There is tension in Bayelsa State All Progressives Congress (APC)) as the Federal High Court, sitting in Yenagoa disqualified the candidate of the party for the Bayelsa West Senatorial bye-election, Peremobowei Ebebi, reports ‘Dare Odufowokan, Assistant Editor
SINCE the crisis that trailed its gubernatorial primary election which produced David Lyon as its candidate last year, the Bayelsa State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has not known peace. In spite of winning the general election and being declared governor-elect by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Lyon was to lose the seat to Douye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party hours to his swearing-in following a Supreme Court judgement nullifying APC’s participation in the gubernatorial race on the grounds that Lyon’s deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, presented false information to INEC in aid of his qualification for the November 16 governorship election in the state.
Though the party had been divided before, during and after the primary election, it closed ranks and prosecuted the general election with some unity of purpose, resulting in the overwhelming victory recorded by its candidate on Election Day. But the nullification of that hard earned victory by the Supreme Court further divided the APC in the state as allegations and counter allegations of complicity by some chieftains in the legal processes that led to the loss of the coveted seat, tore the party apart. So, it was that the party started the build up to the rescheduled senatorial by-elections in the state still sharply divided, contrary to expectations that the party will learn from its loss and close ranks.
Determined to ensure that the party in Bayelsa returned to its winning ways, the national leadership of the APC last month said it will do all it can to win the two vacant senatorial seats in the state. The party’s caretaker committee chairman, Yobe State Governor Mala Buni, said winning the two senatorial seats “will aid the process of regaining the party’s foothold in the South-south, a region where the APC currently has no sitting governor. Our success in this election is very crucial and strategic because of the need to have more supporting hands in the National Assembly for improved collaboration and synergy with the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to successfully execute its policies and programmes to improve the lives of Nigerians.
“It has become imperative for us as the leading political party in Nigeria to build a virile, strong, vibrant, and more united APC that would serve beyond, two, three, four or even five terms of office to ensure continuity and consolidation of the gains the party has achieved. This remains the surest way to fully actualise our manifesto and improve the lives of Nigerians,” he said. Two of the three senatorial seats for Bayelsa State became vacant following last year’s resignation of both Governor 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 2019 governorship election.
INEC recently fixed December 5 2020 for the conduct of postponed by-elections. The 15 by-elections will hold in 11 states across the country. INEC was forced to postpone the election following the #EndSARS protest owing to the vandalisation of its offices and facilities by hoodlums in some states. Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education, announced the new date on Friday, saying December 5 was chosen following consultations with stakeholders.
But it appears it is not yet time for the troubled state chapter of the APC to heave a sigh of relief. Penultimate Tuesday, the Federal High Court, sitting in Yenagoa and presided over by Justice Jane Inyang, disqualified the candidate of the party for the Bayelsa West Senatorial bye-election, Peremobowei Ebebi. Justice Inyang delivered the judgment on a case of alleged forgery filed against Ebebi by Richman Samuel, a former Director of Domestic Matters, Government House, 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.).
But the plaintiff contended that the academic credentials and voter card which the defendant submitted to the INEC for the bye-election were forged. Justice Inyang, in her ruling, upheld the plaintiff’s argument and declared the APC candidate ineligible to contest the bye-election. She held that the voter card which the Ekeremor-born politician submitted to INEC 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 had only two credits, which fell short of the required credits in five relevant subjects, including English Language and Literature in English.
The judgement didn’t come to APC and its chieftains as a surprise because controversies have trailed the primary election that produced Ebebi last September. Expectedly, a number of cases were instituted against his candidacy from within and outside the party. While the case by Samuel was being heard, Ebebi’s supporters have accused some prominent APC chieftains in the state, particularly a former gubernatorial aspirant and his allies, of fuelling the litigations against the APC candidate ahead of the by-election. “It is common knowledge in Bayelsa that all these cases enjoy the support of some of our own chieftains who are angry that Ebebi emerged as the candidate,” a state party official said.
