Bayelsa State Governor, Mr Douye Diri affirmed by Nigeria’s Supreme Court
After a prolonged post-election battle in Bayelsa State, the Supreme Court has finally taken a final decision in favour of Mr Douye Diri. The apex court yesterday affirmed that the incumbent governor is the duly elected governor of Bayelsa State. Douye contested elections and won on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), which is touted as the largest political party in Africa.
The 7-man panel of Justices of the apex Court, in a unanimous judgement dismissed the six appeals, which sought to nullify the election of Douye Diri and his deputy, Mr Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, following the withdrawal of same by lawyers to the appellants.
Those that applied and withdrew their appeals yesterday 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). It would be recalled that the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division had, in a judgement on October 2, 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 of 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, 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 ANDP was disqualified from the election for fielding an ineligible candidate.
He noted that the party nominated an under aged 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, Governor Diri, his party- the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and INEC, separately lodged appeals to set it aside.
Upholding the appeals, the appellate court panel led by Justice Adzira Gana 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 judgement 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 underage 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. More so, 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 judgements, 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.