Reading the full judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of Bayelsa State’s David Lyon and Engr. Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo is the most appropriate step towards understanding the context of the judgment and appreciating the action of the court in correcting an anomaly which, ab initio, was created by Engr. Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, the deputy governor that would never be.
The first step here is to understand, and accept, that the case involving Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo was a pre-election matter, which emanated when governorship candidate of the PDP in that state, Sen. Duoye Diri, and his party approached a Federal High Court in Abuja asking for the disqualification of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the grounds that he did not meet conditions set out in the constitution for qualification to be validly nominated as candidate for an election.
Principally, the applicants pointed at fact that Degi-Eremienyo may have misled the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by laying claims, and presenting documents, which may have been forged in his nomination form. Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo were aware of the suit and were fully represented throughout the trial period. Of course, the applicants waited till the closure of substitution of nomination before bringing the action against the defendants. It was so cleverly planned that head or tail, the defendants would not contest the November 16 governorship election. That was a maneuver in favour of the PDP.
The Federal High Court presided over by Justice Inyang Ekwo on November 12 found the suit meritorious and subsequently upheld the reliefs sought which, principally, was to disqualify Degi-Eremienyo on the grounds of anomalies found in his form CF001, submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Accordingly, Justice Ekwo held that “where a candidate is found to have lied on oath, a court must issue an order disqualifying such a candidate from contesting the election”.
Consequence of the judgment was also the disqualification of the APC governorship ticket and since the time for substitution of candidates had lapsed, the party had no way of changing Lyon’s running mate. Implication therefore was that APC was aware, as at November 12, 2019 that its governorship candidate in Bayelsa state had a ‘k-leg’. But Degi-Eremienyo dismissed the High Court judgment as “laughable”. He argued that the judgment will not stand when tested before a higher court.
Indeed, Lyon, Degi-Eremienyo and APC approached the Court of Appeal seeking to repair the ‘k-leg’ and set aside the Justice Ekwo’s judgment. However, it played a very smart one. The appellants went to the Court of Appeal on November 15, 2019 with an ex parte application which the Court immediately granted ‘pending the determination of an appeal against the judgment of the Federal High Court’. Legally, an ex parte order does not serve the interest of both parties. It is actually a momentary relief in the interest of one party. The implication is that Lyon, Degi-Eremienyo and APC did not return to the Court of Appeal to thoroughly challenge the judgment of the Federal High Court and also, properly set it aside. This logically means that as at February 13, 2019, the judgment of Justice Ekwo had not been set aside. This is about three months after the order was made because ex parte orders, as agreed by lawyers and jurists, are not perpetual but temporary, in nature.
In essence, it was the ex parte order of the Court of Appeal, made on November 15 that allowed Lyon, Degi-Eremienyo and APC to contest the governorship election on November 16. It means still, that even at the time of the conduct of the election, APC knew that its candidates in the election stood disqualified and as such, their participation in the election was merely academic. It had no candidate as it were for the election. The wider implication was that all votes validly, and invalidly, cast for APC on November 16, 2019 were wasted.
I believe this is why the judgment of the Supreme Court did not make any reference to the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the substantive appeal, because there is none. PDP and its candidates were right in seeking to set aside the ex parte order at the Supreme Court. It is not impossible that many had forgotten that the case was still alive as at February 13 haven not been finally dispensed with. The euphoria of ‘victory’ obviously made it possible to many, even within APC, to forget that the victors of November 16 eelection, were still, before the law, disqualified from the contest. So, was the euphoria of ‘victory’ supposed to obviate the fact of disqualification? Obviously no!
Therefore, the fact, as contested by Degi-Eremienyo, to the effect that he had used the different names in his public service record did not in any way material, forestall that fact of alleged forgery. That he had different names on his certificates and, also different affidavits to back them had not been legally challenged, did not mean he had been right all along. That was why the outcome at the Supreme Court shocked many. However, the apex court did not do anything untoward in upholding the judgment of Justice Ekwo disqualifying Degi-Eremienyo, and by implication, Lyon and APC.
The APC deputy governor-elect, as he was on February 13, had Biobragha Degi on his First School Leaving Certificate issued in 1976. He had Adegi Brokuma on his WAEC/GCE issued in 1984 and Degi Biobarakuma Wangawa on his Bachelor’s Degree. On August 9, 2018, he swore to an affidavit of Correction and Confirmation of Name and swore that his correct name was Biobarakuma Degi. Also in 2018, precisely on September 18, he swore to another affidavit of regularization of name where he deposed that his correct name was now Biobarakuma Wanagha Degi-Eremienyo.
He made his case worse when he swore another affidavit before a notary public stating that registering for WASC examination the alphabet “A” was inadvertently added to the surname transforming it to Adegi. Thus his name became Biobarakuma Wanagha Adegi. He also stated in his affidavit that his name changed to Biobrakuma Wanagha Adegi-Eremienyo after he took a chieftaincy title, which added Eremienyo to his name, according to Nembe tradition. In a change of name published in Chronicles newspapers of July 20, 2018, he changed his name from Biobarakuma Wanagha Degi to Biobarakuma Wanagha Degi-Eremienyo, the same name he used in his form CF001.
Those were the facts that the Supreme Court examined and held that “the affidavit of Correction and Confirmation of Name of 9th August, 2018, was a fraudulent attempt to correct the name on the First School Leaving Certificate issued in 1976 and the WAEC/GCE Certificate issued in 1984.”
It also held that: “The only authority competent to correct anything on those Certificates was the authority that issued either Certificate and that the Affidavit of Correction of Name does not in his opinion, conform to the proper manner of changing name or correcting a name on a certificate, and that it is only by Deed Poll, and not by mere deposition that a name on an official Certificate can be effected and further that the procedure necessarily affects official record and archives of the nation. That it is after the Deed Poll that the deponent approaches the Nigerian Civil Registry to have the change published in the official gazette.