Bayelsa: Thou Shall See the Land But Will Not Set Foot on It

“Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.” (Deuteronomy 34: 1-5)

The biblical quote above aptly describes the events that took place a few days ago in Bayelsa State. This story starts with the murmuring and complaints of the children of Israel against Moses and his brother Aaron, over the fact that they could not find water for them to drink, not to talk of their livestock. They voiced their regret over setting out on the journey to die in the wilderness. When Moses and Aaron went to seek God’s face in a bid to solve the problem, He instructed them to speak to the rock to produce water. In a rage of anger and frustration, Moses rebuked the people calling them rebels. Instead of speaking to the rock as he was commanded, he hit it twice with his rod. The rock still brought out water for the children of Israel. God was unhappy with the duo and pronounced a punishment on them. They would not set foot on the promised land! Aaron died shortly after while Moses continued to lead the people towards the promised land. Just when the land was in sight, God ensured that he saw the land with his eyes but kept to His promise that he would not set foot on the land. His life was taken after he was shown the city. This is a pathetic fate, indeed, but one which has been the lot of many personalities in history!

David Lyon could be regarded as the latest of modern-day individuals who have suffered the fate that befell Moses in biblical times. He was the candidate of the APC in the last gubernatorial elections held in Bayelsa state, on November 16, 2019. He, indeed, won the election over his closest rival, Senator Duoye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). His landmark victory was the first time any other party, other than the PDP, was wining the governorship elections in Bayelsa since the advent of the Third Republic. The primaries of the PDP divided the party sharply. The former governor had insisted on giving the ticket to Sen. Diri, who is said to be his cousin. He was said to himself have an eye on taking over, on the expiration of his governorship tenor, the senatorial seat that was, at that time, occupied by Sen Diri. Other leading political figures in the state, including the former President, Goodluck Jonathan, reportedly preferred other candidates. Having finally emerged as the candidate of the party, Senator Diri had the arduous task of overcoming fierce opposition which had gone into alliance in support of his APC rival. He stood little chance and was roundly defeated at the polls. While all this was going on, many people did not know that there was a pre-election matter, which Senator Diri had instituted at the High Court, challenging the legality of the APC Deputy Governorship candidate, Sen. Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo on grounds that he submitted forged documents while registering for the election. The High Court agreed with Sen. Diri and disqualified Sen. Eremienyo who immediately proceeded to the Court of Appeal. The appeal Court upturned the verdict of the lower court and cleared the APC candidate, a few days before the election. PDP proceeded to the Supreme Court which gave judgement on February 13, against the APC Deputy Governor-elect, and proceeded to also nullify the candidature of the Governor-elect also, declaring that their joint ticket was tainted by the said forgery. INEC was instructed to withdraw the Certificate of Return from the APC and give it to the candidate in the polls with the next highest votes and that satisfied the constitutional spread, which was Sen. Diri of the PDP.

Bear in mind that the Supreme Court decision was announced just 24 hours before the swearing in ceremony of David Lyon as Governor. It was very painful to watch videos of David Lyon rehearsing for the impending Swearing In Ceremony, taking salutes and riding in the ceremonial vehicle, in preparation for an inauguration that was never going to happen. By the next day, someone else who did not do any rehearsals and who in all probability might not have known he would be governor, was sworn in.

It is not our purpose here to question the propriety or lack thereof, of the Supreme Court pronouncement since we are not “learned” and would not be in the position to subject the verdict to legal scrutiny. There are, however, a few things that we do not need to be ‘learned’ before we can analyse them. Our objective here is to examine those issues that have arisen from the saga. The first is the matter of fairness. Is it fair for the sins of one person to be visited on another? We know someone would refer us to the issue of joint ticket and some sections in the 1999 constitution. We have heard that argument several times but there is still a lot that needs to be considered. Our concern is that in the past, particularly during the 2015 gubernatorial elections in Kogi State, Prince Abubakar Audu died in the middle of the exercise and his Party was permitted to replace him. Since the ticket was joint, why did his Deputy not step in to complete the election? References have also been made to a precedent in Bauchi state where a Deputy Governor was disqualified and fresh elections were ordered by the Court. Legal experts have, however, argued that the two cases are not the same. Besides, the verdict was from an Appeal Court and in law, the Supreme Court is not bound by the decisions of lower courts. Whichever way we slice and dice it, this column stands on the widely accepted rule that it is against the law of natural justice for an innocent person to suffer for the sins of another person. In view of this, we hold strongly the view that the electoral act needs a comprehensive reform. The issue should be revisited urgently by the National Assembly. We have also been informed by those who know better that the issue of joint ticket is a constitutional matter. We are told that Section 187 of the 1999 constitution, as amended, ties the fate of a Governor with that of his deputy and that until a candidate nominates his deputy, he cannot be deemed to be properly nominated for an election. As the electoral act is being reviewed, the lawmakers should not forget to amend that section of the constitution to reflect the popularly held view that “the soul that sinneth shall die”. We are aware that it is the job of the political party to screen candidates, but we are also aware that sometimes, due to pressure, either of time or the interest of other political bigwigs, parties don’t do a good job of it. Another issue of interest is this, considering that this candidate had run several elections in the past, up to the level of becoming senator, the party would naturally expect that if he was qualified to stand previous elections, it was unlikely that he won’t be qualified for the last election. Just like it is done in the National Assembly, he would simply have been asked to “take a bow and go”. While the party would suffer the consequences, the greatest losers in this unfortunate situation are the electorate whose will as expressed at the ballot box is flung through the window by the judiciary, while those not duly elected by popular ballot are imposed on the people through technicality.

