Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal on Friday set aside the judgment of the Bayelsa State governorship election tribunal which voided the outcome of the gubernatorial election that held in the state on November 16, 2019, over the exclusion of one of the registered political parties, Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), in the contest.The Justice Stephen Adah led panel of the appellate court agreed with the minority judgment of the tribunal to the effect that petition by the ANDP was statute-barred.
The tribunal had in a majority Judgment of two out of the three-man panel of Justices, ordered the Independence National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct a fresh election in the state within 90 days.
Two members of the panel, Justices Sikiru Owodunni and Yunusa Musa, said they found merit in ANDP’s contention that it was unlawfully excluded from participating in the governorship election by INEC, despite the fact that it fulfilled all the statutory requirements.
Justice Musa who read the lead judgement in the matter, upheld the petition, saying the tribunal was satisfied that INEC illegally excluded ANDP and its governorship candidate, King George, from the election.
He held that INEC lacked the powers to disqualify ANDP’s candidates, after it failed to act on a letter the party wrote to be allowed to substitute its deputy governorship candidate.
However, in a dissenting judgement, Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo, affirmed governor Diri’s election after he dismissed 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 underaged deputy governorship candidate, who admitted that he was 34 years old, instead of the 35 years age bracket the Constitution stipulated.The decision of the appellate court followed an appeal filed Governor Douye Diri and his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), against the majority Judgment of the lower tribunal.In his 12 grounds of appeal filed through his team of lawyers led by Chief Chris Uche (SAN), governor Diri, urged the appellate court to set aside the majority judgement of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal which nullified his election, and uphold the Minority verdict.In his appeal, governor Diri had among other things, prayed the appellate court to set aside the entire majority decision of the Tribunal (per Hon. Justice Yunusa Musa and Hon. Justice S. M. Owodunni) and to dismiss the 1st Respondent’s petition.
He further urged the Court of Appeal to, “uphold the minority judgement of the Chairman of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, Hon. Justice Muhammad I. Sirajo, which clearly appreciated the law and correctly applied same to the facts and rightly dismissed the petition”.