By Alex Enumah
The Supreme Court Wednesday affirmed the election of Senator Douye Diri as Governor of Bayelsa State.
The court, in a unanimous judgment, upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal, Abuja shortly after it dismissed the six appeals seeking the nullification of Diri and his deputy, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo’s election, following the withdrawal of the appeals by lawyers to the appellants.
Those that applied and withdrew their appeals on Wednesday were the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), Alliance for Democracy (AD), its governorship candidate, Owei Woniwei, Liberation Movement (LM), its candidate, Vijah Opuama, as well as the Accord Party (AP).
Following the withdrawal of the appeals, the seven-member panel of Justices of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, consequently dismissed the appeals and affirmed the election of Diri as Bayelsa Governor.
It would be recalled that the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division had, in a judgment on October 2, upturned the judgment of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that nullified Diri’s election.
The appellate court had in its decision by a five-man panel of Justices, voided the majority judgment the tribunal delivered on August 17, which ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (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 panel at the tribunal, Justices Sikiru Owodunni and Yunusa Musa, upheld ANDP’s petition, the Chairman of the panel, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo, gave a dissenting judgment 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 underaged 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 judgment of the tribunal, Governor Diri, his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and INEC separately lodged appeals to set it aside.
In its judgment, the appellate court panel led by Justice Adzira Mshella, held that the majority verdict of the tribunal that invalidated Diri’s election, was perverse and “contemptuous of the law”.
Justice Obande Festus Ogbuinya, who read the lead judgment of the appellate court, held that the tribunal wrongfully evaluated the petition of the ANDP and thus reached an unjust conclusion in the Bayelsa governorship dispute.
The appellate court said there was enough evidence before the tribunal to prove that ANDP nominated underaged candidates for the election in breach of sections 177, 182 and 187 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Besides, it held that the petition was not only statute-barred but equally a pre-election matter that was outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
According to the appellate court, INEC had, in two separate letters dated September 13 and September 27, notified the ANDP that it made invalid nominations.
It held that the case of ANDP had become stale as at February 26 when it filed the petition at the tribunal.
Moreso, the Appeal Court ruled that the issue of disqualification of candidates, being a pre-election matter, could only be ventilated before a regular court and not a tribunal.
Likewise, in four other separate judgments, 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 statute-barred and for containing pre-election matters that are beyond the scope of an election tribunal.
The appellants had among other things, sought Governor Diri’s disqualification on the premise that his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, submitted forged documents to INEC.
The appellants specifically challenged the authenticity of Ewhrudjakpo’s National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Exemption Certificate allegedly issued in 1998.