The Court of Appeal Abuja Division has set aside the judgment of the Bayelsa State Election Tribunal nullifying the election of the governor of Bayelsa State; Douye Diri.
It could be recalled that the Court of Appeal in Abuja had on September 24th 2020 reserved its judgement on the appeal governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State filed to set-aside the tribunal verdict that sacked him from office and ordered a fresh election in the state.
It equally heard and reserved judgements on two other appeals the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, filed to challenge the nullification of Diri’s election by the tribunal. A five-man panel of Justices of the court led by Justice Adzira Gana Mshella okayed the appeals for judgement on the day it awarded N500,000 cost against the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party, ANDP, which was the party that filed the petition that led to Diri’s sack.
It will be recalled that hearing of all the appeals was stalled on Wednesday owing to an application the ANDP brought for leave to change the lawyer that handled the case for it at the tribunal. The new lawyer, Mr Gabriel Egbule, had after Diri’s appeal was called up for hearing, informed the appellate court that the party was no longer interested in processes its former lawyer, Mr Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN, filed to defend the judgement of the tribunal. Egbule drew the attention of the court to ANDP’s notice of change of counsel dated September 23, adding that he would henceforth represent the party in the matter. Meanwhile, Ogunwumiju, SAN, who expressed surprise over the development, persuaded the court to defer the hearing to enable him to confirm his status in the case. However, at the resumed proceedings in the case on Thursday, Ogunwumiju announced his appearance for the ANDP, even as Egbule notified the court that he got a fresh directive to hands-off and withdraw all the applications he filed on behalf of the party. Dissatisfied with the situation, governor Diri’s lawyer, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, urged the appellate court to not only punish the ANDP but also its National Chairman, Chief Charles Ogboli, noting that he was the one that deposed to the fresh affidavit sought to be withdrawn. Uche also drew the attention of the appellate court to the fact that ANDP anchored its application on the ground that its gubernatorial candidate, King George, earlier pulled out of its case at the tribunal and equally left the party. He noted that the party averred in the affidavit that in the event that a fresh election is conducted in Bayelsa State as ordered by the tribunal, it would be left without a gubernatorial candidate. “My lords should take judicial notice of what transpired in this court yesterday. “Today they have come here to sing another tune. Justice is more than a game of hide and seek. The door of Justice should not be opened to a slippery customer who probates and reprobates at the same time. “We are asking for a N500,000 cost”, Uche submitted. Before he could resume his seat, ANDP’s lawyer, Ogunwumiju, said his client was ready to pay the cost. He, however, opposed a similar request for cost by counsel to the PDP, Mr Emmanuel Inoidem on the premise that he did not file any process with respect to Diri’s appeal. In a ruling, the appellate court awarded cost to only governor Diri, even as it struck out all the fresh processes that were filed by ANDP. It also struck out Diri’s application for all the three appeals to be consolidated. Meantime, in the appeals that were separately heard by the panel, governor Diri, INEC and PDP, urged the appellate court to set aside the majority judgement of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal delivered on August 17, and uphold the minority verdict that dismissed ANDP’s petition. Arguing the appeal, Diri’s lawyer, Uche, SAN, contended that the tribunal erred in its majority decision when it held that ANDP was unlawfully excluded from the governorship election that took place in Bayelsa State on November 16, 2019.