By Igho Akeregha, Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Adamu Abuh, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Matthew Ogune (Abuja), Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt) and Michael Egbejule (Benin)
•APC will reverse verdict, Oshiomhole declares
•Wike wants him cautioned over comment
•PDP hails decision, insists on review of Imo’s case
•INEC awaits enrolled court order for compliance
A day to the official inauguration of Mr. David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as Bayelsa State governor, the Supreme Court yesterday voided his victory at the poll.
In a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Ejembi Eko, the apex court nullified the nomination and participation of Lyon and his running mate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eriemienyo, in the November 16, 2019 governorship election.
The court held that the running mate to the governor-elect, Degi-Eriemienyo forged a certificate to secure clearance for the APC deputy governorship ticket.
Justice Eko, in the judgment that was delivered in less than one hour, maintained that it was established from the documents submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that the deputy governor-elect committed perjury by “chameliously and fraudulently using different names as it suits him.”
According to the court, the deputy governor-elect and his political party, APC, did not dispute the fact deposed to by the appellant that the multiple names were clearly and fraudulently used in the form CF001 submitted to the electoral body.
Justice Eko revealed that different names were used on the primary school leaving certificate, General Certificate of Education (GCE), first degree, National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) discharge certificate and the master’s degree certificate.
The court added that the deputy governor-elect did not approach lawful authorities to correct the multiple names on his certificates.
The apex court further held that an affidavit of regularisation of names purportedly done by the governor-elect and published in the Chronicle newspaper was a futile attempt to justify the multiplicity of names submitted to INEC.
The court, therefore, came to the conclusion that the primary school certificate obtained in 1976, GCE, 1984, first degree, 1990 and others were products of forgery and that the deputy governor-elect violated Section 182 of the 1999 Constitution.
Justice Eko consequently upheld the judgment of Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, that the case of forgery had been established going by the documents presented by Degi-Eremienyo with various names.
The judgment of the Court of Appeal which held that a case of forgery was not established against Degi-Eremienyo was set aside for being pervasive.
The court also voided the joint ticket of David Lyon and his running mate, while it set aside their participation in the November 2019 Bayelsa governorship election.
Justice Eko ordered that the certificate of returns already issued the governor-elect by INEC be withdrawn immediately and that a fresh one be issued to the candidate who scored the second highest number of lawful votes with geographical spread and with requisite qualification.
In the judgment earlier delivered at the lower court, Justice Ekwo held that Degi-Eremienyo gave false information in relation to his educational qualifications and went ahead to depose to an affidavit to correct the discrepancies. The judge held that all his documents bore different names.
But not satisfied with the verdict, APC and his candidate appealed the judgment at the Court of Appeal.
In the judgment delivered by a three-man panel chaired by Justice Stephen Adah, the Appeal Court held that the lower court erred in law and in breach of the appellant’s right to a fair hearing.
According to him, the case which was brought under Section 36 of the Electoral Act is criminal in nature and the respondents in the case ought to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Degi-Eremienyo gave false information in his form C001 submitted to the INEC as part of his qualifications to contest the election.
The appellant court further held, then, that more so, the lawmaker submitted an affidavit sworn to court to prove that the names Adeyi-Eremienyo on his school-leaving certificate is one and the same as Degi-Eremienyo on his GCE certificate and newspaper cuttings announcing to the whole world a change in name and same was not challenged by the respondents in the lower court, as such the findings of the lower court were erroneous.
The trial judge concluded by saying: “I agree with the appellant that the owner of the school leaving certificate and the GCE certificate are one and the same, and I therefore set aside the judgment of the court below.”
And dissatisfied with the position of the appellate court, PDP, Diri and his deputy approached the apex court, asking it to set aside the Court of Appeal judgment. And as applied, the court upheld the appeal.
With yesterday’s judgment, the governorship candidate of the PDP who scored the second highest number of lawful votes, and with wide geographical spread, is expected to be sworn in as the next governor of Bayelsa State.
But in a swift reaction, the APC faulted the decision by the ruling of the Supreme Court.
