Is it Uhuru in Court for Bayelsa APC?

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Lyon-and-Sylva

Save for some last minute moves, Bayelsa State chapter of the APC would have ended up another guinea pig of history, writes Emmanuel Addeh

In May this year, the Supreme Court had declared null and void, the elections of all the candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Zamfara State in the 2019 general election and held that the Appeal Court in Sokoto was right, when it agreed with the party that the APC did not conduct primaries in the state.

In a unanimous pronouncement by a five-man panel led by the then Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, the apex court declared the party with the highest number of votes cast at the election aside the appellants (APC and co) was the winner of the election. And the lot fell on the Peoples Democratic party (PDP).
It was a devastating blow to the party, which eventually accepted its fate after going around in circles in a futile attempt to upturn the decision of the courts.

Before then, precisely in February this year, a five-man panel headed by Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, struck out the appeal filed by a faction of the APC loyal to Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, challenging the judgment of a high court in Rivers, which had barred the party from conducting primaries to nominate candidates to represent it in the elections.

Senator Magnus Abe had asked the court to annul the congresses and primaries, which the rival faction conducted. Relying on the judgment, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to enlist candidates of the party for the governorship, national and state assembly elections.

In the aftermath of the court decisions, the party returned empty-handed, without, as it were, any candidate for the elections. Interestingly, just a few months apart, thunder is about to strike twice in the same place, nay in the same party. If care is not taken or more succinctly, if the Appeal and the Supreme Courts decide to uphold the ruling of a high court in Bayelsa and by extension the Abuja High Court, which is handling the case concerning the APC running mate in Bayelsa, Degi Eremienyo (though the facts are different in both cases).

Mr. David Lyon’s emergence as the candidate of the APC in the Bayelsa governorship primaries in Bayelsa State was both dramatic and intriguing, more like a movie, straight from the box office. A little-known oil contractor, Lyon emerged after the Governor Mai-Mala Buni-led electoral committee announced the results in Yenagoa, with the governor, who doubled as the chairman of the APC electoral committee, visibly absent from the hurriedly put together event at Aridolf, a hotel in Yenagoa, where the results were announced even before many journalists got to the venue.

Before Lyon’s emergence, the most preferred aspirant, who was tipped to win the internal poll after it was clear that Chief Timipre Sylva would not be taking part in the poll which took place on September 4, was Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who had declined to be re-nominated minister, having resigned to contest the primaries.

It became even clearer that Lokpobiri stood a very good stead to trounce every other aspirant, who was interested in the primaries, since Sylva was already out of the way, having just been appointed the Minister of State for Petroleum.
But that initial joy that Sylva, his biggest obstacle to becoming the party’s standard-bearer was now out of the way, was short-lived.

In a twist, Sylva, leader of the APC in Bayelsa, who had become a powerful minister and felt slighted by the entrance of Lokpobiri into the race without his express consent, endorsed Lyon, who hails from Southern Ijaw, the second largest population of voters in the state. Lyon officially joined the race a day before the expiration of purchase of nomination forms after Sylva stepped down, having been sworn in as minister overseeing the petroleum ministry.

But the first sign of trouble was when Sylva and Lokpobiri disagreed on the mode of primaries to adopt, with Lokpobiri urging the party to conduct indirect primaries for the election, while Sylva opted for the direct method.

Lokpobiri opined that indirect primaries would ensure transparency and credibility in the process of electing the standard bearer in the state, but the petroleum minister knew that Lokpobiri stood a higher chance of emerging if the indirect method was adopted.
After several postponements, the party was still unsure of what method to adopt even on the day of the election, but the primary mode was used after a court in Yenagoa declined jurisdiction in the case in the morning of September 4, the day fixed for the election.

But like a movie, Sylva’s preferred candidate ‘scored’ 42,138 votes to defeat his distant rival, Mrs Diseye Nsirim, who scored 1,533 votes, while Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, erstwhile Minister of State Agriculture and Rural Development, surprisingly scored 571 votes in a state that boasts hundreds of thousands of party loyalists. Preye Aganaba also scored 354 votes; Mr Amgbare polled 633 votes while Prof. Maureen Etebu polled 564 votes.

Senator Emmanuel Ocheja, Chief Collation Officer, who announced the result in Yenagoa, while the chairman was visibly missing, said the mode adopted was direct primary as agreed by Bayelsa stakeholders and confirmed by the national working committee.
Sylva described the election as peaceful, Lokpobiri kicked against it and headed for the courts, asking the judge to declare him the rightful winner of the election.

Rejecting the outcome, Lokpobiri said that there was no way he would be defeated in any election in Bayelsa by Lyon.
He wondered why a primary was said to have started in a hotel in Yenagoa and ended in the hotel sidelining the secretariat of the party in the state, adding that party members gathered at the secretariat in Yenagoa and waited in vain for the arrival of the committee saddled with the conduct of the primaries.

He also queried the choice of someone else declaring the results other than the Returning Officer and Yobe State governor that chaired the committee. He expressed optimism that the national leadership of the party would look into the development in Bayelsa and ensure a credible process that would throw up a popular candidate for the APC.
The former minister said there were hundreds of thousands of APC members in the state and that it was not possible for a direct primary to produce less than 45,000 voters as purportedly announced in Bayelsa.

But for over two months that the case pended in court, there was no indication that the APC leadership found it necessary to make peace and prevail on Lokpobiri to withdraw the case until last week, when the suit had already advanced.

By the time the national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, made the very important visit, it was already too late. Lokpobiri told Oshiomhole that he remained in the APC, but said he would allow the judge decide the case without withdrawing it at that point.

