Bayelsa Guber: Court fixes September 23 to hear Diri’s appeal against sack …strikes out joinder application by factional leaders of ANDP

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The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, on Monday, fixed September 23 to hear the appeal Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State filed to challenge the tribunal judgement that sacked him from office and ordered the Independence National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct a fresh election in the state within 90 days.

The appellate court okayed the appeal for hearing on a day it struck out an application that factional leaders of the Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party, ANDP, brought to be joined as interested parties in the matter.

It will be recalled that the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal had in a majority judgement by two out of the three-man panel of Justices, on August 17, voided the outcome of the gubernatorial election that held in the state on November 16, 2019, over the exclusion of ANDP in the contest.

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, despite the fact that it fulfilled all the statutory requirements.

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.

Meanwhile, shortly after the judgement, a faction of the ANDP, disowned the petition that led to the judgement that sacked governor Diri.

Factional leaders of the party, led by their Chairman, Hon. James Pere Femowei and National Secretary, Hon. Quadri-Adu Kehinde, insisted that the petition was unilaterally filed against Diri by its expelled former National Chairman, Chief Charles Ogboli.

Consequently, the faction, approached the appellate court to be joined in the case to enable them to establish that the substantive petition was incompetent.

When the matter came up on Monday, the Applicants, through their lawyer, Mr Dominic Anyiador, urged the appellate court to admit them in the case, claiming that they are the authentic leaders of the ANDP.

The Applicants told the court that they were unaware of the petition that was filed in the name of the party until the day the tribunal gave judgement against governor Diri.

They disclosed that the party did not conduct any primary election or fielded candidates for the governorship election, but rather adopted Diri and his deputy Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo as their preferred candidates in the poll.

They also claimed that Charles Ogboli, who identified himself as the National Chairman of the party in the petition, was expelled from the party in 2018.

Their application was opposed by counsel to the Ogboli-led faction of the ANDP, Mr Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN, who maintained that they could not be joined as interested parties at the Court of Appeal since they were not part of the case at the tribunal.

Besides, Ogunwumiju, SAN, noted that issues the Applicants raised before the court bordered on domestic affair of a political party which the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain.

In a short ruling, a three-man panel of Justices of the appellate court led by Justice Stephen Adah, dismissed the joinder application for want of merit.

Justice Adah held that the application was “irrelevant, prejudicial and a waste of judicial time”.

The appellate court therefore awarded a punitive cost of N200,000 against the Applicants, in favour of each of the Respondents in the matter.

It slated September 23 to hear all pending motions in the appeal, as well as to consider an application by governor Diri’s lawyer, Mr Goddy Uche, SAN, for the consolidation of five separate appeals that arose from judgement of the tribunal.

Governor Diri had in a 12-ground of Appeal he filed on August 18, urged the appellate court to set aside the majority judgement of the tribunal and uphold the minority decision that affirmed his election.

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