Tribunal upholds Diri, Ewhirudjakpo’s election in Bayelsa

Governor Duoyo Diri and his Deputy, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo’s elections were on Saturday upheld by the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.
The three-man ruled that the duo were qualified to contest the election, saying that the petitioners failed to prove their claims, among which was that the Deputy Governor altered his declaration of age and National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate.
The petitions were filed by the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Owei Woniwei; the United Peoples Congress (UPC) and Ibiene Stephen, and Vijah Opuama of the Liberation Movement Party.
The petitioners had claimed that the Governor and his Deputy lacked the requisite statutory qualifications to contest the election.
The tribunal, led by Justice Ibrahim Sirajo, dismissed the petitions for lacking in merit.
Justice Sikiru Owodunni, in the lead judgment in the petition by the AD and Woniwei, held the petitioners failed to prove the allegation of forgery against Ewhrudjakpo beyond reasonable doubt.
Justice Owodunni upheld the objections by the Diri, Ewhrudjakpo, and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in holding that the petition lacked merit and constituted “unnecessary waste of time of the court.”
Justice Yinusa Musa, who read the lead judgment in the petition by UPC, was of the view that the petition, which raised some pre-election issues, was filed outside the statutory period required by law and therefore statute barred.
Justice Musa said: “The petition is statute barred having not been filed within the statutory period as required by section 285 (9) of the 1999 constitution (4th alteration) and therefore, the tribunal lacked jurisdiction to entertain the petition.”
On the petitioners’ claim that Diri and Ewhrudjakpo were unqualified, Justice Musa held that none of the witnesses called by the petitioners “proved the non-qualification of the second and third respondents.”
On the claim that Ewhrudjakpo altered his NYSC certificate, the judge held that “the NYSC certificate is not a requirement to contest any election.”
Justice Musa noted that forgery allegation is criminal in nature and must be proved beyond reasonable doubts and the petitioners failed to discharge this burden.
He said: “The petitioners, who made the allegations has failed to prove as required by law and the evidence of all the witnesses he called were neither here nor there.
“The petition lacked merit and is hereby dismissed with a cost of N200,0000 is awarded in favour of each of the respondents.
In the lead judgment in the petition by Opuama, Justice Sirajo noted that some grounds of the petition bordered substantially on pre-election issues, on which election tribunal no jurisdiction.
Justice Sirajo held that grounds 1 and 2 of the petition were within the ambit of pre-election matters and the venue for ventilating such issues is either the Federal High Court or the High Court of the state.
He said, although the petitioner possessed the locus standi (the legal right to approach the tribunal) to file the petition, he failed to prove the allegations contained therein.
Justice Sirajo held that the petitioner failed to call relevant authorities, including the Rivers State University of Science and Technology and the NYSC to give evidence as to the authenticity or otherwise of Ewhrudjakpo’s degree and NYSC certificate.
He said: “There is no evidence before the tribunal to support the allegations. In proving the case of forgery, the body or issuing authorities has the exclusive power to prove allegations of forgery.
“The refusal of the petitioner to call those relevant bodies to give evidence was fatal to his case.
“On the whole, the petition lacks merit and it is hereby dismissed. The 3rd and 4th respondents were validly elected by majority votes as the governor and deputy governor of Bayesla State.”

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