-Jubilation across Bayelsa
-Residents celebrate ‘shaming of enemies of democracy’
SUPREME Court yesterday dismissed the appeal filed by the All Progressives Congress, APC, candidate in the last governorship election in Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva. The ruling immediately elicited jubilations across the Niger Delta state with residents saying it was the “shaming of enemies of democracy.” The seven-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Tanko Muhammad unanimously affirmed the election of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate, Governor Seriake Dickson, who was returned as the winner of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Delivering a summary of the lead judgment, Justice Muhammad said he would give his reasons for his decision on November 18. The apex court delivered the judgment after a marathon hearing of various cases filed with respect to the dispute over the last year’s governorship election in Bayelsa State. The Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal had earlier dismissed the petition filed by Sylva to challenge the outcome of the election. The latter appealed to the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which also dismissed his case. Sylva went further to the Supreme Court to challenge the decision of the appellate court. Also on Tuesday, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, who is also a member of the Supreme Court panel, dismissed a cross-appeal filed by Dickson challenging some aspects of the judgement of the Court of Appeal on the dispute over the Bayelsa State election. Other members of the panel also agreed with Justice Kekere-Ekun. In another lead judgement by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the preliminary objection filed by the PDP against the appeal filed by Sylva was also dismissed. The panel members also promised to deliver a detailed judgement on November 18. The Court of Appeal had also dismissed the appeal filed by the APC candidate on same election. The court in a unanimous judgement held that Dickson was validly elected as governor of the state. A five-man panel with Justice Jimmi Olukayode Bada presiding resolved all the five issues raised by Sylva and his party in favour of Dickson and the PDP. Justice Bada, who delivered the lead judgement, held that Sylva and his party failed to prove the allegations of corruption, non-compliance, gross violation of the electoral act and other malpractices in the conduct of the election. He held that the foundation upon which the appellants based their case – that the December 6, 2015, election was unilaterally cancelled by the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, – had collapsed since they participated actively in the rescheduled election of January 9, 2016. He further held that it was established beyond doubt that the decision to shift December 6 election to January 9, 2016, was taken by the INEC and stakeholders. The judge held that the burden of proof rested on the appellants who would lose if no adequate evidence was placed before the court to prove the allegations contained in their petition. He held that: “The contention of the appellants has no merit. They were expected to lead evidence to prove their claim that the election was marred by irregularities, electoral malpractices, allocation of votes and gross violation of Electoral Act. These allegations were not proved by the appellants. “I’m in total agreement with the judgment of the lower tribunal because the decision was based on the evidence placed before it,” he added. He added that the tribunal was right in upholding Dickson’s election having resolved all the five issues raised by the appellants in favour of the respondents, thereby dismissing the petition in its entirety for lacking in merit. Sylva and APC first challenged the election of Dickson at the state Governorship Election Petition Tribunal on the grounds that the governor was not lawfully returned as the winner of the election. But in a unanimous decision, the three-man tribunal led by Justice Kazeem Aloba, the tribunal held that the APC failed to prove its case. The tribunal held that the election held in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area on January 9, 2016, was lawful and valid in law. It further held that from the evidence adduced before it, the election of December 6, 2015, was inconclusive and was rightfully rescheduled by INEC through the REC. It also held that contrary to the position of the petitioner, election took place in Southern Ijaw. Enemies of democracy Meanwhile, the Supreme Court judgement yesterday threw up spontaneous jubilations across the state with major roads in the capital town of Yenagoa immediately becoming a carnival of sorts, as streets were jammed just as major public drinking places were taken over by happy Bayelsans. The leader of a group of youths gathered around the popular NNPC junction told onlookers that they “wanted to cause tension and further destroy democracy in this state, but the Supreme Court has shamed all of them, enemies of democracy.” Earlier yesterday, residents of Yenagoa woke up to witness increased security presence around the Government House and strategic areas. This happened hours ahead of the Supreme Court ruling. All the roads leading to Onopa, the seat of government, were blocked by armed security officers, as motorists and commuters were forced to seek alternative routes to their destinations. NAN quoted Asinim Butswat, spokesman of the state police command, as saying the deployment was to ensure prevailing peace in the capital.