The party’s national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, who briefed reporters at the national secretariat in Abuja, described the decision of the apex court as unjust
Reiterating the party’s abiding confidence in the judiciary, he assured the APC faithful that the party would explore all legal means available to overturn the decision.
Oshiomhole argued that “as things stand, Diri Douye cannot be sworn in since he did not meet the one quarter of votes cast in two thirds of the eighth local councils of Bayelsa State.”
He expressed confidence that Lyon would still be sworn in as the governor in line with the wishes and aspiration of the electorate in Bayelsa.
“As a political party, we respect the rule and we respect and have confidence in the judiciary. However, this judgement lacks the fruits of justice. For me, and our party, at the heart of election is the issue of who did the people actually voted for.
“Is there a case of impersonation on the part of the deputy governor-elect? Is there any other person who has come out to claim that name as to raise doubt as to whether this is the deputy governor-elect dually elected along with the governor during the Bayelsa governorship election?
“Where justice and democracy thrive on the alter of technicalities, it constitute danger to our democracy. Nobody has raised issues whether David Lyon and his running mates won overwhelming majority,” APC stated.
“Issues of whether a chieftaincy title is part of a name or not could not be a reason to dismiss the wishes of the great people of Bayelsa State who reposed absolute confidence in the election of Lyon and his running mate during the last governorship election.
“It is not a state secret. If as the Supreme Court has ruled, Lyon cannot be sworn in as governor and that the person who has the highest number of vote and spread be sworn in, it simply means that from tomorrow, there will be no government in Bayelsa State.
“As far as we know, the next candidate who happens to be a PDP candidate does not have one quarter of the total lawful votes cast in that election in two thirds of the eight local government areas in Bayelsa State.
“Therefore, from the facts available to us and in due consultation with our lawyers, it is clear that no candidate meets the requirements of the Supreme Court which means no one can be sworn in legally tomorrow, unless there is a deliberate attempt to abuse the legal process.
“We have accordingly asked our lawyers to look at all the windows that exist in law and take steps to ensure that the will of the people of Bayesla State is not undermined on the alter of technicalities.”
The PDP said it welcomed the judgment, but insisted that the apex court must right the wrongs in the Imo State governorship election judgment.
The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the Bayelsa judgment would not change the course of its demand that the Supreme Court should rectify “the manifest and widely rejected mistakes contained in its judgment on the Imo state governorship election.
“Our party insists that the Supreme Court will be redeeming its image and restoring public confidence in its infallibility by reviewing the Imo verdict given the manifold unjustifiable mistakes contained in that judgment.”
The opposition party restated that “the miscarriage of justice in the Imo State judgment is glaring given the established fact that the panel assumed the roles of INEC, by recognising the votes concocted by the APC and Senator Hope Uzodimma, which ended up increasing the total number of votes in the election to 950,952, over and above the INEC certified total accredited votes of 823,743.”
The party continued: “In another miscarriage of justice, the Supreme Court panel named Uzodimma/APC as winner whereas it had on December 20, 2019 ruled that Uche Nwosu, and not Uzodimma, won the APC governorship primary.
“The Supreme Court had also disqualified Uche Nwosu from the election for having acquired the governorship ticket of two political parties; the APC and the Action Alliance (AA), an aberration to the electoral laws.”
The PDP held that “a judicial review on Imo governorship election has become inevitable because by these earlier rulings of the Supreme Court, not only is Uzodimma not a candidate, the judgments also nullified all the votes that could have been accruable to APC and AA and their candidate, Uche Nwosu, in the election, leaving the PDP candidate, Emeka Ihedioha, as the incontestable winner of the election.”
PDP leaders, including Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, his Delta State counterpart, Ifeanyi Okowa, and former presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, congratulated the party on the Supreme Court ruling.
Wike denounced Oshiomhole’s comment that nobody would be sworn into office as governor of Bayelsa State. He said it was imperative that the Federal Government caution Oshiomhole to stop making inflammatory remarks capable of destabilising the country.
According to Wike, the APC chairman lacks the power to say that there will be no swearing-in of the PDP candidate in Bayelsa State today.
