The Bayelsa State Governorship Election Tribunal on Monday, in a split judgment of two-to-one, voided the election of Governor Douye Diri and and his deputy, Lawrence Ewhruojakpo.
The judgment was on a petition by the Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party (ANDP) its National Chairman, Charles Ogboli and its candidate in the November 16, 2019 election, King Lucky George, who complained about unlawful exclusion.
In the majority decision, Justices Owodunni and Yunusa Musa (members of the tribunal’s three-man panel) upheld the argument by petitioners’ lawyer, Kehnde Ogunwumiju (SAN) to the effect that the ANDP and its candidates were unlawfully excluded from the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Justices Owodunni and Musa upheld the petition, nullified the election and ordered INEC to conduct fresh election within 90 days.
The tribunal sat in Abuja owing security concern in Bayelsa State.
In his dissenting decision, the tribunal Chairman, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo held otherwise and dismissed the petition for lacking in merit.
Justice Sirajo was of the view that there was evidence that the ANDP was disqualified from the election for fielding an ineligible candidate.
He held that the party nominated an underage deputy governorship candidate, who admitted that he was 34 years old, instead of the 35 years age bracket the Constitution stipulated.
Justice Sirajo also held that there was evidence that the party failed to substitute the candidate till the statutory window for such substitution elapsed.
He was of the view that what the petitioners brought before the tribunal was a pre-election case since INEC’s decision that disqualified its candidates occurred before the actual election held on November 16, 2019.
He held that under section 285(9) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the party, ought to have within 14 days after it got the notification from INEC, gone to a Federal High Court to challenge it.
Justice Sirajo held that failure of the party to do so made its petition against governor Diri’s election, statute-barred.
He added that section 138(1) (d) of the Electoral Act provided grounds upon which an election could be challenged at the tribunal, vis-a-vis section 285(14) of the Constitution which defined disqualification of the candidate by INEC as a pre-election matter.
Justice Sirajo held that since the Constitution is superior to the Electoral Act, it takes pre-eminence.
He further that the disqualification of ANDP by INEC was not unconstitutional because the party nominated an underage candidate.
The tribunal’s Chairman said since the disqualified candidate did not meet the constitutional requirement, he was therefore not a valid candidate that could claim right of exclusion.
He held that a political party must have a valid nomination before the issue of exclusion could arise.
In a second judgment on the petition by the Accord Party (AP) the tribunal’s three-man panel was unanimous in holding that the petition was without merit.
The panel proceeded to dismiss the petition for lacking in merit.
Meanwhile, Governor Diri, has said he will appeal Monday’s ruling of the state election petition tribunal sitting in Abuja and has consequently instructed his lawyers to file the necessary papers.
The governor’s Acting Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Daniel Alabrah, said in a statement, that Diri spoke shortly after the tribunal ruled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wrongly excluded the ANDP.
The governor maintained that he had implicit confidence in the judiciary that he would triumph in the end.
“We trust in the judiciary and we are appealing the judgement. With God on our side, we will get justice. Thithe s is a court of first instance and I have instructed our lawyers to file an appeal. We have a right of appeal even up to the Supreme Court”, he said.
Diri urged members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his supporters not to panic and to continue to remain calm and law-abiding.