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Bayelsa election: Drama as petitioner withdraws certificate forgery allegations against deputy gov

There was mild drama ensued Thursday at the Bayelsa State Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, when the petitioner and gubernatorial candidate of the Liberation Movement (LM) in the November 16, 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa, Vijah Opuama, declined to question the deputy governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo on certificate forgery.

Immediately the deputy governor’s appearance was announced to the tribunal, counsel to the petitioner, Pious Dande, got up and announced that he was no longer needed as a witness of the petitioner.

He withdrew the subpoena upon which the deputy governor was ordered to appear before the tribunal.

According to the petitioner, he no longer needed Ewhrudjakpo to testify for him as a witness before the tribunal.

“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,” he said.

“I equally apologise to the inner bar and indeed the bench as no human is above error.”

The deputy governor appearance was in response to a subpoena order on him by the tribunal to appear Thursday to present the original of his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate.

Responding, Governor Douye Diri’s lawyer, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), expressed disappointment at the withdrawal, describing the development as “a deliberate act of disrespect and the highest form of abuse of court process”.

Uche noted that the petitioner had on two occasions refused to proceed with the trial on grounds that the deputy governor “must come here in person, to testify as the petitioner’s witness.”

Uche added that despite the ban on interstate travels and local flights, “the petitioners subjected the deputy governor to this serious ordeal and exposure to risk and hardship.”

Ewhrudjakpo’s lawyer, Chief Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume (SAN), on his part prayed the tribunal to compel the petitioner to proceed to question the deputy governor on his allegations.

In the alternative, the senior lawyer asked the court to award a consequential cost of N5m against the petitioners.

In a short ruling, chairman of the three man panel, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo held that “the tribunal cannot dictate to a party how to conduct his case”, and dismissed the subpoena application without cost.

Opuama, is challenging Ewhrudjakpo’s qualification to stand in the Bayelsa State governorship election, on the ground that the deputy governor submitted a forged exemption certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the election.

The tribunal had, in a supheona on Tuesday ordered the state’s Deputy Governor to appear before it on Thursday to produce the original copy of his disputed certificate, following an application to that effect by the petitioner.

Although the deputy governor initially challenged the subpoena application through a motion but however changed his mind and presented himself in obedience to the order of the tribunal.

When the matter was called on Thursday, Ewhrudjakpo was in court and indicated his readiness to testify.

However, in an unexpected turn, the petitioner’s lawyer, Mr Pius Dande informed the tribunal of his client’s intentions to withdraw the subpoena.

According to Dande, there is an error on the face of the subpoena.

He said the subpoena was intended for the deputy governor to tender document and not bring him to court.

Dande said he has filed an application before the tribunal seeking to correct the error but Mohammed Sirajo, who led the three-man tribunal refused to grant the application.

Following the refusal of this request by the tribunal, Dande then made an oral application to withdraw the subpoena.

The matter has been adjourned till June 9 for cross examination of the second petitioner’s witness, Vije Okuwa

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