It was an eleventh hour twist of fate as Bayelsa State Governor-elect, Mr. David Lyon, who was billed to be inaugurated today, had his election nullified by the Supreme Court, Felix Nwaneri reports
There is no doubt that the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the November 16, 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa State, Mr. David Lyon, is a sad man at the moment.
He was billed to be inaugurated as governor today, but his hope was dashed yesterday by the Supreme Court, which sacked him and him and the Deputy Governor-elect, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo.
The nullification of Lyon’s election thereby brought to nullity, a week-long of activities that would have heralded APC-led government in the oil-rich Niger Delta state that prides itself as the “Glory of all Lands” after 20 years of uninterrupted rule by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
A five-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Mary Peter-Odili ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to the Lyon and Degi-Eremieoyo as winners of the November 16, 2019 governorship election in the state.
The apex court did not stop at that; it ordered INEC to issue a fresh Certificate of Return to the candidate of the party with the next highest votes and with the required constitutional spread of votes in the results of the election – Senator Douye Diri.
Lyon had defeated Diri in the keenly contested poll. The APC candidate polled 352,552 votes to defeat his PDP counterpart, who polled 143,172 votes.
Lyon won in six out of the eight local government areas of Bayelsa, while Diri won in only two local government areas. The six local government areas won by the APC are Brass; Nembe; Ogbia, Southern Ijaw, Ekeremor and Yenagoa, while the PDP won in the Sagbama and Kolokuma/Opokuma local government areas.
In Sagbama, the APC polled 7, 831 votes while the PDP scored 60,339 votes. In Nembe, APC got 83,041 votes, while the PDP polled 874 votes. In Kolouma/Opokuma, the APC scored 8,934 votes, while the PDP scored 15,360 votes. In Brass, APC got 23,831 votes, while the PDP polled 10,410 votes.
APC scored 24,607 votes in Yenagoa, while the PDP got 19,184 votes. In Ogbia, APC got 58,016 votes, while PDP polled 13,763 votes. In Southern Ijaw Local Government, the APC candidate polled 124,803 votes, while his PDP rival got 4,898 votes. Lyon also defeated Diri in Ekeremor by polling 21,489 to the PDP’s candidate’s 18,344 votes.
PDP’s objection to poll’s result
While Lyon and his party rolled out the drums then to celebrate its victory in Bayelsa State that has been a stronghold of the PDP since 1999, the PDP and its candidate vowed to turn the table against the ruling party at the courts.
The main opposition party rejected results of the poll as announced by INEC, describing it as “the biggest fraud of the century.”
The party’s National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus had shortly after the declaration of APC candidate as the winner of the election, said that his party reviewed documentary evidence, including video clips, graphic pictures, witness testimonies, manipulated results sheets, proofs of alleged compromise of INEC officials and other facts, to establish the culpability of the police and INEC in the electoral fraud.
He consequently called on the international community to place travel bans on officials of the electoral commission and Police high command for the roles they allegedly played during exercise.
His words: “The world watched with horror as killer security agents brutalized voters and carted away ballot boxes to government facilities where results were written in favour of the APC and handed to a heavily compromised INEC, which has become part of the crime, to announce.”
Seriake Dickson, who bows out today as governor of Bayelsa State and who singlehandedly anointed Diri as his party’s flag bearer for the poll, not only rejected the result announced by INEC, but tendered video evidence in support of his claims of killings and election violence that characterised the conduct of the election.
Dickson described the election as a charade and a carefully orchestrated plan to forcefully take-over Bayelsa State towards entrenching a one-party system. He condemned in its entirety, what he termed as brazen connivance of security agents, particularly officers and men of the Nigerian Army with APC thugs to hijack electoral materials in most local government areas of the state.
According to him, soldiers were deployed to Ogbia Local Government Area and other parts of the state to cart away electoral materials, thereby undermining the process in favour of the APC.
Diri, who also spoke in the same vein, declared that he was the winner of the election. He reiterated that INEC and the Nigerian Army connived with the APC to rob him and the PDP of victory. He added that results collated from the PDP situation room indicated that he defeated Lyon in all the local government areas of the state.
His words: “I am the winner of the just concluded election. I am the winner even though INEC decided to look the other way. I am not just saying that PDP is the winner, because we had a situation room and reports from our situation indicated I won the election. Based on this result, PDP and its candidate is the winner of the election.”
Dickson, who later urged Bayelsans to be calm, said “the reprehensible acts against democracy” would be addressed through democratic procedures.
