the scope of an election tribunal. The appellate court said there was enough evidence before the tribunal to prove that ANDP nominated under-aged candidate for the election, in breach of sections 177, 182 and 187 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. The appellants had, among other things, sought Diri’s disqualification on the premise that his deputy, Ewhrudjakpo, submitted forged documents to INEC. They alleged that the Bayelsa deputy governor gave false information in the Form CF001 he tendered to INEC for the purpose of the governorship election.

The appellants specifically challenged the authenticity of Ewhrudjakpo’s National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Exemption Certificate allegedly issued in 1998. The Court of Appeal upheld the dismissal of the appellants’ petitions, by the tribunal. Meanwhile, Governor Diri has, again, extended a hand of fellowship to all those that filed petitions in court against his election. Diri said the litigants were neither his enemies nor enemies of Bayelsa.

He said they only exercised their rights by going to court and that he did not consider the litigations as personal regardless of the fact that they were a distraction. His Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Daniel Alabrah, said that the dismissal of the petitions against the deputy governor and that of the Accord Party (AP) against Diri was the fifth time the governor and his deputy had won at the Supreme Court. Diri said: “I have over the period leading to the Supreme Court ruling said as a state we do not need all of this distraction.

We are one and the brotherhood should be paramount. “After elections, particularly when a government has taken the oath of office, we expect everybody to support and bring their ideas on board for Bayelsa to grow and become prosperous. That is why we tagged our government the Prosperity Administration. “So, today marks the end of all the litigations. If anybody wants to further appeal, maybe he can appeal to the court of the devil. But, constitutionally, I believe this is the end of all the litigations. “Once again, I call on my brothers that had gone on this appeal to join hands with the government of the day. And what should be uppermost on our mind should be the interest of Bayelsa and not individual and personal interest.”

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