On Thursday, the Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, finally seemed to have nailed the coffin, when it declared invalid the announcement of Lyon and his running mate, Eremienyo as winners of the primary election for yesterday’s governorship election in Bayelsa.

Justice Jane Inyang affirmed that the APC breached the rules, when another person, other than the statutorily recognised authority, the chairman of the party’s National Electoral Committee, failed to announce the results of the poll.
But in a move Lokpobiri’s counsel described as strange, the judge declined to declare him the valid candidate, as requested in his prayers before the court.

Inyang in the judgment in the suit challenging the governorship primaries of APC noted that the exercise was conducted arbitrarily outside the rules of the party. She ruled that since the process was conducted in violation of the party’s constitution and guidelines for the conduct of governorship primaries, none of the aspirants should be fielded as the party’s candidate.
Inyang, therefore, gave an order restraining the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) from fielding Lyon as the party’s candidate in the election slated for Saturday.

She maintained that by the APC guidelines for the conduct of the 2019 governorship primaries, the results were expected to be declared by the returning officer for the primaries, Governor Mai mala Buni of Yobe and not Senator Ocheja, Secretary of the election Committee, like the party did.

According to her, the APC also violated its own rules in the composition of the election panel when it constituted an 11-member committee rather than seven, according to the rules.
“It has been established by judicial authorities and several judgments 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 stands nullified.

“The results announced by Senator Emmanuel Ochega is not valid as he is not the returning officer for the election, and I make an order restraining INEC from recognising any of the aspirants that participated in the said primaries” she said.
The presiding judge also directed INEC not to include the names of Senator Lokpobiri (plaintiff) and Chief Lyon (first defendant) on the ballot paper. The legal unit of INEC is to be served quickly,” the judge said.

Lyon’s Legal Team Kicks
Lead Counsel to the APC and Lyon, Sydney Ibanichuka, in an interview said the judgment was a travesty of justice. He said the court granted a request that was not part of the suit before it.
“What has happened is a travesty of justice. It has been said before that the court is not Father Christmas. The court cannot dish out orders not asked for.
“The request was to be declared winner and not to nullify the entire process. What the court just did was to cancel the whole process and there were documents attached, which showed that there was nothing wrong with the process.
“It was in adherence to party guidelines. The court going ahead to give what was not prayed for is travesty of justice. Right away, we are appealing and taking the necessary thing known to law. This court is not the final arbiter in this case,” he said.

APC Rejects Court Ruling
The APC immediately kicked against Thursday’s judgment by Justice Inyang. The party urged the people of the state not to lose sleep over the ruling. Lyon’s Campaign Director, prof. Seiyefa Brisibe in a press briefing in Yenagoa, said the judgment was suspicious.
“We reject this judgment and by November 16, APC will take over this state. This judgment is baffling, but we want to say, going forward that the people of Bayelsa should not give any thought or moment of sleeplessness to this judgment.
“This is a judgment that’s given by the lower court and the processes are clear. You file for stay of execution, which our lawyers have done. They have appealed for a stay of execution.
“Another reason why we shouldn’t be perturbed. The court is not a Father Christmas. The issue in this case is that one of the aspirants requested that the election was conducted freely and fairly, but that he was the winner, which should be declared.”

Sylva’s Un-ministerial Outburst
As expected, the ruling obviously got the party flustered. Sylva, insisted that the party was still in the governorship race while in a fit of anger described the judge in not so flattering terms.

In a media briefing in Yenagoa, Sylva said he was aware of a plot to use the court to stop the APC, because the PDP was jittery.
“The PDP wants to use the courts to stop the APC. If there’s an election today, the APC will carry the day. The PDP is embarking on a strange way to retain power.

“A few days ago, a very frivolous matter concerning spelling of name was brought before the court. They did not allege that someone else has the name. Unfortunately, the judge in Abuja held that there was an infringement.
“Today, there was something unknown to law that happened in Bayelsa. Heineken said he won; Lyon went to court to say we are the rightful winners.

“None of the parties said there was no election. Lokpobiri said there were primaries, same for Lyon. Where did the judge get her judgment? “Fortunately, we have good news. The appeal court has just granted a stay of execution. That means we are fully still in the race and we will win. We don’t want to join issues with them,” he said.

PDP’s Momentary Jubilation
Quite expectedly, there was jubilation in the PDP in Bayelsa as the governorship candidate in the election, Senator Douye Diri, told journalists that the APC did not have a candidate and asked the entire people of the state not to waste their votes on the APC.

Addressing the press in Yenagoa, an elated Diri noted that since the names on the ballot could not be altered, the voters in the state should ignore the APC spot on the ballot.

“Trusting God, we filed a case against the Deputy Governor of the APC, who has been disqualified by the court and that means that as a joint ticket, APC has no candidate.

“Not only that, just today, this was a case between APC and APC. Arising from the primaries, the matter has been on and it is now nullified to cement the earlier court ruling.
“The INEC has said they could not undo the ballot that has been printed, but that any vote for the APC is invalid and wasted and that is the position.

“As we go to the polls on Saturday (yesterday), the APC has no candidate. Therefore, we want to use this opportunity that the PDP, which is the party that has a credible platform, even when they are killed is the only party in Bayelsa” he said.

Savouring Temporary Reprieve
For now, the Courts of Appeal in Abuja and Port Harcourt had ordered INEC to “maintain the status quo ante bellium, which existed before 18 September 2019”. How long the respite will last remains to be seen. Hearing in the case will continue after the election.