ON 5 December 2020, Bayelsans, some of them, would be on the march again, as they vote in elections to fill two Senate seats that the current Governor Douye Diri, and Deputy Governor Lawrence Ewhrujakpo vacated for executive management of the State. It would be another in the series of contests between the dominant Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and All Progressives Congress, APC.
APC almost got the plum governorship’s seat following the victory of Chief David Lyon in the November 2019 election. All was set for the inauguration – guests were ensconced in their hotel suites, the parties were being readied, for the event that was less than 24 hours away.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that the infractions in Degi-Eremienyo’s credentials affected the candidacy of Lyon since they ran on the same ticket.
Lyon had been at the Samson Siasia Stadium, venue of the inauguration for the rehearsals. He had been accorded all protocols fit for the new Governor of Bayelsa State. He stood on the podium for the salutes. He stood a decent distance from where the Chief Judge of the State would swear him in. Everything was ready. Lyon was rounding off the rehearsals for the event when word filtered from Abuja that the Supreme Court had annulled Lyon’s victory.
The seats in contention are Bayelsa West where immediate past Governor Seriake Dickson is the major contender and Bayelsa Central. Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, also a former Governor of the State, is not on the ballot, but he foresees victory for APC. He spoke for Peremobowei Ebebi, APC’s candidate in Bayelsa West and Abel Ebifemowei for Bayelsa Central.
A Federal High Court judgment, however, barred Mr. Ebebi from contesting. Sylva told the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, that the court’s decision was “a miscarriage of justice”. Said Sylva, “The said judge who gave the procured judgement is sympathetic to PDP, she is partisan and so we are not surprised at the biased judgement that was delivered in favour of Dickson and his party.”
Dickson, who said being in Senate would be a continuation of service he had been providing from his days as an official of the Ijaw National Congress , INC, and Ijaw Youth Congress, IYC, is questioning the credentials with which Ebebi, a former Deputy Governor of the State, gained admission to the Rivers State University of Science and Technology where he read the law. The matter has gone to appeal.
“For me it is a call to service,” said Dickson who became Governor in 2012 from the House of Representatives where he was serving a second term. “I would be a formidable voice for our people and Nigeria,” he said, appealing for a peaceful election. An attack on Dickson’s home in November claimed the life of a policeman.
“We are confident that he (Dickson) will as always be a true and audible voice to push our people’s interest and by extension the Ijaw nation as he is tested and trusted in the House of Representatives. We, therefore, call on every progressive mind in Sagbama/Ekeremor to support this noble course in our collective interest,” INC told The Nation when they endorsed Dickson in May 2020.
“Let us show our appreciation for the Sagbama/Ekeremor Road, Bayelsa State Polytechnic, Aleibiri, health and education facilities among many other things he did for our zone when he was Governor,” they said.
The voters would be on his side, said Dickson, who said that his achievements as Governor would speak for him. He said the voters were more important than his detractors who attempt to malign him.
Sylva’s support for Ebiri, a former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, and former Deputy Governor to Goodluck Jonathan in 2005, and Sylva in 2010, is a study on the tides of politics. Ebiri was impeached as Deputy Governor in 2010 in what was seen as power play with Sylva. Both were then in PDP.
It seems that the courts would still have a great part to play in the final outcome of the election as they did for the governorship. Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had on Tuesday 13 November 2019, disqualified Degi-Eremienyo, APC deputy governorship candidate, on the grounds of anomalies in his form CF 001, submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. The election was only three days away. APC obtained a stay of execution order for its candidate to be on the ballot.
The judgment created the vacancies in Bayelsa Central and West senatorial districts. If Lyon had won his election, the two PDP candidates who were in the Senate would have returned to their seats.
Justice Ekwo was categorical that no nexus existed in Degi-Eremienyo’s name on his school leaving certificate, first degree (BA), Master’s degree and the affidavits he swore to correct his name. He held that the action of the deputy governorship candidate amounted to giving false information in violation of section 31(5) and (6) of the 2010 Electoral Act, and as INEC’s Form CF001 is a document validated by oath and “the consequence of lying on oath is grave.” He ruled, “Where a candidate is found to have lied on oath, a court must issue an order disqualifying such a candidate from contesting the election.”
Section 187(1) of the 1999 Constitution states, “A candidate for the office of governor of a state shall not be deemed to have been validly nominated for such office unless he nominates another candidate as his associate for his running mate for the office of governor, who is to occupy the office of deputy governor, and that candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of deputy governor if the candidate who nominated him is duly elected as governor in accordance with the said provisions”.
PDP’s governorship candidate Douye Diri and deputy governorship candidate Lawrence Ewhruojakpo instituted the suit FHC/ABJ/CS/1101/2019 on 18 September 2019. Defendants in the suit included, APC, its governorship candidate, Lyon Pereworimin, Degi-Eremienyo and INEC.
Justice Ekwo said Degi-Eremienyo presented academic qualifications with different names from what appeared on his Form CF001. The names on the different documents attached to his Form CF001 were said to be, Biobarakum Degi-Eremienyo, Degi Biobaragha, Degi Biobarakuma, Adegi Biobakunmo, and Degi-Eremienyo Wangagha.
Degi-Eremienyo claimed to have obtained “his First School Leaving Certificate in 1976” and presented to INEC “a First Leaving School Certificate of one Degi Biobaragha other than the one bearing his name Biobaragha Degi-Eremieoyo as shown in his INEC Form CF001.”
He also said he “obtained his West African Examinations Council General Certificate of Education in 1984” and presented to INEC “a GCE certificate of one Adegi Bibakuo other than the one bearing his name Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo as shown in his INEC Form CF001.”
Ekwo said, “I further hold that the information given by the 3rd defendant on Form CF.001 that the documents thereto attached as his have not by any iota of credible evidence been so established. The information is false in all material particular as none of the said documents have any nexus with the name of the 3rd defendant (Degi-Eremienyo) on the said Form CF001.”
Degi-Eremienyo had said, “The judgment is at best laughable because I have the minimum qualification to contest this election as the deputy governor. My credentials are before the court. This is not the first time I am contesting elections. I have been a councillor and I was elected. As vice chairman, I was elected. As chairman of a local government, I was elected. I am now a serving senator, so I wonder how the court will give judgment that I do not have the minimum qualification.”
He went back to the Senate where nobody has contested his qualification for the seat though he was elected with the same certificates the courts ruled “false in all material particular.”
The suit against Ebiri is still pending. It could continue after the election if necessary.
People would want to see peaceful elections where the people are allowed to vote for candidates of their choice. The contests for a slice of Bayelsa State should not slide to another round of voice. Both the people and the security agencies can make peaceful elections possible in the glory of all lands, for that is what Bayelsa is meant to be.
Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues