On November 16, 2019, the people of Bayelsa State marched out in large number to elect a governor to take over from Seriake Dickson, who interestingly served out a two term of four years each and now back on the campaign trail to fight for the Bayelsa Senatorial seat. It was a sham of election where the will of the people was never allowed to prevail as all efforts were made to thwart, turn democracy upside down and stunt the little progress that the state witnessed in the eight years under the former governor.
Bayelsa State should have a place in the Guinness Book of Record. Here, a candidate by the name Douye Diri had been to the courts a total 31 times, five ending up at the Supreme court. He came out victorious in all.
It was not funny. Indeed, it all started after the September 4, primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), where Diri emerged as the party’s choice having defeated the former NDDC Managing Director, Ndutimi Alaibe, who went to court to challenge the exercise in what could be referred to as a pre-election matter. From the High Court, Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, Alaibe could not upturn the result of the primaries. Diri and the PDP dragged the APC to court to challenge the eligibility of the Deputy Governorship Candidate of the All progressives Congress (APC). The High Court found him ineligible but the APC challenged the ruling and the status quo was maintained.
The APC candidate and his deputy were declared winner and the Appeal Court ruled in favour of the party, causing PDP to approach the Supreme Court. However, a day to the February 14, 2020 swearing -in date, the apex court threw a bombshell. The then Governor elect David Lyon was already rehearsing at the Samson Siasia Stadium for the swearing in when news filtered that the apex court had ruled in favour of PDP and a certificate of return was subsequently issued to Diri and his Deputy Lawrence Ewhurdjakpor.
But not satisfied, the APC candidate went ahead to seek a review of the case at the Supreme Court which not only threw out the case but awarded millions of naira cost against the APC candidate.
Not satisfied, still bent on throwing spanner in the works, petitions and legal fireworks continued with the Elections Tribunal where the Alliance for Democracy, Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), Labour Movement (LM) and Accord Party contested the election of Diri and Ewhrudjakpo. The The Tribunal gave victory to the two former Senators but the two other judges ruled in favour of the applicants and asked INEC to organise fresh polls within the stipulated period.
However, the PDP candidates went to the Appeal Court which nullified the judgment of the lower court. Yet the parties again approached the Supreme Court that gave the final seal of approval on the election of Diri and his deputy.
It is on record now that no candidate or governor-elect has ever been dragged through the entire legal process in the history of Nigerian democracy to seal the seat. In the process, Douye became a regular face at the Supreme Court in the Federal Capital Abuja and not as an amicus curiae but a disturbed man who had so much to offer the state but was being distracted by the legal issues against the party and his seat at the Creek Haven in Yenagoa.
Besides Diri , his Deputy, Ehwrudjakpo was also caught up in the legal tussle where his NYSC certificate was alleged to be fake. The court also cleared the Deputy Governor, having discovered the fact that he duly wrote a letter to the NYSC after his name was wrongly spelt in the certificate and a fresh one issued, which he duly submitted to the INEC alongside other relevant documents for clearance.
Indeed, it has been distracting that in the past nine months. Diri never spent more than three weeks in Yenagoa or traveled out of the country because of the cases against him.
Humble to a fault, when many thoughts tilted towards declaration of a full-blown war against the litigants, Diri, extended a hand of fellowship to all those that filed petitions against his election. Diri, in his reaction to ruling of Wednesday by the Supreme Court, which dismissed the last batch of cases against him and his deputy, said the litigants were neither his enemies nor enemies of Bayelsa, while insisting that they only exercised their rights by going to court and that he did not consider the litigations as personal regardless of the fact that they distracted him.
Interestingly, the dismissal of the petitions of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Liberation Movement (LM) and Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP) against the deputy governor and that of the Accord Party (AP) against Diri was the fifth time the governor and his deputy had won at the Supreme Court.
However, in putting a final seal on the governor as being duly elected, the apex court said the appeals lacked merit and therefore dismissed all four petitions.
Diri said: “I have over the period leading to the Supreme Court ruling said as a state we do not need all of this distraction. We are one and the brotherhood should be paramount. After elections, particularly when a government has taken the oath of office, we expect everybody to support and bring their ideas on board for Bayelsa to grow and become prosperous. That is why we tagged our government the Prosperity Administration.
“So, today marks the end of all the litigations. If anybody wants to further appeal, maybe he can appeal to the court of the devil. But, constitutionally, I believe this is the end of all the litigations.
“Once again, I call on my brothers that had gone on this appeal to join hands with the government of the day. And what should be uppermost on our minds should be the interest of Bayelsa and not individual and personal interest. Of course, it is their right to take their matter to the end. However, I call on my brothers on the other side, who are not my enemies but political adversaries, so to speak, to join hands with our government and ensure that we bring development and prosperity to our people.”
Diri commended the Chief Justice of Nigeria and other justices of the Supreme Court for their professionalism and for proving that the court was the last hope of the common man by standing on the side of the rule of law, urging the Bayelsa people not to despair due to the challenges of the time.
“The times are hard. We are in tough times in the face of COVID-19, which is still threatening, and the dwindling resources of our country and of our state.
We believe God that has divinely put us in the position of leadership to also provide the divine resources for us to develop and prosper in Bayelsa and in Nigeria.
“So, my message to Bayelsans is that there is hope for us and prosperity is coming to Bayelsa. Nobody should despair. This is the time for us to bring our ideas to the table. This is the time for us to actually walk the talk and look at issues dispassionately without sentiments and emotions, in order to bring development and prosperity to our state.”
Again , when many thought that with litigations now buried and time for Diri to settle down to unveil his vision on the people of the state especially in areas of infrastructure development, agriculture and sports, some elements in the state are not done yet.
Few days to the Supreme Court seal of approval for Diri, a coalition of 45 NGOs went to court, seeking an order of mandamus compelling him as well as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Commissioners for Works and Infrastructure, Health and Education counterparts to make public the debt profile, account balance, and what the present administration of Bayelsa State inherited from the previous administration on February 14, 2020, on the state’s accounts from 2015 to 2019 in line with provisions of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2011.
Although the state government has refused to be drawn into another legal war even as it has been confirmed that the appropriate response will be made by the lawyers for the state in court in due season, it is strongly believed that for the sake of the court of public opinion that these sorts of court actions, which are nothing more than fishing expeditions, distractions and a drain on the lean resources, will not be helpful in our quest to build a prosperous and united Bayelsa State.
This fresh litigation looks more or less like another episode of a well-established but unfortunate pattern of over 12 litigations which have amounted to nothing more than judicial exercises and disturbances that will further drain the regime financially.
The financial records of the state have never been hidden for examination but available on the internet and elsewhere and would have more than satisfied candid information seekers. In accordance with extant laws, there have been monthly Transparency briefings, since 2012, that have provided the very documents that these NGOs are presumably requesting for in court. It is instructive to recall that, as a prelude to the subsequently botched transition, a joint committee of the government of the day and representatives of the APC was formed and full disclosure, contained in hand over notes was prepared.
QUOTE: My message to Bayelsans is that there is hope for us and prosperity is coming to Bayelsa. Nobody should despair. This is the time for us to bring our ideas to the table. This is the time for us to actually walk the talk and look at issues dispassionately without sentiments and emotions, in order to bring development and prosperity to our state