Bayelsa: Dissonance Tunes Trail Judgment as Governor Files 12 Grounds of Appeal

Bayelsa: Dissonance Tunes Trail Judgment as Governor Files 12 Grounds of Appeal

The Tribunal’s majority judgement on the November 16, 2019 governorship election has stirred discordant tunes among legal minds with the Bayelsa State Governor Senator Douye Diri approaching the Court of Appeal to overturn the majority ruling and towing the logic of the minority ruling.

All eyes would be on the Court of Appeal as Divergent views continue to trail the majority judgment of the Bayelsa State Gubernatorial Election Tribunal which nullified the November 16, 2019 governorship election and ordered another election within 90 days as Governor Douye Diri who is directly affected yesterday filed an appeal at the appellate Court giving 12 reasons why the judgment should be overturned.

Also the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has in a preliminary reaction to the judgment indicated its intention to challenge the Tribunal judgment while stating its own side of all that transpired leading to the omission of the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP) from the governorship election.

Some of the dissonance tunes emanating from the judgment by analysts and legal practitioners include arguments that the nomination of the Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party (ANDP) for the election was invalid while the party did not exercise its right guaranteed in the Fourth Alteration to the constitution by filing its suit within 14 days of the accrual of the said right.

One contentious issue is, would the APC be able to participate in the ordered fresh election despite the Supreme Court ruling declaration of the nomination of its candidate David Lyon and its deputy invalid. Another issue is the re-ordered election within 90 days not an invitation to open fresh nomination or even make substitution? The spontaneous reaction to the judgment saw APC supporters troop to the streets in Yenagoa in jubilation believing that the APC and its candidate would find its way back to the ballot.

In INEC’s reaction, Mr Festus Okoye, its NEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of Information and Voter Education Committee recalled that the ANDP was one of the political parties that signified its intention to contest the November 16, 2019 Bayelsa governorship election adding that the party conducted party primaries and submitted the name of one Peter David as its deputy governorship candidate.

“As at the time of the submission of the name of the said candidate, he was 34 years-old, contrary to Section 177(b) of the constitution that makes it mandatory for a candidate for such office to attain the age of 35 years to be eligible to contest the election.

“In the candidate’s statutory declaration of age and affidavit attached to his form, the party stated that he was born on February 10, 1985. On Sept. 13, 2019, the commission wrote to the party drawing their attention to the constitutional age requirement of 35 years for Governorship/Deputy Governorship candidates as stipulated in Section 177(b) of the constitution.

“The commission also informed them of the invalidity of their nomination for the November 16, 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa State,” he said.
Mr Okoye also recalled that on September 21, 2019 and in response to the letter of the commission dated September 13, 2019, the ANDP wrote the commission acknowledging the invalidity of its nomination and forwarding the name of one Inowei Janeth as their new deputy governorship candidate.

“On Sept. 27, 2019, the commission informed the party that the deadline for the submission of nominations as provided for in the Timetable and Schedule of Activities released by the commission on May 16, 2019 was Sept. 9, 2019 and also informed the party that since they did not submit a valid nomination, they couldn’t validly substitute any candidate.

“Consequently the name and logo of the party did not appear and was not reflected in the ballot paper. It is pertinent to note that the party did not exercise its right guaranteed in the Fourth Alteration to the constitution by filing its suit within 14 days of the accrual of the said right as the issues canvassed are pre-election issues.

“The commission may respond to some of the issues raised in the judgment of the tribunal when we are availed of the full judgment and the reasons for the judgement,” Mr Okoye said.

The Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja had on Monday nullified the election of Senator Douye Diri. The Justice Ibrahim Sirajo-led panel voided the outcome of the gubernatorial election that held in the state on November 16, 2019, because it excluded the ANDP from the exercise.

ANDP had in its petition before the tribunal argued that it was unlawfully excluded from participating in the election by INEC in spite of the fact that it fulfilled all the statutory requirements. The tribunal in a majority judgment 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.

