The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, on Friday, nullified the tribunal judgment that sacked Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State and ordered fresh election in the state.
In a unanimous judgement by a five-man panel of Justices led by Justice Adzira Gana Mshella, the appellate court held that the majority verdict of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that invalidated Diri’s election was “perverse” and “contemptuous of the law”.
Justice Obande Festus Ogbuinya who read the lead judgement of the appellate court held that the tribunal wrongfully evaluated the petition the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party, ANDP, filed to challenge its alleged unlawfully exclusion from the governoship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The appellate court said there was enough evidence to prove that ANDP nominated underaged candidates for the election, in breach of sections 177, 182 and 187 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. Besides, it held that the petition ANDP filed before the tribunal was not only statute-barred, but equally a pre-election matter that was outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
It noted that 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.
The appellate court held that the case of ANDP had become “stale” and “soured” before it lodged he petition on February 26.
“The case of the 1st Respondent was marooned in the ocean of statute bar. The cause of action had expired with the fusion of time. The tribunal therefore lacked the requisite jurisdiction to entertain it. The subject matter if the petition was outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal”, Justice Ogbuinya held. Consequently, the appellate court made an order that set aside the majority judgement of the tribunal 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 appellate court added. It will be recalled that the tribunal had on August 17, in a majority judgement by two out of the three-man panel of Justices, voided the outcome of the Bayelsa state gubernatorial election.
Two members of the panel, Justices Sikiru Owodunni and Yunusa Musa, said they found merit in ANDP’s contention that it was unlawfully excluded from participating in the governorship election by INEC.
Justice Musa who read the lead judgement held that the tribunal was satisfied that INEC illegally excluded ANDP and its governorship candidate, King George, from the election.
However, in a dissenting judgement, Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo, affirmed governor Diri’s election after he dismissed the petition for being statute-barred.
Justice Sirajo said there was evidence that ANDP was disqualified from the election for fielding an ineligible candidate.
He noted that the party nominated an underaged deputy governorship candidate, who admitted that he was 34 years old, instead of the 35 years age bracket the Constitution stipulated.
In his appeal, governor Diri insisted that the majority judgment of the tribunal was “manifestly against the weight of evidence”.