Immediately after the primary election, some chieftains of the APC in the state petitioned the National Caretaker Committee, accusing the Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Timipre Sylva, of imposing candidates on the party without due consultations with stakeholders. The APC leaders, under the auspice of APC Constitutional and Due Process Vanguard, include Hon. Godwin Sidi, Hon. Dressman, Frank Oputu, Peter Ozobo, Ebide Brown and Moses Hitler. The aggrieved members called on Buni to stop Sylva and his acolytes from imposing candidates on the party in order to avert what they described as an impending disaster in the now rescheduled senatorial by-elections.
Now, Ebebi’s election has been nullified and the APC stand the risk of not fielding a candidate in the election unless it finds a way of ensuring the former deputy governor’s name is on the ballot. This is because checks by The Nation revealed that with the nomination of candidates declared closed by INEC months back, the party will not be allowed to bring forward a replacement for Ebebi should his disqualification by the court subsists till Election Day. “The process is very clear and uniform. The nomination processes have been closed and cannot be reopened for just one party. The implication is that the party will not participate in the election when it is finally scheduled to hold,” an INEC official said.
Sources close to the national secretariat of the party told The Nation that leaders of the party are disturbed by the turn of events and are already working round the clock to ensure Ebebi’s candidacy is restored. “This is not a time to apportion blames. It is not a time to find out who did what; rather, it is a time to ensure that the only chance of the APC winning that seat, which is Ebebi’s candidacy, is restored. We will return to chastise ourselves later,” a member of the Caretaker Committee said on Thursday. The Nation also gathered that the party and the candidate have both appealed the judgement disqualifying the former governor. “We are confident of winning the appeal,” our source said.
Confirming the moves to vacate the judgment, the Director-General of the Rt. Hon. Peremobowei Ebebi Campaign Organisation, Hon. Ofoni Williams, said lawyers had been instructed to appeal the judgment immediately. But The Nation learnt that unless some aggrieved party chieftains are appeased, the chances that the appeal will be won are slim. “As long as some chieftains and members of the APC are still collaborating with the plaintiff in the case, it is left to be seen how we will win the appeal. The main problem facing us is within and we must move to solve that immediately, if we are not to be defeated judicially once again,” a chieftain of the party in Bayelsa West Senatorial District warned.
But it appears chieftains and leaders of the party are yet to understand the implications of the court verdict. Or they care less. This is because rather than put its house in order and find a way of staying on the ballot in Bayelsa West, APC in Bayelsa State is continuing on the road to implosion. Currently, chieftains of the party are trading blames while former Governor Seriake Dickson, who is the PDP candidate in the senatorial election, seems to be on a rollercoaster to the National Assembly. Pundits have predicted that the senatorial contest is actually a straight fight between Dickson and Ebebi in spite of the presence of a couple of other contenders in the race.
According to Frank-Oputu, an APC chieftain and former State Chairman of Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), for peace to return to Bayelsa APC, the party should denounce acts of impunity and the imposition of candidates by party leaders led by Sylva. “I want to thank God that the dissenting voices of the APC have been heard and that the rule of law has taken its full course. I have already sounded the alarm about the way Sylva has handled the affairs of the party and that the party will always be a victim of the law. And if anyone could remember the last governorship primary, that’s why we are where we are today as a party. Today, we see the same experience as that of the governor’s last primary.
“I sounded the alarm that the party should go the indirect way of the primaries. And that if we want to do the right thing and the people see us as a party, we have to organise indirect primaries. But alas, they shot us in the leg again with poor quality primaries. Also, as a party, a letter of notification should have been sent to INEC and a letter of acknowledgment received on the invitation. If INEC doesn’t come, that’s no longer your problem. You have a defense that they were duly notified in accordance with the electoral law. If the party does not inform INEC, it is not the fault of INEC, the judiciary or the opposition party that capitalised on the loopholes. The electoral law makes it compulsory,” he said.
But an optimistic Ebebi, in his reaction to the ruling, said he had instructed his team of lawyers to appeal the judgments. He debunked claims that he was imposed, recalling that he emerged in a free, fair and credible election conducted by credible persons. He contended that the court did not have the jurisdiction to entertain the matters. Ebebi said, “We have instructed our legal team to appeal the two judgments delivered by the court without jurisdiction. It should be noted that this is not the first time this particular judge has given these kinds of judgments to destabilise the APC. These judgments were not unexpected as the judge demonstrated bias ab initio.”