The Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo appeared before the state’s electoral petition tribunal sitting in Abuja to defend the allegations of certificate forgery brought against him in respect of last year governorship election.
His appearance was in response to a subpoena order on him by the tribunal to appear on Thursday to present the original of his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate.
But in a dramatic turn of event that unfolded, the petitioner and gubernatorial candidate of the Liberation Movement (LM) in the November 16, 2019 governorship election, Mr Vijah Opuama declined to question the deputy on the certificate forgery accusation.
Immediately the deputy governor”s appearance was announced to the tribunal, counsel to the petitioner Mr Pious Dande got up and announced that the deputy governor 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.”
Responding, Governor Douye Diri’s lawyer, Chief Chris Uche SAN, expressed disappointment, 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 N5 million 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.
The petitioner’s lawyer after informing the tribunal of his client’s intentions to withdraw the subpoena added that there was 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.
It was after the refusal of this request by the tribunal that Dande then made an oral application to withdraw the subpoena.
Speaking to journalists after the court session, Ewhrudjakpo described the petitioner as one with intents to malign him.
“There are some persons in this country that should be respected, and that is people like us who don’t have any skeleton in our cupboard,” he said.
He disclosed that he had to wave his immunity, drove by road and slept in Lokoja last night so as to make it in court today.
“I have come here to prove to the whole world that my certificates are intact, authentic and I have never altered any document 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, libel has come into this issue.
“You don’t expect a deputy governor to leave his state to come here only for you to have a rethink. This shows that the petition as we have always maintained is not only frivolous, deceitful, but it is being sponsored by some persons who don’t want Bayelsa to progress.”
The deputy governor, who said he was ready to show to the court the original copy of his exemption certificate as issued to him by the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC), said he never forged nor faked any of his certificates.
The matter has been adjourned till June 9 for cross examination of the second petitioner’s witness, Mr Vije Okuwa