Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
The Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, on Thursday appeared before the state’s Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja following the summons issued on him to appear with the original copy of his National Youth Service Corps discharge certificate, which he was accused of forging.
But the petitioner, Vijah Opuama, who had applied for the summons to be issued on Ewhrudjakpo, backtracked on the plan to have the deputy governor tender the disputed certificate from the witness box on Thursday.
Opuama, who contested the election on the platform of the Liberation Movement, a party deregistered by the Independent National Electoral Commission in February 2020, had in his petition accused Ewhrujakpo of forgery of a 1998 NYSC exemption certificate, which was said to have been submitted to INEC.
He asked the tribunal to disqualify Ewhrujakpo for submitting an affidavit that contained false information to the electoral body.
He also urged the tribunal to cancel the November 16, 2019 governorship election and order a fresh poll.
Following his request, the tribunal had on Tuesday summoned Ewhrujakpo to appear with the disputed certificate on Thursday.
But upon Ewhrujakpo’s arrival in court on Thursday, Opuama’s lawyer, Dande Pius, said he realised that the subpoena he applied to be issued on the deputy governor had an error.
The initial subpoena signed by the tribunal had directed Ewhrudjakpo to appear before the tribunal and tender the original copy of the disputed certificate, but the new one applied for, but rejected by the tribunal, sought to have the deputy governor summoned to answer questions over the certificate from the witness box.
“We apologise to the witness (Ewhrudjakpo) for bringing him to court on a subpoena we never intended,” Pius said, after backtracking on the plan to have the deputy governor tender the disputed certificate on Thursday.
The respondents’ lawyers, including the one representing Ewhrudjakpo, Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume (SAN), noted that the subpoena was “maliciously” applied for by the petitioner.
He asked for N5m cost to be awarded against the petitioner for the inconveniences caused his client.
The three-member panel of the tribunal led by Justice Ibrahim Sirajo frowned on the petitioner’s lawyer for what it described as an attempt to change the goal post in the middle of the match.
Justice Sirajo queried the petitioner’s decision to seek an amendment to the subpoena 29 days after filing it for signing by the tribunal.
The judge said, “Yesterday, I declined to sign the new subpoena.
“Whatever the petitioner intends to do in respect of the new subpoena, he should do so in the open court.
“It amounts to changing the goal post in the middle of a match.”
The judge accepted the apology tendered by the petitioner’s lawyer and refused to award cost against him.
The case was adjourned till June 9.
Addressing journalists outside the courtroom, Ewhrudjakpo, said he planned to take an “appropriate action” over alleged defamation he had been subjected to with the allegation of forgery leveled against him.
He said, “I waved my immunity, I drove by road, slept in Lokoja last night and came in today (Thursday). I have come here to prove to the whole world that my certificates are intact and authentic.”
Ewhrudjakpo presented to journalists the documents he referred to as the original and corrected copies of the disputed certificate and various correspondences he wrote to effect corrections of the error on the original copy.
He expressed regrets that the Department of State Service “allowed itself to be dragged into politics” for reportedly claiming that there was an alteration on the certificate.