By Ade Adesomoju, Punch NG
The Bayelsa Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Monday, nullified the election of Governor Duoye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct a fresh poll within 90 days.
The three-man Bayelsa tribunal, in a split decision of two to one, sacked Diri for the unlawfully exclusion of the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party and its candidate, King George, from participating in the November 16, 2019, election.
But Diri, in swift reaction, stated that he would appeal the judgment.
Earlier on Monday, two judges on the panel, Justices Yunusa Musa and Sikiru Owoduni, in upholding the petition filed by the ANDP, held that INEC lacked the power to exclude any party from an election.
But the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo, in his dissenting judgment, dismissed the petition.
Justice Sirajo held that unlawful exclusion could only arise after a party must have been lawfully nominated to participate in the election.
INEC had via a September 21, 2019, judgment rejected the deputy governorship candidate of the party, David Esinkuma, for being 34-year-old, therefore falling short of the 35 years stipulated in the constitution as the minimum age that must be attained to contest the office.
The party was said to have submitted the name of a substitute, who was also underage, and could not make a substitution until time had lapsed.
Delivering the majority judgment of the tribunal on Monday, Justice Musa ruled that INEC lacked the power to disqualify any party from an election for whatever reason.
He held that the first deputy governorship candidate was validly nominated following a valid primary election conducted by the party.
“The exclusion is void ab initio. The deputy governorship candidate stands. It is not a duty of INEC to disqualify him. It is the duty of the court. INEC cannot screen a candidate, its duty is to supervise.”
On the contention that the petitioner’s case was statute-barred having not been filed within 14 days of being notified by INEC that it would not participate in the election, Justice Musa held that the cause of action only arose after February 14, 2020, when the Supreme Court delivered the judgment that ushered in Diri as governor.
Meanwhile, in a separate judgment on Monday, the Bayelsa tribunal unanimously dismissed the petition filed by the Accord Party and its governorship candidate, Ebizimor Diriyai, who had sought the nullification of the poll on the basis that Diri’s deputy, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, altered his certificate.
The Accord Party’s petition, in addition to the three earlier dismissed on Saturday, made the fourth that were dismissed against Diri’s election.
Bayelsa tribunal: With God on my side, I’ll get justice –Gov
But Diri, said he had instructed his lawyers to file the necessary papers for the appeal.
Diri, in a statement, titled, ‘I have instructed my lawyers to appeal tribunal ruling,’ issued by his acting Chief Press Secretary, Mr Daniel Alabrah, said he had implicit confidence in the judiciary that he would triumph in the end.
He said, “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.”
No vacancy in Bayelsa Govt House –Dickson