A Lagos-based legal practitioner, Mr David Babalola, has said the sitting of the Bayelsa State Election Petition Tribunal is an affront on the ruling of the Supreme Court which determined the governorship of the state.
The apex court on February 13th had declared Douye Diri of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and his running mate, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, as the duly elected governor and deputy governor respectively.
This followed the disqualification by the Supreme Court of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, David Lyon, and running mate, Biobarakumo Degi-Eremienyo, over the latter’s falsification of his name on the documents submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Mr Babalola, who spoke to journalists to Lagos, argued that it was unconstitutional for the Bayelsa Deputy Governor to personally waive his immunity from the trial in order to appear before the election tribunal.
He faulted the rationale behind the tribunal inviting Ewhrudjakpo to answer allegations bordering on his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate.
‘I recall that the Supreme Court in disqualifying the APC candidates in the last governorship election clearly stated that only the issuing authority of any certificate can alter or make any correction on the certificate. In this instance, the issuing authority, which is the NYSC, had admitted at the tribunal that it misspelt the deputy governor’s name and at the latter’s instance had gone ahead to effect the correction.
‘This fact was what the DSS relied upon in its testimony before the tribunal to clear Senator Ewhrudjakpo of any wrongdoing.’
The legal practitioner said legally there is no duly constituted tribunal for Bayelsa in respect of the November 16, 2019 governorship election.
‘By law, the constitutional six months for filing and determination of the election had elapsed. See Section 285(6) of the 1999 constitution as amended. 180 days is the lifespan of any election tribunal from the date of filing the petition. Sub-section 5 of Section 285 says the petition must be filed within 21 days from the date of declaration of the result.
‘How can there be a valid petition against the current holders of the office of governor and deputy governor of Bayelsa State in the light of the above?’
He reasoned that the Court of Appeal cannot by any stretch of the imagination constitute an election petition tribunal for Bayelsa when same had since been extinguished by virtue of the fact of parties.
Babalola further stated that the allegation of fake NYSC exemption certificate against Ewhrudjakpo was no longer tenable as it ‘is no longer a live issue being a pre-election matter, which by Section 285(9) ought to have been litigated within 14 days of the occurrence of the event.’
He cited the Supreme Court pronouncement on Atiku vs Buhari where it stated that the issue of qualification is a pre-election matter.
Babalola maintained that by the authority of the Supreme Court’s pronouncement, the election tribunal ‘is completely robbed of jurisdiction to entertain the claim.’
The legal practitioner was insisted that the deputy governor cannot waive his immunity to appear before the tribunal, adding that no court can compel his appearance.
‘The only way such immunity can be waived is only when he resigns from office. There cannot be a deputy governor in abeyance. For the avoidance of doubt, see Section 308 of the 1999 constitution as amended,’ he said.