A five-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, yesterday reversed the nullification of the November 16, 2019 governorship election that produced Duoye Diri as governor of Bayelsa State and affirmed his election.  

In a swift response, Diri bemoaned the litany of electoral cases trailing his election, describing them as distractions, and stated that it was time “portfolio political parties” stopped fanning the embers of disunity in the state.

The five-man panel in a unanimous judgment, delivered by Justice Obande Ogbuinya, held that the majority judgment of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election 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 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 approached the appellate court to set aside the majority judgment on the grounds that the majority judgment was flawed.

Delivering judgment in the appeal yesterday, the appellate court held that there was enough evidence to show that the case of the first respondent (ANDP) was statute barred because it was not filed within 14 days as prescribed by law.

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 event.

Specifically, the court held that the cause of action of the ANDP arose on September 27, 2019, when INEC wrote the ANDP on the disqualification of its governorship candidate having not attained the age of 35 years as required by law, adding that the party ought to have approached a High Court to ventilate its anger 14 days from that date.

The judge 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 to institute such a pre-election case.

The appellate court further held that the documentary evidence used by INEC to disqualify the ANDP candidate on account of 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.

In another ground of appeal, Justice Ogbuinya also agreed with the appellant that INEC has power to disqualify any candidate who does not meet the requirements for participating in an election.

According to the panel, INEC was right in excluding the ANDP from the November 16 governorship poll on grounds of its Deputy Governorship candidate, who was said to be under age at the time of the election.

Overall, 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 governor of Bayelsa State.

In another matter, the court 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, 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.

Also giving the same reason, the court dismissed the petition of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Liberation Movement (LM) alongside their governorship candidates.

Diri Attributes Victory to God

Meanwhile, Diri, in a press statement by his spokesman, Daniel Alabrah, applauded the decision of the five-man panel of Justices for upholding the law and dispensing justice to all.

He attributed his victory to God whom he referred to as the Supreme Leader of the universe ruling over the affairs of men.

Diri said: “I want to thank God for this victory. Today, a Daniel came to judgement in the name of the Court of Appeal, which has given the true position of the law and we are happy about it.”

He noted that the governorship candidate of the ANDP, King George, had earlier withdrawn his case at the tribunal and equally left the party but wondered why some persons would remote-control the purported chairman of the party.

While appealing for support, Diri described the litany of electoral cases as distractions, stressing that it was time the “portfolio political parties” stopped fanning the embers of disunity in the state.

“For those who are fanning the embers of disunity in our state using portfolio political parties, this is a time to put a full stop to it. If they really love the state, why are they still fanning the embers of destabilisation and moving on to unseat us?

“The governor of Bayelsa State is God Himself. I have told those who care to listen that I am only a messenger-governor. The governor of Bayelsa is His Excellency the Supreme Leader of the universe and that is God Himself.

“He kept me here to hold brief for Him and you cannot unseat God. There is a God that rules over the affairs of men and that God that has brought me here will protect me, my deputy governor and everybody put together to lead this government.”

Diri also called on the political class to exercise caution and desist from divisive politics particularly as the senatorial bye-elections are fast approaching.

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