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Nigeria: 48-Hours to Bayelsa Governorship – High Court Sacks APC Candidate As Appeal Court Reinstates Deputy

Yenagoa and Abuja — A Federal High Court in Yenagoa, yesterday, nullified the September 4, 2019 Bayelsa State governorship primary that produced David Lyon as candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in tomorrow’s election.

Our reporters in Yenagoa report that the decision had thrown stalwarts of the APC into confusion, reminiscent of what befell the party in some states during the last general elections when it was disqualified from participating.

But in a twist, the Court of Appeal in Abuja, yesterday, ordered a stay of execution of the judgement of the Abuja Federal High Court which disqualified the APC deputy governorship candidate in Bayelsa, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, over false information.

The panel, chaired by Justice Stephen Adah, issued an interim order of stay of execution of the judgement of the Federal High Court of November 12, 2019, pending the determination of “the motion on notice for order of interlocutory injunction filed on 13 November, 2019.”

The appellate court also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) “to maintain status quo ante bellum which existed on or before the 19th day of September 2019 when suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1101/2019, now on appeal to this court, was filed at the lower court pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction filed on 13th November, 2019.”

The judge consequently adjourned hearing of the motion to Wednesday November 20.

The appeal was brought by Degi-Eremienyo’s lawyer, Damian Dodo (SAN).

The Bayelsa judgement

While delivering her judgement which sacked Lyon in a suit filed by Senator Heineken Lokpobiri who is also governorship aspirant of the APC, Justice Jane Inyang noted that the primary was conducted outside the rules of the party.

Lokpobiri, a minister of state for Agriculture during the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari, had sued the party protesting the conduct of the governorship primary.

He approached the court seeking a declaration that he was the “authentic candidate of the APC” and not Lyon.

Lyon, who was seen as new in Bayelsa politics but had the backing of the Minister of State for Petroleum and former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, had during the contentious primary scored 42,138 votes to defeat five other aspirants including Lokpobiri who scored 571 votes.

Justice Inyang ruled that since the primary was conducted in violation of the party’s constitution and guidelines, none of the aspirants should stand as APC candidate in tomorrow’s election.

She therefore restrained INEC from fielding Lyon as the party’s candidate.

Responding to the judgement, Lokpobiri’s lawyer, Fitzgerald Olorogun expressed shock on the grounds that the court’s declaration was not part of their prayers. “It’s strange,” he said.

Lokpobiri had while pursuing his case in the court, nonetheless, urged the people of Bayelsa to vote for the APC despite his court case against Lyon and the party.

But beyond Lokpobiri’s clamour to be declared winner of the primary election, the judge said the APC guideline provided that results should be declared by the chairman of the election committee of the party, saying in the case of Bayelsa, it should have been Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe and not Senator Emmanuel Ochega who served as the committee’s secretary.

She noted that the APC also violated its own rules in the composition of the election panel when it constituted an 11 member committee rather than seven.

“It has been established by judicial authorities and several judgements that political parties are bound by their own rules. The committee that conducted the primary threw caution to the winds and it is my ruling that the primaries stand nullified,” she said.

APC moves to Appeal Court

Reacting to the judgment, Mr Jothan Amos, who is the Chairman of Bayelsa chapter of APC, said the party was optimistic of overcoming the setback before tomorrow.

He said the party had set in motion the legal process of appeal and was in the process of obtaining a stay of execution pending the determination of the appeal.

He assured party followers that the party was seeking judicial review of the judgment and urged them to remain calm.

Sylva gives another interpretation

However, Sylva yesterday gave a different interpretation of the Court of Appeal judgement, saying it had granted the APC a stay of execution on the judgment delivered by the Federal High Court nullifying the primary of the party.

Sylva, who stated this in a news conference in Yenagoa, said that the APC would fully participate by contesting in the Saturday governorship poll.

“I must tell you that the judgment nullifying the primary was clearly a bias one with all due respect to the judiciary.

“So, I have come to address you because we have good news for the people of Bayelsa. The court in Abuja has granted us stay of execution.

“That means, we are fully as a party, in the position of contesting this election.

“Because we know that the people of Bayelsa are seriously behind us and we will win the election,” he said.

Lawyers react

Lawyers have described the situation in Bayelsa as complicated, but explained that despite the orders of the high courts in Abuja and Yenagoa, INEC should allow the political party on the ballot paper for tomorrow’s governorship election.

The Director General of the National Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Prof Taofiq Ladan, said despite the order of the High Court in Yenagoa disqualifying the APC governorship candidate, INEC cannot disqualify a political party because the logo on the ballot is that of the party and not a candidate.

Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) said the APC would lose the opportunity to field a candidate in the election except it moves swiftly and “finds a way of restraining INEC from removing the candidate from the ballot paper for the election to forestall an appeal against the judgement from being rendered nugatory.”

According to him, “I must admit that it is a somewhat complex and complicated scenario. The reality is that if INEC excludes the candidate based on the judgment, it cannot be accused of doing any wrong. Nonetheless, the saying that ‘discretion is the better part of valour’ has a pride of place in all this.”

For his part, Obioma Ezenwobodo Esq. said the situation is dicey because the disqualification may be upturned or upheld at the Supreme Court, stressing that the only way the matter would become immaterial is where the APC loses the election on November 16.

Our correspondents report that similar internal party crisis did not augur well for the APC in Zamfara and Rivers in February and March, this year.

In Rivers, the party’s candidates for governorship and other positions were all disqualified before the general elections.

In Zamfara, the candidates who were earlier declared winners with a landslide were all disqualified by the Supreme Court in favour of the opposition candidates mostly from the PDP.

PDP asks INEC to delist APC from poll

The PDP yesterday said APC had no place in tomorrow’s governorship election in Bayelsa State following the disqualification of its candidate, Lyon and his running mate, by two courts of competent jurisdiction.

PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the development pointed to nothing but victory for the PDP and democracy in the country.

The party asked INEC to delist the APC from the ballot as any vote cast for the party would be a wasted vote.

“The PDP invites INEC to note that no fewer than two decisions of courts of competent jurisdiction have negated the participation of the APC in the race.