The Governor of Bayelsa State, Diri Douye, has challenged the judgement of the state’s governorship election petition tribunal, which ordered his removal from office.
In its judgement on Monday, the tribunal sacked the Bayelsa governor on the ground that Nigeria’s electoral body, INEC, illegally disqualified the candidate of the Advanced National Democratic Party (ANDP), Lucky King-George, from participating in the November 16 governorship election.
However, INEC, in its defence before the three-member panel of justices of the state tribunal, argued that the ANDP candidate was not properly nominated while his initial deputy governorship candidate, David Esinkuma, was 34 years of age, a year shorter than the constitutionally mandated age for the position.
The panel, in a split judgement read by Justice Yunusa Musa, on Monday upheld the ANDP’s petition, declared INEC’s decision as unlawful, and ordered that a fresh governorship election be conducted in the state within the next 90 days.
Meanwhile, unlike two members of the panel – Sikiru Owodunni and Yunusa Musa – who found merit in ANDP’s petition, Ibrahim Sirajo, who headed the panel, in a dissenting judgement posited that the latter’s petition should be dismissed since it fielded an illegible candidate.
Leveraging on Mr Sirajo’s dissenting judgement, Mr Diri’s counsel on Tuesday, in a Notice of Appeal sighted by Vanguard Newspaper, asked the appellate court to set aside the tribunal’s judgement that sacked its client.
Mr Diri’s counsel, reported to be led by Chris Uche, noted 12 reasons (errors) in the previous judgement and urged the appellate court 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.”
In their arguments contained in notice of appeal, counsel-led said the ANDP petition was not against the declaration of results but on the election which the party had 21 days since it realised that INEC unlawfully excluded its name from 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,” Mr Diri’s counsels said, according to the details published by Vanguard.
The counsel further argued that ANDP is statute-barred as it breached 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.
“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.”
Also in defence of the INEC, Mr Diri’s counsel further argued that the electoral body did the right by not shutting its eyes to the inconsistencies in the ANDP’s candidates information 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 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.” the counsels noted as they further argued that the majority judgement was defensive rather than the available evidence.
“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 judgement.
“The said majority judgement is manifestly against the weight of evidence. Further grounds of appeal shall be filed upon receipt of the records of proceeding,” Vanguard newspaper quoted Mr Uche-led counsel to have written.