With The Last Battle Ended At The Supreme Court, Time To Sheath The Sword And Join Hands Move Bayelsa Forward
Like some parts of Nigeria, the Niger Delta is one region where elections hardly end with the verdict of the electorate at the polls, without lingering litigations from tribunal to the Supreme Court. The States of Rivers, Delta, Edo and Bayelsa stand out in elongated legal battles among contestants.
Bayelsa, the youngest of them all, has surprisingly had all governorship elections greeted with court cases that spanned months or years, from tribunal to the apex court. Sometimes, one case had different legs, to the extent that many people did not know which was which.
From history, the victory of Late Chief Diepreye S. P. Alamieyeseigha in the 1999 governorship election that made him first civilian governor of Bayelsa State, was contested until the Supreme Court, by the then All Peoples Party (APP) and its gubernatorial candidate, Chief Francis A. Doukpola.
The regime of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who mounted the seat by providence, was free from legal disturbances. Thereafter, Chief Timipre Sylva got to power, but had legal battles starting with controversies about rightful heir to Dr. Jonathan’s gubernatorial ticket, being that he was drafted to be running mate to Late President Umaru Yar’Adua. Chief Sylva was also pursued by his opponents, Chief Ebitimi Angbari and Chief Moro Ikubor to the courts. Chief Amgbari secured judgement that ordered a re-run, but Sylva, who was then destined by God to occupy the seat, still won.
The stubborn demon of prolonged election cases in Bayelsa, refused to be cast out by even the strongest Man of God, up to the first tenure of Chief Henry S. Dickson, whose opponents, for instance Engr. Austine Ogionwo and Chief Timipre Sylva did not give up until Appeal Court in 2013 and the Supreme Court, respectectively. From the first instance at the tribunal to the Supreme Court, Chief Dickson had his first governorship election victory validated by all the courts. His feat was like that of Chief Alamieyeseigha who won all the elections cases.
In 2015, the election case demon, resurfaced in the polity of the state, and even stronger. The victory of Chief Dickson, who won the governorship elections of December 5 and 6, 2015 and January 9, 2016, was contested at the Tribunal, Appeal Court and Supreme Court, all of which upheld his election for a second term.
Like those days in primary school when Headmasters do announce results to pupils at the end of the session, the Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Kaazem Olaruwaju Alogba, announced that the “petitioners failed woefully”. Dickson’s election was therefore, upheld for want of evidence from the petitioners – APC and Chief Sylva. But the matter went on appeal and finally to the Supreme Court.
Unknown to the appellants and their crack counsels, who did not advise their clients to lie low, the stunning judgment by the Tribunal, was to become the determinant of the far-cry victory they so expected in all the Courts of Record.
The Appeal Court and the Supreme Court toed the line of the Tribunal. Justice Jimmi Olukayode Bada of the Appeal Court on September 22, 2016 and Justice Mohammed Tanko of the Supreme Court on November 8, 2016, all dismissed the appeals for lack of merit, and upheld Dickson’s election.
The Supreme Court’s verdict against the appellants’ conflicting claims that election did not hold in Southern Ijaw on January 9, 2016, but that the first appellant, Chief Sylva should be declared winner or fresh election should be declared, were rejected by the Supreme Court.
It based its stance on those of the lower courts, and stressed that the appellants, haven participated in the re-scheduled election in Southern Ijaw, cannot eat their cakes and have them back – the court meant that they cannot take part in an election and later claim that it did not hold, or that the election of December 2006 in Southern Ijaw, which was marred by violence was wrongly cancelled and postponed by the INEC.
Despite the clear nature of the issues in the matter, which needed no higher legal acumen to understand and predict how it will end, the case went on and polarized State’s polity into two camps.
On one side were die-hard politicians, civil servants and a section of the media, particularly social media which exuded confidence that the appellants will have justice at the Supreme Court.
The optimism was fueled by an expectation that President Mohammdu Buhari and the ruling APC at the national level will influence the courts in favour of the first appellant. This was more so as Chief Sylva is the leader of the APC in Bayelsa State. But the hopes which had spanned the time of the elections to the filing of the suit at the Tribunal and up the Supreme Court were finally dashed.
On the other side were politicians, civil servants, NGOs, Christian groups and a section of the mass and social media who were in support of Chief Dickson and the PDP. These groups, though on the side of victory, were often cowed by the talks that the Presidency deliberately allowed the matter to go the apex court where it will direct the judges to boot out Dickson or declare fresh election.
In Yenagoa the state capital, the apprehension got to the climax on November 9, 2016 when the parties were called for judgement. The Dickson Restoration camp was further intimidated by loyalists of the appellants, who were reported to held parties in some places, as they expected that the pendulum will swing in their favour.
Their Plan ‘B’ speculation was that fresh election will be declared. Some of them had even started sending more jitters to the PDP led government in the state by using the payment of half salaries as a unique selling proposition (USP) that they in APC will use to win the incumbent in the speculated re-run.
The speculations had forced the PDP led government in the state to raise alarm over plot by the APC to use the Presidency to influence the Supreme Court to upturn Chief Dickson’s election in order to pave way for APC to take over Bayelsa State as it took over Edo State, amidst controversial election. The incumbent governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Dickson also reacted to the secret campaigns of the APC, ahead of the speculated re-run.
