By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, on Friday, set aside the judgment of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which on August 17 nullified the November 16 governorship election that produced Senator Duoye Diri as the Governor of Bayelsa State.
A five man panel of the court in a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Obande Festus Ogbuinya, held that the majority judgment of the Petition Tribunal, erred in law when it held that the petition of the Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party (ANDP) was not statute-barred.
The tribunal had in a two-to-one judgment in August annulled the election of November 16, 2019 Governorship Election in Bayelsa State on the grounds of the unlawful exclusion of the ANDP from the poll.
The tribunal consequently ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct a fresh election that will include the ANDP and its governorship candidate within 90 days.
However, Diri had approached the appellate court praying it to set aside the majority judgment on the grounds that the majority judgment was flawed and amounted to a miscarriage of justice.
Delivering judgment in the appeal of Governor Diri on Friday, the appellate court held that there was enough evidence to show that the case of the first respondent (ANDP) was statute-barred having not been filed within 14 days as prescribed by law.
Justice Ogbuinya in the judgment agreed with the appellant that the case of the ANDP was a pre-election matter which ought to be filed within 14 days but was filed five months after the cause of action arose.
Specifically, the court held that while the cause of action of the ANDP arose on September 27, 2019, when INEC wrote the party on the disqualification of its governorship candidate on the ground of been under-aged, the party ought to have approached a High Court to ventilate its anger 14 days from that date.
Justice Ogbuinya said the ANDP however filed its petition at the Governorship tribunal in flagrant disobedience to Section 285, adding that the tribunal is not a competent platform where such a suit can be instituted being a pre-election matter .
The appellate court further held that the documentary evidence used by INEC to disqualify the ANDP candidate on account of been under-age was incorruptible because they were supplied by the candidate himself with an affidavit sworn to affirm the genuineness and authenticity of the supplied information.
Justice Ogbuinya, therefore, held that the relief granted the ANDP to nullify the election of Governor Diri, was unmerited and subsequently set aside by the majority decision of the tribunal on the grounds that it ought not to have entertained the party’s petition for want of jurisdiction.
In another ground of appeal, Justice Ogbunya also agreed with the appellant that INEC was right in excluding the ANDP from the November 16 governorship poll on grounds of disqualification of the ANDP’s Deputy Governorship candidate, who was said to be under age at the time of the election.
In all, Justice Ogbuinya held that the case of the appellant has merit and went ahead to set aside the majority judgment of the tribunal that annulled the November 16 governorship poll.
The Court of Appeal in addition affirmed the election of Diri as the lawfully elected governor of Bayelsa State.
In another appeal, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal filed by Mr Ebizimo Diriyai, the candidate of the Accord Party, on the grounds that the allegation of certificate forgery brought against the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, were not proved beyond reasonable doubt as required by law on criminal allegations.
Justice Folasade Ojo, who delivered the lead judgment agreed with Chukwuma Machukwu-Umeh, SAN, that the case of the Accord Party being a pre-election matter was statute-barred and incompetent having been filed outside 14 days stipulated by the 1999 Constitution.
Justice Ojo also agreed with Machukwu-Umeh that the Accord Party and its governorship candidate made heavy weather in their certificate forgery allegations when in actual fact, the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) and the Department of State Service (DSS) have separately confirmed in the reports that mere correction was effected in the name of the deputy governor as contained in his Exemption Certificate.
The appellate court agreed that the allegations were weighty in nature as it could lead to automatic disqualification and also agreed that there was no scintilla of evidence to establish how a mere correction in the spelling of a name transformed into forgery.
The court therefore dismissed the appeal of the Accord Party and its governorship candidate in its entirety for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
The court also gave the same reason for dismissing the petition of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Liberation Movement (LM) alongside their governorship candidates.
By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja