The battle for Bayelsa West and Central senatorial districts has shifted from campaign grounds to the courts. OSA OKHOMINA examines the issues.
As scheming for the two vacant senatorial seats for Bayelsa State intensify, the court might just be a major factor in the process of how the occupants eventually emerge going by the legal drama that is playing out.
So far, it would seem like most electorates are more interested in court verdicts than in the campaigns and elections.
Recall that two of the three senatorial seats for Bayelsa State became vacant following the resignation of both the governorship candidate of the PDP, Duoye Diri, and his deputy, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, as representatives of Bayelsa Central and West senatorial districts respectively at the Nigerian 9th National Assembly to contest the election.
Diri was installed as the governor of the state after the Supreme Court sacked David Lyon of the APC, on the grounds that his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, presented false information to Nigeria’s electoral commission, INEC.
However with the dates scheduled for December 5, the tussle has seen assumed legal dimensions. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had fixed October 31 for the Bayelsa Central and West senatorial bye-elections but the commission, on October 22, postponed the bye-elections in six senatorial districts and nine state constituencies, including Bayelsa, due to the #EndSARS nationwide protests.
APC candidate in the Bayelsa West senatorial bye-election is former speaker and former deputy governor of the state, Peremobowei Ebebi, while Chief Abel Ebifemowei, a relative of the first governor of the state, late Chief Diepreye Solomon Alameisegha, is the party’s candidate in the Central Senatorial district.
The immediate past governor of Bayelsa State, Hon. Seriake Dickson is PDP’s candidate for Bayelsa West senatorial district, while immediate past PDP state chairman, Cleopas Moses, is the party’s candidate in Bayelsa Central district.
In a bid to have the upper hand ahead of the contests, the PDP in Bayelsa has staged a legal onslaught against their APC opponents with the aim of disqualifying them ahead of the polls.
With Dickson, who is considered a “strategist” in the Bayelsa political circle leading the charge against the APC, the move smacks of a repeat of the strategy which ensured that PDP retained governorship of the state despite losing the popular election.
The APC in Bayelsa State will not forget in a hurry how on February 13, 2020, the Supreme Court annulled the election of Chief David Lyon as governor and declared Diri of PDP winner despite the huge votes APC recorded in the election.
This scenario started to unfold recently when APC in Bayelsa State was thrown into panic with the disqualification of its candidate for the Bayelsa West Senatorial bye-election by the Federal High Court in Yenagoa.
Ebebi, who is a former deputy governor, emerged the APC senatorial candidate for Bayelsa West in a direct mode of primary election conducted in September by the party’s primary electoral committee headed by General Abdulsalam Dahiru (retd).
The presiding judge, Justice Jane Inyang, in a judgment on a case of forgery filed by Richman Samuel, a former director of domestic matters, Government House, Yenagoa, upheld the plaintiff’s prayers and declared the APC candidate ineligible to contest in the bye-election.
The plaintiff contended that the academic credentials and voter’s card which the defendant submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the bye-election were forged documents.
Justice Inyang further held in her ruling that the voter’s card which the Ekeremor-born politician submitted to INEC “as declared by his (Ebebi’s) father, bears a different age and, therefore, contradicts other of his documents and his filed INEC forms.”
She also noted that details presented showed that Ebebi’s West African Senior School Certificate which the defendant used to gain admission to study law at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology had only two credits, which fell short of the required credits in five relevant subjects, including English Language and Literature in English.
Counsel to the plaintiff, Mr Reuben Iguaba, explained that in a similar suit filed by some members of the APC challenging the legitimacy of the party’s primary election, the court also gave judgment against the former deputy governor.
Iguaba told journalists in an interview that the court also declared that the APC candidate was not validly nominated, and disqualified him from contesting in the Bayelsa West senatorial polls.
He said, “the first case was on presenting false information by the APC candidate. Some of the registered APC members from Bayelsa West Senatorial District applied to the INEC to verify the authenticity of the certificates submitted by Chief Ebebi.
“And they discovered that his voter’s card was a forged document, not genuine document. Not only that, he got admission to the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, with two credits to study law.”
Ebebi could not be reached for comments as he neither answered call to his phone nor respond to a text message sent to him by our correspondent as of the time of filing this report.
But a member of his campaign team, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the issue, said the APC candidate will appeal the judgment.
However, the APC also pushed back by filing a suit against the candidacy of former governor, Dickson. Although the case was thrown out, the move by the APC was instructive.
