Petitioner on Altered certificate withdraws on sighting Bayelsa Deputy Gov

It was an anti-climax on Thursday before the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Tribunal in Abuja as a petitioner suddenly changed his mind at the presence of Deputy Governor, Senator Lawrence Oborawharievwo Ewhrudjakpo, whom he requested as a witness.

The tribunal had issued a subpoena on Ewhrudjakpo at the instance of the candidate of the Liberation Movement (LM)  in the November 16, 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa, Vijah Opuama, who is challenging  Ewhrudjakpo’s qualification to stand for the election.

He alleged that he (Ewhrudjakpo) submitted a forged exemption certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the election.

On Tuesday, the tribunal ordered Ewhrudjakpo appearance after his lawyer,Chukwuma Machukwu Ume (SAN) withdrew his earlier application, challenging the propriety of the subpoena and indicated that his client would appear before the tribunal.

At the mention of the case, the court was informed about Ewhrudjakpo’s presence in response to the subpoena served on him.

But, before the Deputy Governor could be invited to the witness box, petitioner’s lawyer (at whose instance the subpoena was issued) Pius Danba Pius said he noticed an error in the subpoena and wished to withdraw it.

Pius noted that the subpoena was intended for the Deputy Governor to only tender document but not to attend court and give evidence.

The petitioner’s lawyer said he has filed a fresh application seeking to correct the error.

He said: “I would like to apologise to the witness for bringing him all the way from Yenagoa to court on a subpoena that was never intended.

“I equally apologise to the Inner Bar and indeed, the Bench, as no human is above error.”

Responding, lawyer to Governor Douye Diri,  Chris Uche (SAN) expressed disappointment at the turn of event.

He described the development as “a deliberate act of disrespect and the highest form of abuse of court process.”

Uche said the petitioner had, on two occasions, refused to proceed with the case the on grounds that the Deputy Governor “must come here in person, to testify as the petitioner’s witness.”

Uche noted that despite the restriction inter-state movement and local flights, “the petitioner subjected the Deputy Governor to this serious ordeal and exposure to risk and hardship.”

Lawyer to Ewhrudjakpo, Ume prayed the tribunal to compel the petitioner to proceed to question the deputy governor on his allegations.

Ume said, in the alternative, the tribunal show award N5 million cost  against the petitioners.

Ruling, the tribunal’s Chairman, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo said: “the tribunal cannot dictate to a party how to conduct his/her case.”

Justice Sirajo proceeded dismissed the subpoena and rejected the request by Ewhrudjakpo’s lawyer for cost.

The petitioner later took the witness stand, gave oral evidence and tendered documents in support of his case.

Lawyers to the respondents indicated their intention to cross-examine him on a later date on the grounds that they did not prepare for him.

At the conclusion of Opuama’s testimony, the tribunal’s Chairman adjourned till June 9 for continuation of hearing.

While exiting the tribunal’s sitting venue, Ewhrudjakpo spoke with journalists and described the petition as,among others, an attempt to embarrass him.

When asked about his experience before the tribunal, Ewhrudjakpo said: “You don’t need to tell a deaf that the market is closed.

“What has just played out is that there are some persons in this country that should be respected, people like us, who don’t( have skeleton in our cupboard, but are being painted black, because some people have access to the media.

“That is why I waived my immunity, I drove by road, slept in Lokoja last night and in today. One miscreant feels he can malign me.

“I have come here to prove to the whole world that my certificates are intact, authentic; I have never altered any documents. And, I will take the appropriate actions as far as this issues are concerned, because defamation has come into this issue,maligning has come into this issue, label has come into this issue.

“You don’t expect Deputy Governor to leave his state, to come hear and, only for you to get a rethink. This shows that the petition, like I have always said, is frivolous; it is not only deceitful, it is being sponsored by some persons, who don’t want Bayelsa to progress.

“Otherwise, there was no basis for this petition. NYSC exception is not a qualification to contest election in Nigeria. The requirements for contesting election is very clear.

“So, of what use is the NYSC exception certificate, that has become a major issue in the press and sensation?

“I am here today to tender the original copy of the certificate that they claimed was forged,” he said, and proceeded to  reach into a file he had with him, fetched a document, he said, was the original copy of the exemption certificate.

The Deputy Governor also brought out another document, he said, was a copy of the letter he wrote to the NYSC, requesting for an alteration in his name.

He denied altering his certificate and expressed displeasure about the report issued on the case by the DSS

He added: “It is unfortunate that an agency like the DSS is allowing itself to be dragged into politics. It is very, very unfortunate. When the time comes, we will take the appropriate action. But glory be to God that prosperity has vindicated us that we didn’t forge anything.”

When asked if he will sue for defamation, the Deputy Governor said he will await the conclusion of the case.

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