- Lawyers outline options for party
Davidson Iriekpen in Lagos, Alex Enumah in Abuja and Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
All Progressives Congress (APC) walked into trouble yesterday as a Federal High Court in Abuja disqualified its running mate for the Bayelsa State governorship contest scheduled for Saturday, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo.
Mixed reactions immediately trailed the disqualification with senior lawyers suggesting the way forward to the party which candidacy in the contest now appears to be in danger of delisting from the ballot.
Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja yesterday, disqualified Degi-Eremienyo on the grounds of anomalies found in his form CF 001, submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for clearance in the poll.
But in a swift reaction, Degi-Eremienyo, who is the running mate to the APC flag bearer, Mr. David Lyon, said the verdict was laughable as it would not stand if tested in a higher court.
Justice Ekwo while stating that he found no nexus in the name on his school leaving certificate, first degree (BA), Master’s degree and the affidavits he swore to correct his name, 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.
According to him, the INEC’s Form CF001 is a document validated by oath and “the consequence of lying on oath is grave.”
Justice Ekwo subsequently ruled that, “Where a candidate is found to have lied on oath, a court must issue an order disqualifying such a candidate from contesting the election” and went ahead to disqualify Degi-Eremienyo from the November 16 governorship poll.
In his reaction, lawyer and rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said except the order was reversed by the appellate court, the APC would not participate in the forthcoming governorship poll in Bayelsa.
According to him, the law does not permit a governorship candidate to contest in an election without a valid deputy.
He argued: “The legal effect of the disqualification of the deputy governorship candidate of the APC in Bayelsa State under the constitution and the Electoral Act (except reversed) on appeal, simply means that the APC has no governorship candidate at all in the November 16, 2019 gubernatorial elections.
“The reason is simple. By virtue of section 187(1) of the 1999 Constitution, “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,” he said.
He cited section 186 of the constitution, which he said preceded section 187 that created the office of deputy governor.
He explained that any ticket devoid of a joint running mate is automatically invalid, null, void and of no effect whatsoever, because it is simply unconstitutional.
According to him, “The constitution envisions and has deliberately made a governorship candidate to be a Siamese twin with the deputy governorship candidate in any election, sharing the same unbreakable umbilical cord. One without the other is not competent to contest.
“Where a governorship candidate cannot, therefore, produce a deputy governorship candidate, his candidature lapses into historical electoral oblivion. His aspiration abates and dies prematurely and completely; as dead as dodo. This is the law. No sentiments about it. No lachrymal effusion. No politics.”
Similarly, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Dayo Akinlaja, who shared the same position with Ozekhome, however, described the disqualification as a lethal blow to the APC in Bayelsa State.
He said this was made worse following the expiration of the time permitted to parties to substitute candidate in an election.
“There is no legitimate candidate for APC in the election because by the constitution, it is compulsory that a governorship candidate must have a qualified running mate; so if a governorship candidate’s running mate in this instance is disqualified, I believe that is a lethal blow of some sorts.
“There is nothing that can be done because the window of substitution has been closed,” he said.
But Mr. John Baiyeshea SAN described the timing of the disqualification as wrong as it would adversely affect the party concerned.
Baiyeshea noted that hope was not completely lost for the APC because the disqualification was at the instance of the court and the APC could fill a substitute even if the time for substitution had elapsed.
He said: “As for the disqualification of the deputy governorship candidate of APC by a court in Abuja, the timing is very wrong (without prejudice to merits or demerits of the case). But coming on the eve of an election that is being hotly/bitterly contested in Bayelsa State, the court order will certainly work against the party concerned.
“However, since the disqualification is at the instance of the court, the party will be at liberty to substitute its deputy governorship candidate at the late hour and INEC has to oblige them.”
Also sharing the same view with Baiyeshea is Mr. Ahmed Raji SAN, who said the APC could approach a court to enable it feature in the election.
He described Justice Ekwo as an experienced judge that is very thorough in his judgment.
He said: “Justice Ekwo is a cerebral judge who understands his onions. He is very meticulous and thorough.
“It is going to be an uphill task for the affected candidate. Perhaps APC may want to consider applying to court for some kind of accommodation to field a qualified deputy gubernatorial candidate.
“The election dates are not cast in iron. The electorate must be given ample opportunity to make a choice and not by technical knockout.
“It is good the disqualification is pronounced before the poll as otherwise if it is after the poll, it may lead to a fresh election.”