The government through the Information Commissioner, Hon. Obuebite Jonathan, re-assured civil servants of payment of full salaries as from November, 2016, noting that the arrangement had been on with the labour in the state two months ago. It sated that payment of half salaries was due to the recession, and was in understanding with labour.
The apprehension caused by the APC in the state, dwindled, when it became clear that the judiciary will not allow itself to be influenced, given the fracas between the Presidency/Directorate of State Security Service (DSS) and judges in the country, besides allegation of bribery attempted bribery of judges by two serving ministers, to secure judgment for APC in past election matters.
But alas, the game ended as the appellants got to the end of the road, and could not take the election matter to any court, except God’s Court in Heaven. For now, the demon of lingering election cases has again been cast out of Bayelsa State, and by God’s grace not expected back in the next dispensation.
Unlike the case of Goodluck Jonathan who surprisingly conceded victory to President Buhari, and the recent case of Hillary Clinton who did same to Donald Trump, politicians in Bayelsa State and Nigeria, would hardly do so. Instead they will dissipate energies and resources to pursue their ambition of occupying a public office which ought to be given by God or the people, and not getting it by might.
Even after reaching the legal end of election case, some politicians do not give up and join hands with their opponents to contribute to governance and development. The victors also hardly sincerely give the olive branch to the losers, to reconcile differences for the sake of public interest.
It is in this regard that Governor Dickson’s extension of hands of fellowship to the APC, Chief Timipre Silva and his supporters is most welcomed. Dickson shortly after the Supreme Court verdict in Abuja declared this through Journalists.
“Bayelsa needs everybody. I invite him, I invite all members of the APC now the election issue is put beside us, let us join as brothers as sisters, as fellow Bayelsans to build Bayelsa that we can all be proud of”, he enthused.
At that scene, he purged himself of the fears that the judiciary would be used to kick him out of office. Haven done what has been described by many as impartial judgement, the judiciary rather received commendations from all and sundry. Dickson himself also applauded the judiciary saying it made his victory possible by being honest it the various judgements.
The action of the judiciary for him deserves being encouraged. Therefore, he called on Nigerians to support the judiciary, stating that it is the only institution that could be relied on to settle disputes as well as maintain a stable democracy in the country.
He restated his earlier stand against the recent attack by the Directorate of State Service (DSS) on the judiciary, cautioning that issues concerning the judicial arm of government should be handled with utmost care not to truncate democracy and cause lawlessness in society.
Dedicating the victory to God and the judiciary, he stressed that the appeal was unanimously dismissed by the Supreme Court Panel for lack of merit, just like the Appeal Court.
“Am also very sad that in our nation a man can lose an election clearly for the entire world, for the entire nation, for entire state and still have the effrontery to go to court for a year because there are no sanctions with all the distractions and attendant costs.
“This is a lesson, and I believe we politicians should learn to accept the verdict of the people. We should be contended with their verdict and prepare for tomorrow, if it is not favourable. Instead of people losing, people are conscious and then trying to manipulate the system to somehow expect that what the people did not give to them, they will get it hook or crook”. He cautioned.
As lamented by the incumbent governor, the case which spanned three courts for one year has really taken tolls on the resources as well as distracted government and those poised to join forces to move the state forward from doing their work effectively. Amidst the excruciating economic recession, the resources would have rather been used to give lifeline to the needy. The resources would also been utilised for worthwhile investments that would have helped to employ some unemployed youths.
Indeed the termination of the case elated Dickson and his supporters. Little wonder that he PDP, his counsels and those of PDP, Bayelsans and his supporters for standing by him till the end.
Similarly, Bayelsa chairman of the PDP, Mr. Moses Cleopas, thanked Bayelsans for voting for the party and for showing solidarity to the governor till final reaffirmation of victory by the Supreme Court. He re-iterated the party’s earlier call on Sylva’s clique and the APC to support the incumbent government move the state forward.
Some of the supporters, Romanus Wilikizibe Lot, a former House of Representatives aspirant on the plank of the PDP, said it gives great joy that the case has ended in favour of Dickson, advising that politicians should learn to accept defeat and avoid lingering cases.
A male youth leader, who pleaded anonymity, described the election that brought the governor to power as free and fair, noting that the courts could not have done otherwise.
Women including Hellen Inafagha, Special Adviser to the Governor on Gender and Women development said the judgement affirmed that people, especially women turned out on mass to vote for Dickson, adding that truth has prevailed.
Another woman who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is a civil servant also described the victory of the governor as divine victory for women, stating that the governor always relied on Jesus Christ in the prolonged case.
With the case ended, and as solicited by governor Dickson and the PDP, the time has come for both factions to come together like brothers and sisters and marshal innovative ideas for the state to get over the harrowing recession and overall development of the state.
Chief Timipre Sylva has camp has indeed fought a strong fight to show that the era of “Owei fa” (no man exist) is over in Byelsa State. But he and his supporters should show more patriotism by bulging into the call for fellowship, to move the State forward.
The burden is also on Governor Dickson to show large heart like the Late Alamieyeseigha by really reconciling with his opponents as well as enlisting the services of resourceful persons from the opposing camps, to work with him in order to realise his programmes in this last tenure. Such gesture, no doubt create a sense of inclusion and pacify wounded minds.
But when utilised, the opposition people should not excessively demand for benefits or try to use the opportunity to outsmart the benefactor.
Real reconciliation and united efforts of all will indeed step up development in Bayelsa State, and this is the time to take advantage.