BY SEGUN ADEBAYO – The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, has reversed the tribunal judgement that annulled the election of Governor Douye Diri and ordered fresh gubernatorial poll in Bayelsa state.
Delivering a unanimous judgement on Friday, the five-member panel of Justices, led by Justice Adzira Gana Mshella, quashed the majority verdict of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal invalidating Diri’s election, noting it was “perverse” and “contemptuous of the law”.
The appellate court held that the Tribunal wrongfully evaluated the petition the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), filed to challenge its alleged unlawful exclusion from the governorship poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Justice Obande Festus Ogbuinya, who read the lead judgement, said there was enough evidence to prove that ANDP nominated underage candidates for the election, in breach of sections 177, 182 and 187 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The Appellate Court also said the ANDP’s petition, filed before the tribunal, was not only statute-barred, but also a pre-election matter that was outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
It said whereas section 285(9) of the Constitution made it mandatory that the issue of disqualification of candidates, being a pre-election matter, must be filed within 14 days after the cause of action arose, ANDP, filed its petition at the tribunal, five months after its deputy Governorship candidate was disqualified by INEC.
Further noting that the ANDP’s case became “stale” and “soured” before it was lodged on February 26, 2020, the Appeal Court said; “The case of the 1st Respondent was marooned in the ocean of statute bar. The cause of action had expired with the effluxion of time.
“The tribunal therefore lacked the requisite jurisdiction to entertain it. The subject matter of the petition was outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal.”
According to Justice Ogbuinya, consequently, the court made an order setting aside the Tribunal’s majority judgement which it said was “trapped in the web of nullity”, even as it upheld the minority verdict of the tribunal.
“It will smack of judicial sacrilege to allow the decision of the tribunal to stand”, the court said.
The Bayelsa Election Tribunal had, in a majority judgement of two to one on August 17, 2020, voided the outcome of the Bayelsa state governorship poll.
In their ruling, two panel members, Justices Sikiru Owodunni and Yunusa Musa, insisted there was merit in ANDP’s petition that INEC unlawfully excluded it from participating in the State gubernatorial poll.
Reading the lead judgement, Justice Musa said the tribunal was satisfied that INEC illegally excluded ANDP and its governorship candidate, King George, from the election.
But dissenting judgement by Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo, had affirmed Governor Diri’s election after he dismissed the petition for being statute-barred.
According to Justice Sirajo, there was evidence that ANDP was disqualified from the election for fielding an ineligible candidate.
He said the party nominated an underage deputy governorship candidate, who admitted that he was 34 years old, instead of the 35 years age bracket the Constitution stipulated.
Governor Diri had described the Tribunal’s majority ruling as “manifestly against the weight of evidence” while approaching the Appellate Court with his appeal.