A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday, declared that the Young Democratic Party (YDP)’s candidates were unqualified to vie for the Nov. 16, governorship election in Bayelsa.
Justice Okon Abang, in his judgment, agreed with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that Mr Omeih Ikoli Ayebanoa, who was nominated as the running mate to the party’s governorship candidate, Mr Sunny Agadabin, did not meet the statutory age requirement for the said office.
Justice Abang said that Ayebanoa, who declared in his INEC Form CF 001 that he was 34 years old, did not meet the statutory age requirement of 35 years as prescribed by sections 177 (b) and 187 (2) of the constitution to run for the office of the deputy governor.
The court further held that the purported substitution of candidates made by the party was invalid as it was done outside the Sept. 9, dateline provided by the electoral body.
The party had, in a suit, dragged INEC before the court, challenging the rejection of its candidates for the Nov. 16, governorship election in the state.
It prayed the court to, among others, declare that INEC is not entitled and empowered under the law to reject or disqualify any candidate nominated by a political party for election.
The party further urged the court to grant an order mandating INEC to recognise its candidates and accord them all the rights and privileges accrued to candidates for the forthcoming election in the state.
It asked the court to declare anything done by INEC to infringe on its right to nominate and sponsor candidates for the office of governor and deputy governor in the Nov. 6, governorship election in Bayelsa unconstitutional, null and void.
It equally prayed for a restraining order against the INEC from further rejecting, disqualifying its candidates for the poll as well as an order setting aside anything done by INEC as it affects the right of its candidates.
But in a counter affidavit filed by its counsel, Alhassan Umar, SAN, INEC Counsel argued that the electoral body did not disqualify the candidates of the plaintiff.
However, it rather drew the party’s attention to the fact that its running mate, Ayebanoa, did not meet up with the statutory age requirement of 35 years to run for the office of the deputy governor.
The Commission urged the court to determine a sole issue as to whether having regards to the provisions of Sections 177 and 187 of the 1999 Constitution, the person fielded by the plaintiff satisfied the constitutional requirement to be eligible to contest for the office of the deputy governor.
INEC stated that going by the personal particulars contained in Form CF001, submitted to the commission, Ayebanoa, who declared that he was 34 years was not qualify to contest for the office of deputy governor.
Especially going by the provisions of sections 177(b) and 187(2) of the 1999 Constitution, which prescribed an age requirement of 35 years.
The electoral body stated that the nomination of the plaintiff was invalid on account of Ayebanoa not satisfying the statutory age requirement of 35 years.
Besides, the commission argued that the purported substitution by the plaintiff on Sept. 23, was done well after the stipulated period which elapsed on Sept. 9, as contained in its time table for the Nov. 6, governorship election in the state and therefore not valid in law.
In his judgment, Justice Abang, said he had carefully studied the processes and arguments canvassed by both counsel.
“The only question to be considered is whether INEC had in any way disqualify the candidates in contesting the governorship election to enable the plaintiff rely on it?
“The answer is that INEC did not disqualify the plaintiff’s candidates. It merely informed the plaintiff that it submitted an invalid candidate based on Section 177 and 187 (2).
“It merely informed the plaintiff that the age of the running mate to the governorship candidate is below the statutory requirement.
“The case has nothing to do with Section 31 of the Electoral Act, 2010, so the Supreme Court’s decision in Action Congress Vs INEC relied upon by the plaintiff’s counsel does not apply””.
“Ayebanoa did not supply false information in his form CF 001 where he declared his age as 34 years, which is below the statutory age of 35 years.
“Since it is a joint ticket, once the running mate is not qualified to contest, it will certainly affect that of the principal candidate. It is immaterial if the governorship candidate meet the requirements of the law”.
“By the combined provisions of Sections 177(b) and 187, the running mate must meet same qualification as that of the principal candidate. Therefore, he must satisfy the requirements of the law which is 35 years and not 34 years”.
“I hold that YDP did not present a validly nominated candidate as at the close of nomination on Sept. 9. Since it is a joint ticket, it will invariably affect the principal candidate, that is to say, the governorship candidate. I hold that YDP has no valid deputy governorship candidate, having submitted an invalid candidate”.
“A person seeking election for the governorship position is not qualified unless he nominates a deputy candidate under Section 177(1).
“Where the running mate is not qualified, it will affect the principal candidate since it is a joint ticket.
The court further held that the party did not have a valid substitution having submitted an invalid nomination.
“Since this nomination was void and a nulity, the purported withdrawal and substitution was a nulity. There must be a valid nomination of a candidate before there can be a valid substitution”.
“It is not INEC that disqualified the candidates, rather, the nomination did not meet the constitutional requirements. The role played by INEC was just to inform the plaintiff of its invalid nomination,’’ he said.
Justice Abang held that “there was no voluntary withdrawal of its candidates, but it was self-inflicted.
The judge, therefore, dismissed the suit for lacking in merit with a cost of N100, 000 against the plaintiffs in favour of INEC. (NAN)