By Alex Enumah
The Supreme Court yesterday upheld 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 which had earlier upturned the judgement of the election tribunal that sacked the governor and his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo.
The Supreme Court gave the verdict shortly after it dismissed six appeals seeking the nullification of the election of Diri and Ewhrudjakpo, following the withdrawal of the appeals by lawyers to the appellants.
Those that withdrew their appeals 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 the Supreme Court, led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, dismissed the appeals and affirmed the election of Diri.
The Court of Appeal, in a judgement on October 2, had upturned the judgement 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 judgement the tribunal delivered on August 17, which ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a 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, 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 the 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 judgement of the tribunal, 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.
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 were beyond the scope of an election tribunal.
The appellants had among other things, sought Diri’s disqualification on the premise that his Ewhrudjakpo submitted forged documents to INEC.
The appellants had challenged the authenticity of Ewhrudjakpo’s National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate allegedly issued in 1998.