Dismissing the case against Dickson, the Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, said it lacked for lack of jurisdiction.
Justice Inyang also ruled that the suit filed by Eneoriekumoh Owoupele, who hails from Dickson’s Sagbama Local Government Area, was brought to the court after the stipulated time for such an action.
Owoupele through his lawyers, Messrs. A.O. Aniso and A.E. Aluzu, had sought to disqualify Dickson from participating in the election for allegedly supplying false information to INEC.
The judge ruled that the case was statute-barred as the prescribed period for litigation had passed and therefore dismissed it.
But it is not uhuru yet for Dickson as the APC in reaction to the development, petitioned the presiding Judge over allegations of bias in delivery of judgments on cases concerning the party.
The Court had ruled against the party in the build-up to the November 19 governorship elections in Bayelsa declaring that the party had no governorship candidate before the Court of Appeal upturned the judgment.
The petition, which is dated October 19 and titled ‘Petition of Bias, Partisanship, Outright Subversion of the Will of the Electorates and Active Participation in the Politics of Bayelsa State Against Hon Justice Jane .E. Inyang’ had asked for the transfer of all cases concerning the party from her court.
The petition signed by chairman of the party, Mr. Jothan Amos and the party secretary, Mr. Alabo Martins which was addressed to the President, Federal High Court(FHC) said the party has “lost confidence in the impartiality of the Court to deliver judgments without bias, partisanship and outright political participation to favour plaintiffs against the defendants”
The party also noted that several petitions have been written in the past requesting Justice Jane Nyang to rescue herself from proceedings or have matters transferred on grounds of loss of confidence in the Court ability to deliver judgment unbiased but were ignored and appealed to the President of the FHC to come to the aid of the party.
While listing all outstanding cases pending before the Court in Yenagoa, the party asked for the cases to be transferred to Abuja to “nip in the bud the clandestine and nefarious plans by Hon Justice Jane Inyang with other parties to subvert justice.”
Investigations however reveal that with the disqualification of its candidate for the Bayelsa West election, APC intends to have the cases on the electoral issues transfered from the court in Yenagoa.
According to party sources, the leadership of the party is apprehensive that it would not get justice especially after the case involving Dickson was dismissed.
However, the Ebebi Campaign Organisation has asked APC members in Bayelsa West to remain calm and not panic over the recent FHC ruling.
According to the director-general of the Campaign organisation, Hon Ofoni Williams, the PDP is desperate to use the Court to avoid an open contest because it knows Bayelsans would vote for the APC.
But a chieftain of APC in the state, Hon. Sunday Frank-Oputu absolved the Judiciary of any blame over the ruling disqualifying their candidate.
Frank-Oputu, said the party should speak up against acts of impunity and imposition of candidates by the party leaders led by the minister of state for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva.
The APC chieftain from Southern Ijaw Local Government area of the state, said the ruling of the Federal High Court presided over by Justice Jane Iyang has vindicated the dissenting voices of the party who kicked against the adoption of direct primaries and the eventual imposition of the parties candidate for the senatorial bye-election.
Another group within the APC, Democracy Vanguard, in a statement signed by its coordinator, Mr Ayibadoubra Jacobs also commended Justice Jane Inyang for her courage in delivering judgment in the Ebebi’s case despite blackmails, intimidation and unfounded petitions.
Nevertheless, INEC has said the APC and it’s candidate can still participate in the Dec. 5, Bayelsa West Senatorial bye-election if the Appeal Court ordered the restoration of the party’s logo and it’s candidate in the ballot.
The INEC national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, made the explanation on the sideline of stakeholders meeting in Yenagoa on Monday.
Okoye, however, said that once the commission was served such a court judgement, it was bound to obey and would restore the party logo and it’s candidate in the ballot.
“By the provision of section 285 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Federal High Court, the State High Court and High Court of FCT have been given the powers and jurisdiction to entertain pre-election matters.
“Part of that process is that the moment the commission is served with a court order, it is bound to obey.
“If the court of appeal sets aside that particular judgement, the commission will also obey, but first it will look at the court order, see the statement of the court order and obey.
“If the court order says APC, as a political party does not have a candidate in the election and commission, should remove the logo of the APC from the ballot, we are going to comply with that.
“If the court of appeal says restore and we have the time to do that, we will restore. If it is at least three days to the election, we will definitely restore and the APC will be on the ballot.
“If such judgement comes after the election, it depends on the specific order which the court has made; but whatsoever the court says, we will obey,” he said.