Governor Douye Diri has speedily filed an appeal against the judgment asking the appellate court to set aside the entire majority decision of the Tribunal of Hon. Justice Yunusa Musa and Hon. Justice S. M. Owodunni and to dismiss the 1st Respondent’s petition.

Governor Diri 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”.

Some of the particulars of error in the judgement against him, Governor Diri, maintained that the petition by ANDP challenged its alleged unlawful exclusion from the election that was conducted on November 16, 2019.

He argued that the cause of action of the 1st Respondent, ANDP, crystallized on November 16, 2019, being the Election Day when it claimed to have realized that INEC indeed did not place it on the ballot.

“From the date, the 1st Respondent had 21 days within which to file a petition against the alleged unlawful exclusion from the election.

“There was no election on the 14th day of February 2020 held by INEC to ground the 1st Respondent’s petition filed on 26th February 2020, more than five months after the declaration of results, as the ground of complaint of unlawful exclusion is a complaint against an election not a declaration.

“The case of the 1st Respondent is not hinged on the nullification of the votes of APC candidate, David Lyon, nor on the declaration of results by the 2nd Respondent on the 14th day of February 2020; nor on the return of the Appellant as the Governor of Bayelsa State, but on its alleged unlawful exclusion from the election held on the 16th day of November 2019.

“The 1st Respondent’s petition is statute-barred, in breach of the provisions of section 285(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

In his second ground of appeal, governor Diri, argued that Justices Musa and Owodunni erred in law when they held that ANDP’s candidates were validly nominated.

On particulars of errors, he told the appellate court that ANDP forwarded names of underage candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

“The names of the candidates of the 1st Respondent forwarded to the 2nd Respondent were manifestly invalid for being below the constitutional age of 35 years.

“The 1st Respondent’s witnesses admitted under cross-examination that the said candidates were only 34 years of age.

“The nomination of a candidate in breach of the provision of the constitution, the Electoral Act and the INEC timetable and Schedule of Activities for 2019 General Elections (as in the instant case) cannot be termed a valid nomination.

“The mere proposal of a person as its candidate by a political party in an election to INEC through a letter is insufficient and does not amount to a valid nomination.

“The 1st Respondent failed to plead and tender the party nomination forms filed by their candidates, the Report of the primary election for all positions, which was monitored by the 2nd Respondent and which was officially sent to the 2nd Respondent.

“There was no document tendered by the 1st Respondent stating whether the primary election was by direct or indirect election.

“The 1st Respondent failed to state the date of the primary election from which its said candidates purportedly emerged as to prove valid nomination of the candidates in compliance with section 87(1), (2), (3) and (4b) of the Electoral Act”.

He contended that the two Justices, in the majority judgment, erred in law when they held that INEC unlawfully excluded ANDP’s candidates.

“The 2nd Respondent as the umpire and regulator of the election ought not to have been expected to shut its eyes to the invalidity of the 1st Respondent’s candidates and the lateness of its submissions and attempt to substitute its candidates after the expiration of the deadline and for reasons other than death or withdrawal by the candidates.

“The 2nd Respondent as the umpire of the election had the duty to inform the 1st Respondent that the nomination of its candidate for the office of Deputy Governor was invalid for being under the constitutional age.

“The 1st Respondent (ANDP) accepted the advice but rather still deliberately forwarded another under aged candidate.

“The power of the 2nd Respondent to vet, reject or disqualify any candidate of a political party has been restored by the provisions of section 285(14) (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.

“The act of the 2nd Respondent was not in any way unlawful or unconstitutional as to be declared a nullity by the Tribunal”.

Governor Diri argued that the majority judgement was legally defective as it held that ANDP had the locus standi to maintain its petition, adding that it was wrong the tribunal to hold that the complaint the party canvassed in its petition was not a pre-election matter.

“The learned Justices of the Tribunal (Hon. Justice Yunusa Musa and Hon. Justice S. M. Owodunni) erred in law when they held that the 1st Respondent proved its case as to be entitled to judgment.

“The said majority judgment is manifestly against the weight of evidence. Further grounds of appeal shall be filed upon receipt of the records of proceedings”, the appellant added.

Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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