By Ezeocha Nzeh, Myke Uzendu and Chuks Onyema – Aziken
There has been growing concerns over the recent summon by the Bayelsa Governorship Election Tribunal on the state Deputy Governor, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, to appear before it on June1, following a petition against him by governorship candidate of the Liberation Movement (LM), Vijah Opuamah
The invitation, which is in the form of subpoena duces tecum (witness summons) issued by the Chairman of the tribunal on 5th May 2020, directs Ewhrudjakpo to appear in person and tender a copy of his disputed National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate allegedly issued in 1998.
The tribunal issued the subpoena at the close of pleadings during the pre-hearing stage and upon the issuance of pre-hearing report in respect of the petition filed by the candidate of the Liberation Movement (LM) in the last governorship election in the state.
Also in a separate suit, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Benjamin Youndiowei, had dragged the Deputy Governor, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the INEC before a court, claiming that Ewhrudjakpo had issued a forged certificate to the INEC to aid his qualification as the running mate of Mr. Douye Diri, who currently is the Governor of Bayelsa State’
The petitioner alleged that Senator Ewhrudjakpo submitted forged documents and documents that contain false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 16 November 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa State.
The LM candidate also prayed the tribunal to disqualify the Governor, Senator Duoye Diri, Senator Ewhirudjakpo and their political party – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – and order for a fresh election without the disqualified PDP.
But the Deputy Governor had earlier denied the allegation, insisting that his NYSC certificate was real and issued by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which is the issuing authority
Ewhrudjakpo, who spoke through his counsel, Mr. Clement Kekemeke, in a press briefing in Abuja, explained that NYSC made a spelling error on his surname, adding that he later wrote to the NYSC, notifying it of the error and asking it to correct the mistake and reissue him one with his correct name.
He said the NYSC later corrected it and reissued him with an exemption certificate bearing his correct name.
Kekemeke said, “The position of my client is that he never forged NYSC exemption certificate.”
He admitted that there was a typographical error which he complained to the NYSC office, adding that it was corrected by the NYSC, even before he contested for the office of a deputy governor to Senator Diri Douye.
“Sometimes in 2019 preparatory to the National Assembly elections, and specifically that of Bayelsa West Senatorial District, where Senator Ewrudjakpo represented until he was sworn in as Deputy Governor; one Ibisene Afamkolo took him to the Federal High Court and commenced a suit by way of originating summons accusing him of presenting a forged NYSC Exemption Certificate.”
Kekemeke went further to argue that the matter, which began as a pre-election matter has became statue-barred, having exceeded the period of 180 days within which it ought to have been dispensed with by virtue of the provision of the 1999 Constitution.
“The next thing that followed was that truly on the certificate presented to INEC by my client in his form CS001, which is the nomination form, his surname was mis-spelt. Instead of Ewhrudjakpo, the name was mis-spelt as Ewhrudjakpa. After the matter was struck out and even though my client had earlier applied for the correction of this mis-spelt name, he was further bored by that matter by re-applying again for the issuance of a new certificate.
“He applied again, drawing the attention of the NYSC to the error on his surname and seeking a re-issuance of a correct certificate. Consequently, the NYSC responded and reissued a fresh certificate correcting our client’s name, reflecting the surname now as Ewhrudjakpo, being the issuing authority that has the loci standi to replace an erroneously issued certificate. That put the matter to rest.” Kekemeke argued, while regretting that the matter was again resurrected because of politics, much to the disappointment of all who knew the true position of things”.
Also expressing concern on the recent invitation by the Election Tribunal, a former PDP governorship aspirant in the state, Tobin Ziperedein Igiri, wondered why the Deputy Governor should be subpoenaed by the Tribunal, even when he is being protected by the Section 308 immunity clause of the Nigerian constitution
“This man is currently covered by immunity according to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I have not seen where somebody that is under immunity is summoned and is supposed to appear.
“Nigeria is actually a place where a lot of stories come up. It is only when the NYSC confirms that the NYSC certificate actually does not belong to them, is when he be given that kind of attention.
Sometimes the kind of educational system we have right now does not conform to most of the things that we do. So people should be careful when they allege certain things. But currently, the man is covered by immunity and his immunity should be respected.”
Meanwhile, all efforts to get the NYSC reaction to the deputy governors claim proved abortive as the Corps did not only refuse to pick several call put across to it but failed to reply text message that sought for its react ion on the matter