Bayelsa/Kogi Guber: Diri, Deputy, PDP Seek Inclusion in APP’s Appeal against Exclusion

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By Alex Enumah

The Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Douye Diri and his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, have asked the Court of Appeal in Abuja to join them as respondents in the appeal filed by the Action Peoples Party (APP) challenging the exclusion of its candidates in the 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa and Kogi States.

Also seeking to be joined as a party in the appeal is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The APP, in the appeal marked CA/ABJ/CV/218/2020, is asking the appellate court to set aside the judgment of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of a Federal High Court in Abuja, delivered on February 21, 2020, which held that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was right to have excluded candidates of the party in the November 16, 2019 governorship election in Kogi and Bayelsa States.

Justice Ojukwu, in her judgment, had held that INEC was right to have excluded candidates of the APP in the two elections because the party replaced its withdrawn candidates outside the statutory period of 45 days to the date of the 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa States governorship elections.

When the matter came up last week, a three-man panel of Justices led by the Acting President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, granted accelerated hearing of the appeal and adjourned hearing to Wednesday, April 8.

At Wednesday’s sitting however, Diri, his deputy, Ewhrudjakpo, and their political platform, the PDP, filed separate motions seeking to be joined in the appeal as respondents.

The Bayelsa governor, in his motion brought pursuant to section 6(a) and 36 (1) of the 1999 constitution, section 15 of the Court of Appeal Act, urged the court to join him as the second respondent in the appeal.

His lawyer, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), argued that as the winner of the governorship election for Bayelsa State held on November 16, 2019 sought to be nullified by the appellant, he is a person directly affected by the appeal.

Uche told the court that the appellant deliberately suppressed the fact from the court that it is simultaneously prosecuting an election petition before the Bayelsa Governorship Election Tribunal in respect of the same complaint of unlawful exclusion from the governorship election in Bayelsa State and seeking the nullification of the same election as he is seeking by this appeal.

According to Uche, the appellant admits participating in the said election and pleading the votes scored by it as 148 votes before the Governorship Election Tribunal in Bayelsa State.

In addition, he said the APP participated in the said election, and that its name and logo were both on the ballot papers and on the result sheet, Form EC8E, as well as the summary of results, Form EC8D.

Uche therefore submitted that “having proceeded to the election tribunal to file an election petition to question the concluded election pursuant to section 138(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) on the same ground of exclusion of its candidate, the appellant is precluded and ought not be allowed to proceed with this appeal”, adding that the power to nullify a concluded election belongs to an Election Petition Tribunal or Court of Appeal sitting as a Presidential Election Tribunal.

On his part, the counsel to the deputy governor, Mr Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume (SAN), in his motion on notice equally prayed the court for an order to join his client in the appeal as an interested party since he will be affected by its outcome.

Ume also filed a notice of preliminary objection challenging the substantive appeal on the ground that the APP had fully participated in the Bayelsa State governorship election conducted on November 16, 2019 and scored votes material to its full electoral strength and so was not excluded from the election.

The PDP equally filed a similar application through its counsel, Adedamola Fanokun.

Meanwhile, the counsel to the appellant, Mr Ezenwa Ibegbunam, informed the court that he has filed a counter affidavit in urging the court to refuse the applications for joinder.

But the counsel to INEC, Mr Alhassan Umar (SAN), said the commission as a neutral umpire is not opposing the applications for joinder.

In her ruling, Justice Dongban-Mensem ordered that written submissions in response to the applications be filed within 24 hours, in view of the contentious nature of the appeal.

She subsequently adjourned the appeal to April 16, 2020.