By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Chairman of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo, has distanced himself from majority judgement of the tribunal that nullified the election of Governor Duoye Diri.
Justice Sirajo, who delivered a dissenting judgement shortly after two other Justices on the three-member panel tribunal ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to within 90 days, conduct a fresh poll in Bayelsa State, affirmed governor Diri’s election.
The two other members of the panel, Justices Owei Woniwei and Yunusa Musa had in their decisions, voided the outcome of the election that held in the state on November 16, 2019, over the exclusion of one of the registered political parties, Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party, ANDP, in the contest.
ANDP had in a petition it lodged before the tribunal, contended that it was unlawfully excluded from participating in the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, despite the fact that it fulfilled all the statutory requirements.
Justices Owei Woniwei and Yunusa Musa, in their majority judgement, agreed that INEC illegally excluded ANDP and its governorship candidate, King George, from the election.
However, disagreeing with the verdict, the tribunal Chairman, 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.
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Justice Sirajo said there was evidence that the party failed to substitute the candidate till the statutory window for such substitution elapsed.
He noted that Exhibit P8 before the tribunal was a letter that INEC wrote to the party on September 21, 2019, wherein it notified ANDP that the period for substitution of candidates had expired.
According to the Justice Sirajo, what the petitioners brought before the tribunal was a pre-election case since INEC’s decision that disqualified its candidates occurred before the actual election held on November 16, 2019.
He held that under section 285(9) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the party, ought to have within 14 days after it got the notification from INEC, gone to a Federal High Court to challenge it.
The tribunal chairman held that failure of the party to do so made its petition against governor Diri’s election, statute-barred.
Besides, Justice Sirajo held that section 138(1) (d) of the Electoral Act provided grounds upon which an election could be challenged at the tribunal, vis-a-vis section 285(14) of the Constitution which defined disqualification of the candidate by INEC as a pre-election matter.
He held that since the Constitution is superior to the Electoral Act, it takes preeminence.
He held that the disqualification of ANDP by INEC was not unconstitutional because it nominated an underaged candidate.
The Judge stressed that since the disqualified candidate did not meet the constitutional requirement, he was therefore not a valid candidate that could claim right of exclusion.
He held that a political party must have a valid nomination before the issue of exclusion could arise.
Consequently, Justice Sirajo dismissed the petition as lacking in merit, even as he upheld the election of governor Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.