In Bayelsa Central, the legal tussle over candidacy is also raging even though it’s an internal tussle within APC.
An APC chieftain and former member of the House of Representative, Hon. Henry Ofongo had approached the Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge the authenticity of the primaries which produced the party’s candidate, Chief Ebifemowei Abel.
Ofongo, who participated in the APC primaries for Bayelsa Central told the Court that the candidate of the party is not qualified.
He alleged that the candidate was Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL) from the Nigerian Air Force, stressing,”As it stands, he is still in public service and still a member of the Nigerian Air force.”
All efforts to get Ofongo to drop the suit against the party candidate failed. His alleged refusal to accept party verdict to drop the suit filed against the party’s candidate in the Bayelsa Central Senatorial bye-election in the state led to his suspension from the party.
The party suspended Ofongo and four others over alleged anti-party activities as contained in article 21(A) subsection (10) of the party’s constitution.
Also suspended are a former secretary of the defunct New PDP, Godwin Sidi, Mr. Peter Ozobo, Moses Hitler and Brown Ebide.
In the statement signed by publicity secretary of APC in the state, Doifie Buokoribo, the party said, “Following the report from the ward and local government executives of the Ekeremor, Sagbama and Southern Ijaw Local Government areas, the State Executive Committee objectively looked into the gravity of infraction and violation against the party.
“At the State Executive Council meeting held on the 26th of October,2020, after critical deliberation on the allegation level against them, the state executive committee considering the provision of article 21(A) sub section (10),which negates the moral and good conscience which has caused the party grievous multifaceted setbacks.”
Reacting to the development, Hon. Henry Ofongo, in a chat with LEADERSHIP, rejected the allegation of anti-party acts leveled against him, describing his decision to approach the court over the non-qualification of the Party’s Bayelsa Central Senatorial candidate, Ebifemowei as legal and in line with the party constitution.
Ofongo argued that he was not in court to challenge the party or the primaries of the party, ”but I am challenging the fact that the candidate is not qualified. He was allegedly accused of being Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL) from the Nigerian Air force and came back in 1998,” As it stands, he is still in public service and still a member of the Nigerian Air force.
“I have explored all available party machineries and the Party’s petition committee refused to entertain my petition, I had to move to the court. It does not breach party constitution in any way,” he said.
Ofongo described his announced suspension as a violation of the section 36(1) of the party constitution which stipulated that any accused member of he party should be given fair hearing and allowed to defend his or herself over the allegation brought against him or her.
The duo of Comrade Ebide Brown and Comrade Moses Hitler, who were also suspended for alleged support of the zoning arrangement between Sagbama /Ekeremor which purportedly did not favour the APC flag bearer, Ebebi, described their suspension as illegal as those who announced their suspension have also been suspended by a faction of the party led by Chief Fala Ebierein Etubo.
On their part, chairman and spokesman of the group known as APC Grassroots Mobilisation Sagbama-Ekeremor, Comrade Ebide Brown and Comrade Moses Hitler, in a jointly signed statement in Yenagoa, described their suspension as inconsequential, baseless and obnoxious,” the self–acclaimed members of the party Sec led by Amos Jotham that initiated the process are incapacitated and were indefinitely suspended over alleged acts of misconduct and for intentionally creating division in the party.”
“Their indefinite suspension was in line with the report of the state 4-man Disciplinary Committee over formal complaints against them and, it was done in an Executive meeting presided over by the State Deputy Chairman, Mr. Orubebe Ogeibiri on October 10, 2019 at the state party secretariat.
“Following the indefinite suspension of Mr. Amos Jotham and six other officials, the State vice Chairman , Bayelsa Central, Chief Fala Ebierein Etubo was appointed as Acting Chairman in line with the APC constitution.
“The constitutionally recognized APC Chairman and Secretary in Ekeremor LGA are Mr. Amasighan Azikiwe and Mr. Olorogun Isaac respectively.
“The self- appointed chairmanship position of Mr. Eniekenemi Mitin is unconstitutional as he cannot break ranks to become the LGA chairman of APC in Ekeremor because he was the Youth leader of APC in Ekeremor LGA.
“It is also of significance to inform the general public that the objectives of APC GRASSROOT MOBILIZATION SAGBAMA-EKEREMOR harmonize with that of the APC constitution on our irreversible position on the zoning arrangement in Bayelsa West but our voice was not heard by the party leadership,” they said.