INEC Begins Defence of Election Which Produced Diri as Bayelsa Governor

•Sylva, APC close case after 52 witnesses

Alex Enumah in Abuja

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), will on Monday March 4, begin its defence of the November 11, 2023, governorship election that produced Douye Diri as re-elected governor of Bayelsa State. This is following the closure of the case of the petitioners on Tuesday.

Besides INEC, the governor, his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrujakpo and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are also expected to open their defence next week.

Former governor and immediate past Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), are challenging the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declaration of Diri as the winner of the November 11 governorship poll in Bayelsa State.

According to them, the electoral umpire denied them of votes in their “strong areas”, when it cancelled results in three Local Government Areas of Nembe, Ogbia and Southern Ijaw, on alleged disruption of the electoral process and diversion of electoral materials.

However, after calling a total of 52 witnesses, out of the 224 lined up to prove their allegations against the election, the petitioners announced that they were satisfied with the prosecution of their case and would like to close it.

Amongst those who testified at Tuesday’s proceedings are; former Commissioner of Police in Bayelsa State, Mr Tolani Alausa and the APC’s State Collation Officer, Mr Dennis Otiotio.

Alausa, who was led in evidence by petitioners’ lead counsel, Mr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN,) adopted his witness statement on oath dated December 1, and tendered several exhibits to support claims of the petitioners that election actually took place in the disputed local government areas and results announced at the polling units.

During cross-examination by INEC’s lawyer, Chief Charles Edosanwan (SAN), the witness admitted that his role during the election was seen as controversial and that several protests were held for and against his further stay as police chief in the state.

Alausa, also denied testifying in favour of the petitioners stating that he was at the tribunal following a letter from the Inspector General (IG) of Police.

He stated that the documents he tendered before the tribunal were brought to him by police officials who participated in the November 11 governorship election in Bayelsa State and were kept with the Deputy Commissioner in charge of Operations.

Under cross examination by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawyer, Mr Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), the witness admitted that he took away a Prado Jeep given to him by the governor for his operation but had to return it after the governor wrote the IG requesting that the vehicle be returned to the state command for use.

He said he was indifferent over the request for the return of the vehicle, when asked whether he was unhappy over the demand that he returns the vehicle.

In his own evidence, a star witness of the petitioners, Denis Otiotio, who is a legal practitioner and Collation Officer of the APC, in the disputed election also tendered several documents including results sheets, protest letters to INEC and security agents as well as a Certified True Copy (CTC) of the tribunal’s order for inspection of electoral materials.

Under cross examination, Otiotio claimed that election took place in his polling unit as well as 14 other polling units.

When confronted with INEC’s voter register in respect of his polling unit, showing that neither was his name nor that of others ticked to prove that they voted at the election they are claiming they won, the witness informed the court that the register before him was not same used during the November 11 governorship election.

He further stated that when they went to INEC for inspection of electoral materials on the orders of the court, one INEC’s staff, (a lady he pointed to at the court) had informed him that they didn’t have the register.

When asked if the petitioners filed any application before the tribunal to complain that its orders were not being obeyed by the electoral umpire, the witness answered in the negative.

After the end of cross examination, Chief James Onoja (SAN) who took over the plaintiffs’ case after Ikpeazu, stepped out, announced that the petitioners had decided to close their case.

Also, speaking with journalists shortly after the end of proceedings, Mr Tunde Falola, stated that his client had given a good account of themselves and are convinced that the tendered documents as well as the testimonies of the witnesses called have proved that election took place in the disputed local government areas.

INEC had declared Diri and the PDP winner of the November 11, 2023 governorship election in Bayelsa State, having won majority of the votes cast at the election.

According to the Returning Officer, Prof. Faruq Kuta, the PDP and Diri polled 175, 196 votes to defeat his closest rival, Timipre Sylva of the APC who scored 110,108 votes.

Dissatisfied, Sylva and APC had approached the tribunal to challenge the declaration of Diri as winner of the November 11 governorship election.

The petitioners are asking the tribunal to hold that contrary to the position of the electoral umpire, election held in some polling units and winners declared at the said units, adding that it was wrong of INEC to disregard the results at the ward and local government level.

It is their claim that if the said cancelled results were restored by the court, they would emerge winner of the November election.

But the respondents especially INEC which conducted the election submitted that election in three local governments of Southern Ijaw, Ogbia and Nembe, did not hold due to incidents of alleged diversions of materials and disruption of the electoral process over alleged bypass of the BVAS machine.

They had tendered the Form EC40G to confirm that there were no elections in the said polling units.

In addition the respondents brought CTCs of results from INEC to prove that the results brought before the court as evidence that election held at the polling units were forged by the petitioners.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the three-member tribunal, Justice Adekunle Adeleye,  adjourned till Monday, March 4, for the respondents to open their defence.

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