“The Federal Government should warn Oshiomhole to stop making remarks that will destabilise Nigeria. What he is doing in Edo State is not proper and he should not bring it to the rest of the Niger Delta.”
He stated that Oshiomhole lacked the power to make pronouncements after the Supreme Court has ruled on the Bayelsa matter. “Who is Oshiomhole to determine who has spread in a state? Supreme Court has made a ruling. It is unfortunate for Oshiomhole to come forward to say that nobody will be sworn in.
“It is most unfortunate what Oshiomhole is doing because he wants to retain his position as national chairman. APC governors have rejected him, that is why he is struggling to prove that he is fighting for the party.
“He is making statements as if he owns the country. This is the same way he is carrying on in Edo State, fighting the governor. He believes that he has the forces to cause crisis.”
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Olisa Ifeajika, Okowa described the ruling as a welcome development for the PDP and its candidates in the governorship race, Diri and Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpor.
He stated that his confidence in the judiciary had been rekindled by the ruling of the apex court.
He urged PDP and the governor-elect to take steps to reconcile all stakeholders in Bayelsa in order to strengthen the party for future elections.
Atiku, a former vice president, charged Diri to use the opportunity to unite all Bayelsa people for the progress of the state.
In a message of solidarity he issuedo yesterday, Atiku said he received the verdict of the Supreme Court with gladness.
“I am fully satisfied that he has what it takes to make Bayelsa the ‘glory of all lands’. His intellect, personality and character are a credit to Bayelsa and the PDP,” Atiku stated.
The Chairman of the Edo State chapter of the party, Chief Dan Osi Orbih, hailed the judgement and wished the people of Bayelsa and the PDP family a successful inauguration as they form the government to take oil-rich state to higher height.
An uneasy calm pervaded Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital yesterday, but there was wild jubilation at the Government House minutes after the Supreme Court gave the ruling.
The celebration by the APC in the state since Monday suddenly stopped yesterday as scores of the party’s supporters and many other residents who were gearing up for the tomorrow’s inauguration of Lyon as governor disappeared from the streets as soon as news of the judgement broke.
Mixed reactions trailed the ruling. While some people condemned it, others who are still loyal to the PDP quickly ran to the Government House to rejoice with the governor.
On the streets of Bayelsa, there was disquiet as some residents wore long faces. Those who could not hide their emotion, rain abuses at President Muhammadu Buhari, for “not holding firm.”
Many PDP faithful and loyalists thronged Diri’s residents to jubilate with him.
Neither the APC chairman, secretary nor the publicity secretary could be reached for reaction to the ruling.
Lyon had earlier visited the Samson Siasia Sport Complex for rehearsals ahead of today’s inauguration and was at the Government House when the news broke, leaving him in cold sweat.
He was said to be with the out-going Governor Seriake Dickson, who was taking him round the Government House when the news broke, forcing him to leave immediately.
The APC flags which adorned the major streets in readiness for Lyon’s inauguration were quickly pulled down by PDP supporters.
The Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, described the judgement as divine. He said it reflected the true wishes of the people.
The INEC said it was waiting for the enrolled order of the apex court to see what the electoral umpire had been ordered to do.
The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, told The Guardian the commission would see word for word what the Supreme Court had ordered INEC to do “so that we can comply.”
By 7:50p.m. yesterday when Oyekanmi spoke to The Guardian, the enrolled order had not been served on INEC.
When asked what would happen if the enrolled order did not get to the commission before midnight yesterday, as today (Friday) is already slated for the swearing-in of the new governor, Oyekanmi said: “ I’m sure it will come tomorrow (today) early morning and we can issue the certificate of return and the man can still be sworn in. I am not privy to the man’s plan but we are looking at what needs to be done and how soon we can do it.”
According to Oyekanmi, Friday ends at 12 midnight, so there is still time for the commission to comply with the Supreme Court order.
On the comments credited to Oshiomhole that the PDP candidate may not be sworn in having allegedly failed to satisfy the conditions given in the judgment, Oyekanmi said INEC was not permitted to join issues with politicians. “Our job is to get the enrolled order of what the Supreme Court is saying and give effect to it.”