Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Legal disputes over the contentious Bayelsa State governorship may not be over for Governor Douye Diri and his deputy, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, who are still in the crosshairs following multiple pre-election litigations that have the capacity to sweep them out of Government House as easily as they were swept into office.
Governor Diri and Ewhrudjakpo, both of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), are immersed in separate pre-election cases pending against them bordering on their qualifications to contest the November 16, 2019 governorship election.
Already, following their emergence as Governor and Deputy Governor of the state by the judgment of the Supreme Court, Daily Sun findings revealed that there is mounting pressure on the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, to re-assign the suit by a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Timi Aliabe, challenging the nomination of Diri as the governorship candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.
A member of Alaibe’s legal team who confided in Daily Sun said they will follow up the matter on Monday to ensure that the case received an accelerated hearing and dispensed with speedily.
He was enthusiastic that the declaration of the Supreme Court that the PDP had won the November 16 governorship election has strengthened the case of their client.
In his words: “We are going to court on Monday to see how the case can be re-assigned to another judge. This is an administrative duty of the Chief Judge who ordered for the transfer of the case to Abuja following a complaint by our client.
“It’s a pre-election matter and time does not run against it, but we want the matter to be dispensed with one way or the other.”
In suit no: FHC/YNG/CS/99/2019 filed before the court, Alaibe is, among other things, urging the Court to declare him as the validly nominated governorship candidate of the PDP.
Alaibe, who was a governorship aspirant in the governorship primary election of the PDP in the November 16 poll in Bayelsa State, complained of irregularities and sued the PDP and its candidate, Douye Diri.
Listed as defendants are the PDP, Senator Douye Diri, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and Embeleakpo Alale for himself and representing the elected local government chairmen, vice-chairmen and councillors of the PDP allowed to be delegates at the elective State Congress of the PDP in Bayelsa State held on September 3, 2019.
Also joined in the suit as the defendant is Doubra Kumokou, for himself and on behalf of the three Ad-Hoc Delegates allowed to be delegates at the elective State Congress. Alaibe is said to be seeking, with an application, the cancellation of the result of the primary election based on cited procedural flaws.
The suit, which was filed in pursuant to Order 3(9) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019, seeks answers to questions bordering on obvious non-adherence to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Electoral Act 2010, the People’s Democratic Party Constitution and Election Guidelines, by the State Chapter of the party in the conduct of the Ward Congresses, inclusion of local government council officials in the delegates list and the procedure for inclusion of three ad-hoc delegates.
Citing specific sections of relevant laws and guidelines, Alaibe is asking the court to examine the entire processes that resulted in the primaries and rule in his favour in the light of violations committed in a desperate move to impose a pre-determined hand-picked candidate on the people out of 21 aspirants.
The case which was before Justice Jane Inyang of the Yenagoa division of the Federal High Court was later moved to Abuja when Alaibe complained about security in Yenagoa.
On the 15th of October, 2019, Justice Jane Inyang, who was hearing the matter, announced the sudden transfer of the case to Abuja.
She further explained that her decision to allow the case to be transferred to Abuja is based on a transfer request by Chief Ndutimi Alaibe dated 27th of September, 2019, and which was subsequently received by her Court on the 10th of October, 2019.
According to her, Chief Ndutimi Alaibe’s letter did not question the credibility of the Federal High Court but cited security concerns in the state as a major reason to seek that transfer of the case.
She referred to an order of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court as the reason for the transfer. The matter came up for hearing only on the 8th of November 2019 when the matter was adjourned till 15 November 2019, the eve of the Bayelsa election.
Meanwhile, on the part of the Deputy Governor, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, a Lugbe Grade 1 Area Court, Abuja, had on November 28, 2019, issued a bench warrant for his the arrest over alleged failure to appear before it.
Ewhrudjakpo, who until his swearing-in as Deputy Governor represented Bayelsa West in the Senate, failed to appear in court after the court summoned him over a pre-election suit filed against him by Mr Benjamin Youdiowei, a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Bayelsa.
The plaintiff alleged that Ewhrudjakpo presented a forged NYSC Exemption Certificate with code No: 139708 dated Feb. 2, 1998, on his nomination form to INEC.
He also alleged that Ewhrudjakpo was still in possession of the document which he continued to use as part of his credentials.
He further alleged that the defendant committed the offence of cheating, impersonation, forgery which were at variant with sections 363, 368, 366 and 324 of the Penal Code.
The plaintiff’s counsel, Mr Seidu Jibrin, had told the court that the matter was fixed for hearing but expressed concerns that the defendant had consistently failed to honour the summons.
However, Mr Ijere A O, Counsel to Ewhrudjakpo, apologised for the absence of the defendant, saying that his client travelled out of the court’s jurisdiction.
Ijere prayed the Court to grant the defendant one more date to enable him to appear.
Jibrin opposed the application of the defendant’s counsel and prayed the court to issue a bench warrant to ensure Sen. Ewhrudjakpo appears under section 352(1), 131 and 134 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act 2015.
Jibrin told the court that Ewhrudjakpo was aware of the case, adding that the defendant was duly served with the notice of sitting.
The counsel for the defendant, however, opposed the application of the complainant counsel and for a warrant of arrest to be issued.
He prayed the Court to grant his client one more grace in the interest of justice.
Delivering his ruling, the judge, Abubakar Sadiq, held that the defendant was aware of the case but chose to stay away.
“In the circumstance, I, hereby, issue a bench warrant against the defendant.
“I also order that the matter should be referred to the Wuye Police Station for further investigation,” the judge ruled.
Sadiq had further ordered the police to report to the court before Dec 11, 2019.