His words: “As democrats, we believe in using democratic procedures in challenging what happened. In Ogbia, there was no collation done. In most of the areas, at the conclusion of voting, the soldiers came and rounded up everybody and forcibly took them to Ogbia town and asked all PDP leaders to leave to enable them replace pre-written results. So, the results announced for Ogbia, like those for Southern Ijaw and Nembe were not real.
“What has happened in Bayelsa is one of the most brazen acts of distortion and rape of our democracy. What took place was not a democratic election. It was a military coup. It was the height of conspiracy by the Federal Government and security agencies to subvert the democratic rights of our people for the sole purpose of foisting the APC on the people.
“It has never been like this before. In 2015, it wasn’t as bad as this. In this case, not only was the Army directed to take over our place, but to collude with the APC thugs to unleash terror on our people.”
Lyon’s bumpy road to the poll
Though his candidacy was backed by a former governor of the state and current Minister of Petroleum Resources, Lyon still fought a bitter battle for the APC ticket.
Despite being seen as a political neophyte, he defeated political heavyweights like Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, Desiye Nsirim, Ebitimi Amgbare and Maureen Etebu to clinch the APC’s governorship ticket with 42,138 votes, while his closest rival, Nsirim got 1,533 votes. Lokpobiri scored 571 votes, Etebu (564) and Amgbare (354votes).
Lyon’s victory at the primary election was however trailed by wrangling within the party and a legal battle over a suit filed by Lokpobiri. The former senator an ex-Minister of State for Agriculture disagreed with the outcome of the exercise, claiming that he was the authentic candidate of APC.
Lokpobiri’s suit nearly stopped Lyon from the ruling party from fielding a candidate for the election as a Federal High Court, sitting in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, on November 14, 2019 (two days to the election) declared that APC does not have a governorship candidate for the poll.
A Federal High Court in Abuja had two days before then (November 12) disqualified Lyon’s running mate, Degi-Eremienyo, from participating in the election on the grounds that he provided conflicting information on the documents he presented to INEC. The suit against Degi-Eremienyo was filed by the PDP.
APC’s saving grace was the November 15 ruling of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, which set aside the judgement of the High Court. The appellate court ordered INEC to allow Lyon and his running mate to contest the election that was billed for the following day.
Despite the legal hurdles, Lyon and his party triumphed at the election, but his party man, Lokpobiri, never gave up on his challenge of the outcome of the APC’s primary election.
Lokpobiri in exercising his constitutional right dragged Lyon up to the Supreme Court, but again, it was victory for the Governor-elect.
The former lawmaker had prayed the apex court to void the decisions of both the trial court and the appellate court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, which earlier held that his case was statute-barred and no longer has life at the time it was instituted.
According to him, the two lower courts erred in law, when they held that he ought to have filed his grievances from the date the result of the primary election was announced and not from the date his opponent’s name was submitted to the electoral body.
He specifically insisted that he won the primary election in five out of the eight local government areas in the state with a wide margin and that Lyon was illegally and unlawfully declared by APC as winner of the primary election.
But, the apex court on Tuesday, upheld Lyon’s nomination as the governorship candidate of APC for the Bayelsa State gubernatorial election.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal filed by Lokpobiri, challenging the nomination of Lyon as APC’s flag bearer for the November 16 poll.
The court, in a lead judgement delivered by Justice John Inyang Okoro, held that Lokpobiri failed to file his suit within the mandatory 14 days stipulated in the constitution.
Justice Okoro stated that the provisions of section 285(9) of the 1999 Constitution was categorical and emphatic that all political cases must be instituted within a 14-day time frame a cause of action arises.
The apex court disagreed with the appellant that the cause of action arose from September 7, 2019, when Lyon’s name was submitted by the APC to INEC as the party’s flag bearer, adding that the cause of action actually arose from September 4, 2019, when the result of the primary election was declared by the party.
This means that the appellant filed his suit 24 hours outside the time allowed by law for him to do so.
Inauguration hope dashed
With Lokpobiri’s suit dismissed by the apex court, the coast was cleared for Lyon’s inauguration, but it turned out that it was momentary relief for the Governor-elect as the same Supreme Court, in a judgement on the PDP’s appeal on the forgery case against his would-be deputy, turned the table against him.
Justice Ejembi Ekwo, who read the lead judgement, disqualified Degi-Eremienyo, as a candidate in the election for submitting forged certificates to INEC.
The court further held that Degi-Eremienyo’s disqualification infected the joint ticket with which he and the governorship candidate, Lyon, ran for and won the November 16, 2019 election.
The five-man panel maintained that on the basis of that both candidates and their party, APC, ought to have abstained from participating in the election.