However, Dr Kayode Olatoke SAN said the only option for the APC was to appeal the judgment and obtain a stay of execution.
“INEC can recognise them and allow them to participate in the election if they present a stay of execution of the said order of disqualification,” he said.
According to Olatoke, this is necessary to protect the interest of the party in the event that the decision of the Federal High Court is later set aside.
In his reaction, Chief Emeka Ngige SAN, said since it was the deputy governorship candidate that the judgment affected, it would not stop the APC from participating in the election.
He advised the party to approach the Court of Appeal with a motion for stay of execution of the judgment.
Ngige said with a motion for stay of execution, INEC would not have any option but to allow the party contest the election.
He added that after the election, the governorship candidate can choose a deputy governor.
“The election can still hold with the APC participating. It cannot affect the party since it was not the governorship candidate that was affected.
“When the APC files a motion for stay of execution of the judgment at the Court of Appeal, there is nothing INEC can do,” he added.
Also, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa SAN, said because it was the court that disqualified, and not INEC, the APC could still participate in the election.
Adegboruwa noted that if it was INEC that disqualified the deputy governorship candidate, the party would have been disqualified from participating in the election.
He added that since it was the court, the election can still hold after which the governorship candidate who would have been governor-elect should the party win, pick a deputy governor.
“In my view, I don’t think it would affect the election. The election can go on, especially since it was the court that disqualified the deputy governorship candidate and not INEC,” he stated.
Earlier, Justice Ekwo had in the judgment ordered Degi-Eremienyo’s disqualification on the grounds that he presented false information about his educational qualifications in his Form CF001 submitted to INEC as a candidate for the 2019 poll.
The suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1101/2019 was instituted on September 18, 2019 by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its governorship and deputy governorship candidate in Bayelsa State, Douye Diri and Lawrence Ewhruojakpo, respectively.
Defendants in the suit include, the APC, its governorship candidate, Lyon Pereworimin, Degi-Eremienyo and INEC.
Justice Ekwo held that Degi-Eremienyo presented documents of academic qualifications with different names that 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, Degi-Eremienyo Wangagha.
The APC candidate was said to have 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 was also said to have claimed to have “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.”
Justice Ekwo held that there was no evidence to prove that the documents with different name variations were his.
He 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.”
The judge made a declaration “that the information which the 3rd defendant submitted to the 2nd defendant in his INEC Form CF001, that, affidavit in support of personal particulars of person seeking election to the office of the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State is false contrary to section 31(5) of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended).”
He also said: “A declaration is hereby made that by virtue of the mandatory constitutional and statutory provisions of sections 6(6), 186 and 187(1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the 3rd defendant stands disqualified from contesting the forthcoming Bayelsa State governorship election as deputy governor, slated for November 16, 2019 or any other state thereabout on the platform of the 1st defendant (APC) or any other political party by reason of the fact that the 3rd defendant has presented false information as to his educational qualifications or name in INEC Form CF001 in support of his nomination contrary to section 31(5) and (6) of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended).
“An order is hereby made disqualifying the 3rd defendant as the deputy governorship candidate at the 1st defendant (APC) in the November 16, 2019 Bayelsa State governorship election by reason of the 3rd defendant presenting false information to the 2nd defendant (INEC) in support of his nomination contrary to section 31(5) and (6) of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended).”
Degi-Eremienyo: Judgment is Laughable
Reacting to the judgment, Degi-Eremienyo said he would appeal the verdict.
He added that the judgment would not stand if tested in a higher court.
He said he did not just begin using the credentials and wondered why it has now become an issue.
“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.
“In the days to come, the truth will come out. This is very unfortunate. I wonder if indeed it was procured, but one is tempted to think that.
“They are talking about inconsistency, inconsistency about what? My opponents are also not even saying that I do not have certificates.
“I have the minimum qualification to contest the election. Of course, they have obtained judgment, but there is also room for us to appeal and I know that the judgment cannot stand the test of time,” he stated.
Also in a veiled reference to the judgment, the Minister of State, Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, who is also the APC leader in the state, accused the PDP of throwing all kinds of obstacles on the way of the opposition in the state.
But he said that the party was too strong to be weakened by such antics.
“They have gone to every court in the land to try and discourage us. But the APC is stronger and more powerful than they think”, he said.
Meanwhile, while there was palpable joy in the camp of the PDP over the judgment, APC supporters also refused to allow it dampen their spirit as they thronged out to back the candidates of the party in the November 16 poll.