Bayelsa State Deputy Governor Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo has queried the competence of a petition challenging his qualification to contest the November 16, 2019 governorship election in the state.
The governorship candidate of the Liberation Movement (LM) in the election, Vijah Opuama, filed the petition before the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which now sits in Abuja.
Opuama alleged among others, that there were discrepancies in Ewhrudjakpo’s name on the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate that he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the election.
But Ewhrudjakpo denied the allegation. He explained, while testifying before the tribunal, and through his witnesses who came from NYSC and his alma mater, that NYSC wrongly spelt his surname, but had it corrected when he saw the error and wrote to demand that it be rectified.
At the adoption of parties’ final written addresses on July 20 this year, Ewhrudjakpo’s lawyer, Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume (SAN), prayed the tribunal to dismiss the petition for lacking in merit and that it was statute-barred.
Ume argued that Ewhrudjakpo, as a Deputy Governor, cannot be sued in an election case because the law did not provide that a Deputy Governor can sue in an electoral dispute.
He further argued that Section 137(1)(a) and (b) of the Electoral Act “clearly specified that only a candidate in an election and a political party which participated in the election can lodge a petition,” and that sub-section (2) states that a “person whose election is complained of is referred to as the respondent.”
Ume contended that, by the provisions of the Electoral Act, his client cannot institute an election petition and as such, he (Ewhrudjakpo) could not be sued in that regard.
He likened Ewhrudjakpo’s situation to that of an underage person, who can neither vote nor be voted for in an election.
Ume drew the tribunal’s attention to the grounds of the petition, bordering on his client’s credentials and argued that it is a pre-election issue, which is now statute-barred going by the provisions of Section 31 Paragraph (1), (5) and (6) of the Electoral Act 2010.
Referring to the Electoral Act 2010, Ume said, “Any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a candidate in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate is false may file a suit at the Federal High Court, High Court of a State or FCT against such person seeking a declaration that the information contained in the affidavit is false.
“If the court determines that any of the information contained in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate is false, the court shall issue an order disqualifying him from contesting the election.”
Ume distinguished the case of the Deputy Governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Bayelsa State, who was disqualified on account of discrepancies in the name on his certificate, from that of his client.
He argued that the Supreme Court judgment, which nullified the election of the Bayelsa State APC governorship candidate, based on a pre-election suit lodged at the Federal High Court in Abuja, had further exposed the irredeemable flaws in Opuama’s petition.
Ume contended that the petitioner shot himself in the foot by citing the apex court’s judgement delivered on February 13, 2020 in a case instituted at the trial court in compliance with Section 285(9) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, which says a pre-election matter must be filed within 14 days after the particulars of a candidate contained in Form CF001 is published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and not after the conduct of the election by the electoral umpire (INEC).
Opuama, through his lawyer, gave counter arguments and insisted that he supplied sufficient evidence and materials to prove his case.
He prayed the court to uphold his petition and disqualify Ewhrudjakpo.
At the conclusion of parties’ arguments, the three-man tribunal led by Justice Ibrahm Sirajo adjourned for judgment.
Justice Sirajo said parties would be notified later about the date fixed for judgment.