Two other matters that are worthy of notice are as follows; first, we have heard lawyers refer to Section 140(2) of the electoral act, which says that a Tribunal or Court should not award victory to someone who came second in an election but should order a fresh election. Other lawyers counter that the section refers to post election and not pre-election matters and that “Tribunal or Court”, does not refer to the Supreme Court. What can we say in this matter, since we are not ‘learned’? The second is still on the political parties. We were told in the past that it was the party that won elections and not the candidates. Those who know better tend to disagree on this matter. Some school of thought argue that it is no longer the law as the electoral act had been amended by Section 141 to the effect that no one can be declared a winner in an election in which he did not participate in all its stages. Another school of thought however, points to the nullification of that clause by a Federal High Court judgement which is yet to be challenged, since that judgement was delivered in 2011. In voiding the sections, the judge held that it amounted to legislative tyranny for the judiciary to be told by the legislature, what judgements to give and what not to. We believe that these are still areas that the review of the electoral act should not ignore.

A big elephant in the room which may not have much to do with the matter in focus is the issue of electronic smart card readers. Analysts have accused the Supreme Court of encouraging electoral malpractices and brigandage by its pronouncements on this subject matter. The position of the Supreme Court is that because the electoral act did not specifically mention the use of card readers, the only way to prove over voting; a euphemism for electoral fraud and manipulation, is through the Voters Register. This means that if you choose to write fictitious results, just ensure that the number is not over the number of registered voters. So, it doesn’t matter if someone died before the elections, if the person was in hospital or if the person simply decided not show up on Election Day, once his or her name is on the register, he is assumed to have voted. This position by the apex court seems to embolden election riggers and render the efforts of INEC to sanitise the electoral process, ineffective. What most people have not averted their minds to, is that holding this position simply means that both the elections held by INEC in 2015 and 2019 should be declared void and of no effect. The simple reason is that all the elections were held with the Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) which could only be read by the Smart Card Readers. Anyone who didn’t have a genuine PVC as read by the card reader would not be allowed to vote. As the legislature moves to amend the electoral act, it should not forget this all-important item. We shall go even further to recommend that electronic voting should be introduced instead of just electronic accreditation.

Now, before we conclude, let’s go back to Bayelsa. A key question is whether the sacked Deputy Governor-elect forged documents? Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t. One thing that is clear though, according to the judgement, is that there were discrepancies in the names on different certificates he presented, from his First School Leaving Certificate ,to his West Africa School Certificate all the way to his degree certificates. The only name that seemed to remain constant was “Degi” which at some point changed to “Adegi”. Other names that featured were, BIOBRAGHA; BROKUMO;BIOBARAKUMA WANGAWA; WANAGHA, ERKMIENYO; WANAGBE, BIOBAKUMA and EREMIENYO, which he claimed in one of his several affidavits, was a Chieftaincy title. There are obviously some problems here. It is not impossible that the name changes had to do with changes in religion, but that information was not available on the affidavits which by the way tended to contradict each other. Could the certificates be genuine and in which case, it would be the names that should be dealt with? It is only the man that should explain. Of course, in the context of the governance of Bayelsa State, that has become a moot point.

Finally, there is also an issue of conflict of interest that was cited, culminating in the protest at the residence of Justice Mary Odili, the Chairman of the Supreme Court Panel that heard the case. While the issue of occupying Her Lordship’s residence smacks of self-help, we believe that the legal team of Sen. Edegi was rather tardy in dealing with the issues. The protests after the fact were totally unjustified and unnecessary. We were all witnesses to the diligence with which the Atiku team handled its own matter of a similar nature. They protested immediately, the Chairmanship of the Appeal Panel that was going to hear the case at the Appeal Court. Their grouse was that the then Chairman’s husband was an APC Senator. Similarly, the APC team should have rejected the Chairmanship of the panel as the husband of the Chairman is a leader in PDP. The action and protests are just like applying medication to the dead – an exercise in futility.

Our sympathy goes to Mr. David Lyon who worked very hard and secured victory, only for his Deputy to turn around and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Our prediction is that his day shall surely come provided he does not give up.

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