From Godwin Tsa Abuja
The Bayesla State Governorship election Tribunal sitting in Abuja in a split decision of two to one nullified the election that produced Senator Douye Diri and Senator Lawrence Ewhruojakpo as Governor and Deputy governor of Bayesla State.
Two members of the three member panel in their majority judgment ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election in the state within 90 days.
However, in his dissenting judgment, the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo disagreed with his colleagues and affirmed the election of Governor Diri and his deputy.
The judgment of the tribunal followed a petition by the Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party (ANDP) over unlawful exclusion of it’s candidate from the November 16 election.
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.
A statement by the governor’s Acting Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr Daniel Alabrah, said that Diri spoke shortly after the tribunal ruled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wrongly excluded the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP) governorship candidate from the November 16, 2019 election. 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. This 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.
The governor urged members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his supporters not to panic and to continue to remain calm and law-abiding.
In another judgment, the tribunal unanimously dismissed the petition brought by the Accord Party and it’s candidate against the outcome of the November 16, 2019 election for lacking in merit.
The Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party (ANDP) through its national chairman, Charles Ogboli and its candidate, King Lucky George filed the petition seeking the nullification of the November 19, 2019 governorship election and order of a fresh election on grounds its party and logo was not included in the ballot papers for the election.
Counsel to ANDP, Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN) informed the tribunal that the primary of the party was monitored by INEC, adding that their witnesses, including the commission admitted that the party was excluded from the election.
The tribunal said it found merit in the petition and consequently nullified the election and ordered INEC to conduct a bye-election in the state within 90 days.
But in his dissenting judgment,zone the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo, distanced himself from majority judgement of the tribunal and affirmed governor Diri’s election.
In the majority judgment, Justices Owodunni and Yunusa Musa had in their decisions, voided the outcome of the 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.
ANDP had in a petition it lodged before the tribunal, contended that it was unlawfully excluded from participating in the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, despite the fact that it fulfilled all the statutory requirements.
The two Justices Owodunni agreed that INEC illegally excluded ANDP and its governorship candidate, King George, from the election.
However, disagreeing with the verdict, the tribunal Chairman, 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.
Justice Sirajo said there was evidence that the party failed to substitute the candidate till the statutory window for such substitution elapsed.
According to the Justice Sirajo, 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.
The tribunal chairman held that failure of the party to do so made its petition against governor Diri’s election, statute-barred.
Besides, Justice Sirajo held 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.
He held that since the Constitution is superior to the Electoral Act, it takes preeminence.
He held that the disqualification of ANDP by INEC was not unconstitutional because it nominated an underaged candidate.
The Judge stressed that 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.
Consequently, Justice Sirajo dismissed the petition as lacking in merit, even as he upheld the election of governor Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The judgment of the tribunal came barely two days after the tribunal dismissed as lacking in merit, three other petitions that sought to sack governor Diri on the premise that his Deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, submitted forged NYSC certificate to INEC for the purpose of the election.
The dismissed petitions were brought before the tribunal by Alliance for Democracy, AD, and its candidate, Owei Woniwei, United Peoples Congress, UPC, and its candidate, Ibiene Stephen, as well as that of candidate of the Liberation Movement, LM, Vijah Opuama.
Although Diri of the PDP came second in the governorship election, he was later declared the winner after the Supreme Court, in judgement on February 13, disqualified the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, David Lyon, following discrepancies in documents his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo, attached to the Form CF001 he submitted to INEC.
The ANDP was registered as a political party on August 14, 2018, along with 23 other parties. However, it was deregistered in on February 6, 2020, for failing to meet the guidelines stipulated by the constitution which expect parties to at least win a seat any of the elections conducted -presidential, governorship, chairmanship or councillorship.
The affected parties, including ANDP, are now in court challenging their de-registration.
In another judgment, the tribunal unanimously dismissed the petition filed by the Accord Party against the outcome of the November 16, 2019 governorship election in the state for lacking in merit.