Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Even before the emergence of the candidates for the Bayelsa West Senatorial District bye-election, a lot of interests have been generated on how the eventual representative of the people at the Red Chamber would emerge. Now with the emergence of former Governor Henry Seriake Dickson as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former deputy governor and former speaker, Peremobowei Ebebi as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Bayelsa West senatorial race is the cynosure of all eyes.
The reason is not far- fetched. The seat is a highly prized political contest considering the bitter political rivalry existing between the PDP and the APC. More importantly, the continued defeat of the APC in the hands of PDP led by Dickson in Bayelsa since 2012 makes the election an endgame of sorts for the APC to deal a permanent mortal blow to Dickson’s political career.
Though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) initially fixed the election for October 31 before it rescheduled to December 5th, political pundits believed the two main political parties are in a race to edge each other out even before the first ballot is cast.
Due to the legal challenges mounted by the PDP in the build-up to the November 19 governorship election in Bayelsa which eventually paid off with the controversial Supreme Court judgement that sacked David Lyon as the governor-elect on the eve of the inauguration, political parties now know that winning the ballot is not enough prompting candidates exploring the legal angle as the available option to outwit their opponents in an electoral contest.
The litany of cases already in Court over the Bayelsa West Senatorial bye-election underscores the seriousness political parties now attach to pre-election suits to reduce the chances of their opponents before and after the election.
Just like a Federal High Court (FHC) disqualified Senator Biobarakuma Degi- Eremienyo from contesting as running mate in the November 16 governorship election, a FHC sitting in Yenagoa has also disqualified Ebebi from contesting in the senatorial bye-election.
Investigations revealed that at the last count, there are three cases, two with same subject matter filed against Ebebi at Abuja and Yenagoa. The suit in Abuja has now been transferred to Yenagoa.
In one of the suits in Yenagoa, the presiding judge, Justice Jane Inyang, in a judgment on a case of forgery filed by Richman Samuel, an associate of Dickson and a former Director of Domestic Matters, Government House, Yenagoa, upheld the plaintiff’s prayers and declared the APC candidate ineligible to contest.
The plaintiff contended that the academic credentials and voter’s card, which the defendant submitted to the INEC for the by-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 for 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 reporters 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.”
While some legal experts consider the ruling faulty which can be upturned at the Appeal Court, a group, All Progressives Congress Democracy Vanguard believed to be sponsored by the PDP has commended Justice Inyang for her courage in delivering the judgment against Ebebi.
The group in a statement signed by its coordinator, Mr Ayibadoubra Jacobs making reference to the second judgment that the party did not conduct valid primaries was a welcome development.
‘The far reaching decision of Hon. Justice J.E. Inyang, of the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, is a landmark development in the jurisprudence of pre-election matters especially as it relates to the adherence of political actors to the constitution and guidelines of the party in the conduct of internal party affairs and this decision deserves immense commendations and support’ he said
However, a case filed against Dickson to counter the offensive of PDP was thrown out by the court giving the PDP the upper hand in the legal battle of wits. One Eneoriekumoh Owoupele had approached the Court through his lawyer, Mr. A.O Aniso, seeking to disqualify Dickson from participating in the election for alleged supply of false information to the INEC.
The Court in its ruling dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction noting that the case was brought to the court after the stipulated time for such an action.
Justice Inyang ruled that the case was statute barred as the prescribed period for litigation had passed and dismissed it.
APC fights back
The APC aware of the legal pitfalls the PDP has laid for it has decided to also fire from all cylinders to counter the PDP offensive. The party tracing the unfavourable judgments the court had given it from the Bayelsa governorship election fired a petition to the President FHC to transfer its case from the Court of Justice Jane Inyang over allegation of bias in the delivery of judgment.
The petition 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 the Chairman of the Party, Mr Jothan Amos and Secretary, Mr Alabo Martins 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 which noted that several petitions have been written in the past requesting Justice Jane to rescue herself from proceedings or have matters transferred on grounds of loss of confidence in the court’s ability to deliver judgment unbiased but were ignored 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 Justice Jane Inyang with other parties to subvert justice.”
The Ebebi Campaign organisation through its Director-General, Mr Ofoni Williams in another counter offensive called on all members of the party and the electorate to remain calm over what it called the ‘usual kangaroo judgement’ delivered by the federal high court against the candidate of the party.
Williams in the press statement said the people should not be ‘discouraged and dismayed’ by the federal court ruling entered against the party, based on the premise that the party had no valid primaries.
According to him, the party had envisaged such an ill-fated judgement and expected nothing less because the party is always aware in advance that it is the tradition of the court in question to deliver judgements of this nature.
He said this is premised on the ground that the said court had openly maintained functional nexus with the PDP-led government of Bayelsa State. It noted that the FHC in Yenagoa in the recent past had brazenly shown its unofficial capacity as an annex of Bayelsa State Government House.
“In view of the above, the party had approached the President of the FHC to transfer the matter in order to forestall a repeat of such ugly experiences but was turned down for some obvious technical reasons. Surprisingly, the matter that was instituted against the PDP candidate challenging his eligibility to contest the election in question owing to several inconsistencies in his certificates was expeditiously transferred from Abuja to the same FHC in Yenagoa which is PDP “Father Christmas”, the statement reads.
Williams therefore declared that the PDP has hatched a sinister plan with the Court to avoid open defeat in a free and fair electoral contest thereby undermining democracy in Bayelsa State.
Investigations revealed that the APC actually conducted primaries to pick candidates for the vacant Senatorial bye-election on September 3. The Returning Officer for the election, General Abdulsalami Dahiru(rtd) was the one who announced the result at the party secretariat as he commended party members for their peaceful conduct which led to a hitch- free direct primaries elections.
He disclosed that three candidates including Ebebi, Captain Matthew Karimo and Kemelayefa Omonibeke participated in the primaries of Bayelsa West Senatorial election.
According to him, Ebebi polled 10,633 votes to defeat both Karimo who polled 1, 708 and Omonibeke who polled 414 votes.
He therefore declared Ebebi the winner of the election and candidate of the party for the senatorial election having scored the highest votes.
In Bayelsa Central, Dahiru disclosed that five aspirants namely Ebifemowei, Timipa Orunimighe, Festus Daumebi, Goodknows Boladei Igali and Henry Ofongo, all participated in the election.
According to him, Ebifemowei polled 24, 724 to defeat Orunimighe who polled 1, 581, Daumebi 2,849, Ofongo 1,912 and Igali 217 votes.
Dahiru also declared Ebifemowei winner of the election and candidate of the party having scored the highest number of votes.