The apex court in Nigeria, the Supreme Court, has sacked the All Progressives Congress (APC) governor-elect of Bayelsa State, David Lyon and his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo. The court, in a unanimous decision by a five-man panel of Justices led by Justice Mary Odili, on Thursday held that Degi-Eremieoyo presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The verdict has temporarily arrested a dangerous political war that was brewing in the state. Ahead of the Lyon inauguration, dark political clouds were gathering in Bayelsa, the home state of former President Goodluck Jonathan in Southern Nigeria as the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, and the governor-elect, Lyon, were locked in a fierce tug-of-war over juicy appointments in the state.
Sources say the frosty relationship between the two APC leaders in the oil and gas-rich state, if not properly handled, could have boiled over and plunged the creeks into a nasty bloody war.
Lyon was said to be blocking the minister who had once dominated the affairs of the state as a governor, from having his way in nominating key members of the cabinet.
Those who know the backstage tussle between the two better say Sylva has been proposing to nominate Lyon’s Chief of Staff, Secretary to the State Government, as well as Finance and Works Commissioners.
But, the political foot soldiers of the Aliyu Sabo Bakin Zuwo-like barely-literate Lyon, are stoutly opposed to Sylva’s alleged bid to hijack the APC administration of Lyon. On the other hand, political associates of the minister are dismissing the allegation as unfounded.
Zuwo was a senator in the Second Republic who was elected Governor of Kano State in October 1983. He held sway for only three months as the civil rule was aborted by a military coup that brought the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari to power in December 1983. Zuwo was, however, elected on the platform of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), galvanized by the legendary Mallam Aminu Kano.
Zuwo had no formal education. He claimed he attended Mallam Aminu Kano Political School, Sudawa, Kano.
However, according to the pro-Sylva political stalwarts, it was the minister who spent his time and money to ensure that Lyon emerged as the governor of the state. But before now, Sylva had made two unsuccessful bids to return as the governor of the state. This tends to indicate that the emergence of Lyon as governor was not the minister’s sole effort.
However, the obviously angry Sylva people have started to unleash their missiles at the Lyon bases. ‘’Talk is cheap. The meal is ready and even passers-by are trooping into the feast and run their mouths without sparing a thought on how the meal came by. Before Sylva brought Lyon, who was he? Who knew him? Now they have the guts to whine about appointments’’, they fired.
At the bottom of the emerging conflict between Sylva and Lyon, is the tapping of Professor Seiyefa Birisibe, for the Chief of Staff slot.
Birisibe is a former Dean, Faculty of Clinical Services at the Niger Delta University in the state. He served as one of the campaign managers of Timi Alaibe, who unsuccessfully sought to be the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in the last election.
No sooner Alaibe, a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) lost to Senator Duoye Diri, Birisibe ditched him and began to campaign for APC’s Lyon.
Lyon’s loyalists are opposed to allowing Birisibe whose allegiance is allegedly still hazy, to hold such a strategic post as the governor’s Chief of Staff.
For some concerned APC chiefs, a Chief of Staff is like the governor’s alter ego. ‘’It has to be someone who knows the thinking of the governor and so, can act on his behalf. It will be very selfish for Sylva to seek to impose Birisibe or any other person for that matter as Chief of Staff’’, a party player said.
Adding, he said, ‘’the question is, who nominated persons into the government when Sylva was the governor? Birisibe might be considered as a health commissioner, not as chief of staff. As at the last time I checked, Lyon was considering either of a former federal legislator or a lawyer as his chief of staff.’’
In the meantime, Justice Ejembi Eko, who read the judgment, noted that the “claims” by Degi-Eremienyo appeared to be “fraudulent”, pointing out to “several names he used chameleonically to suit the changing environment.”
He ruled that Degi-Eremienyo’s disqualification on the basis of submitting false information to INEC had infected the joint ticket with which he and Lyon contested the election and emerged victoriously.
He said, “In sum total, the joint ticket of the first and second respondents (Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo) sponsored by the 3rd respondent, APC, was vitiated by the disqualification of the first respondent (Degi-Eremienyo).
“Both candidates disqualified are deemed not to be candidates in the governorship election.”
Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Eko, nullified the APC’s victory, restored and affirmed the earlier judgment of Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which disqualified Degi-Eremienyo’s candidacy and nullified the party’s ticket for the poll.
He set aside the December 23, 2019 judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja which had contrary to the Federal High Court’s decision validated the former deputy governor-elect’s candidacy.
The appeal ruled upon by the Supreme Court was filed by the PDP, its governorship and deputy governorship candidates of the party, who had alleged in their suit originated at the Federal High Court in Abuja that Degi-Eremienyo presented to INEC, documents of academic qualifications with about nine variations of names different from the name that appeared on his Form CF001 submitted to the electoral commission.
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.
He 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.”
The Federal High Court had held that there was no evidence to prove that the documents with different name variations were his.
Upholding the finding on Thursday, the apex court held that the affidavits of correction of names and regularisation of names filed by him were not enough as he ought to have followed the laid down legal procedures.
The apex court also held that “having not approached the authorities which issued the certificates of academic qualifications in 1976 (the first school leaving certificate) and 1984) (the West African School Certificate/GCE), the first respondent’s brandishing of the certificates using affidavit to assert the ownership of the certificates was erroneous.”
It held that “clearly, the lower court erred when it held that the affidavit of correction of names sworn to by the first defendant” had corrected the numerous discrepancies in his names in August.
He said, “Section 182(1)(j) of the 1999 Constitution provides that nobody shall be qualified for an election for the governor of a state if he has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission”, adding that “the word fraud” could mean “fabricating, framing and inventing false identification and making deliberate falsehood”.
He added, “The lower court (Court of Appeal) was wrong that the appellants did not establish that the first respondent in Form CF 001 presented to INEC contained materially false information as to the personal particulars of the first respondent.
“The trial court, on the contrary, was right. On this issue, I also allow the appeal, set aside the judgment of the lower court delivered on 23 December 2019 and I hereby reinstate the judgment of the trial court delivered on November 12, 2019, including all the others made therein.”
While the Supreme Court ruled that the votes credited to the APC’s candidates were wasted, it ordered INEC to withdraw the certificates of return issued to Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo as the winners of the poll.
It ordered fresh ones to be issued to the governorship and deputy governorship candidates of the party with the highest votes and met the constitutional spread of votes in the election. The court also ordered the newly-declared winners of the election to be sworn in at the appropriate time.