BAYELSA: ONE STATE, TWO DEPUTY GOVERNORS
•Ebebi and Gov. Sylva
On June 25, 2010, two-thirds majority of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly impeached Mr. Peremobowei Ebebi (former Speaker of the House) as deputy governor of the state. A 10-count charge bordering on gross misconduct was hung on his neck by the lawmakers.
Aware that the lawmakers were bent on impeaching him, because his relationship had irrevocably broken down with Governor Timipre Sylva, Ebebi ran to the court to halt the move to send him packing.
When it was thought the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Kate Abiri, incidentally Ebebi's cousin, was not going to constitute a panel to investigate the allegations against him, she surprisingly went ahead to inaugurate the panel headed by Mr. Donald Denwigwe.
Accusing his regicides of a grand plot to force him out of office, Ebebi through his counsels, Alex Izinyon and Kemasoude Wodu, went to the Bayelsa State High Court to stop the impeachment process. Not only did the presiding Judge, Justice Doris Adokeme, strike out the case for lack of jurisdiction, the Denwigwe panel found him guilty on nine out of the 10-count charge and subsequently the Assembly in a motion moved by Mr. Jonathan Robinson Obuebite removed Ebebi from office.
However, eight months after he lost his seat, a panel of three Justices of the Court of Appeal, sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, led by Justice Dantijo Mohammed, on Wednesday nullified his impeachment and ordered his reinstatement. The court also affirmed that the appointment of Hon. Werinipre Seibarugu as the new deputy governor was illegal and ordered him to vacate the seat.
It also ordered a retrial of the case to be handled by another judge.
No doubt, the Court of Appeal's decision has thrown Bayelsa into another round of confusion with pro- and anti-Ebebi forces engaging in ferocious arguments on the interpretation of the judgment. For the Ebebi camp, it is a new dawn in Bayelsa and a triumph of the rule of law over rule of the jungle. According to them, the judgment has indeed shown that Ebebi (nicknamed Odudu by those who are in awe of his ability to stage a comeback from political wilderness) is a cat with nine lives.
But, for the anti-Ebebi camp, the judgment has no correlation with the fact that Ebebi is a spent political force, who had been consigned to political Siberia. They are telling those who care to listen that in the battle for the control of Bayelsa politics, Ebebi's impeachment without any resistance is an indication that he was not a long distant runner and no reinstatement order can bring him back from political oblivion.
The return of Odudu
On the eve of the judgment speculations were rife following inferences from legal minds that Ebebi's impeachment would be nullified. Anti-Ebebi forces had stormed Port Harcourt on February 16, 2010, to witness the verdict and when news filtered into Bayelsa that indeed the Court of Appeal had nullified Ebebi's impeachment and reinstated him in office, there was palpable tension due to ominous implication of the verdict.
Ebebi, who had ran to the court to challenge his removal from office after his famed political friends had failed him, had also tried albeit, unsuccessfully, to force himself back into political reckoning. Shortly after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) announced the time-table for the party's primaries, Ebebi had bought the expression of interest and nomination forms to contest the office of governorship in Bayelsa. During the screening of governorship aspirants at PDP zonal secretariat in Port Harcourt, Ebebi was disqualified, and he appealed to the Senator Tunde Ogbeha screening appeal panel, which nullified his disqualification and was cleared to contest the governorship primary.
On January 9, date for the primary, Ebebi got a shocker as his name was not listed among the aspirants. He complained bitterly in the presence of President Goodluck Jonathan over the non-listing of his name, announcing that he was on his way to the Labour Party (LP).
'This kind of injustice happening in PDP is unfortunate. Since the process was fraudulent, we have no faith in what they have done so far. 'We will stand up to make sure we fight this injustice, including lack of development and visionless leadership in our state, using the platform of the Labour Party,' he said.
Ebebi immediately declared his intention to contest the senatorial seat for Bayelsa West on the platform of the LP and has been moving everywhere with the LP governorship candidate, Mr Ndutim Alaibe. By the court's pronouncement to reinstate him, Ebebi with the full instrumentality of his office, is set to give all his traducers a bloody nose in the 2011 elections.
Counsel to parties in the case and politicians have also joined the fray, with counter arguments on the actual interpretation of the judgment. Wodu, in an interview, explained that the request was in three parts and it bothered on the processes that led to the impeachment of Ebebi as Deputy Governor, the appointment of Werinipre Seibarugu as new Deputy Governor and the order empowering the State High Court to hear the suit filed before it by the estranged Deputy Governor, Peremobowei Ebebi. He insisted that the Court of Appeal granted their prayers and said his client had been reinstated to his office.
'The High Court struck out our case, saying it does not have jurisdiction and that was what led us to the Appeal Court. At the Appeal Court, the court agreed with our submission and ruled that the High Court has jurisdiction. He referred us back to the High Court for retrial by another judge.
Meanwhile, it set aside and nullified the impeachment of Ebebi, noting that the House of Assembly ought not to do anything on the matter since it was in court.
But the Bayelsa State government through its Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Mr. Nathan Egba, said there was no where the court ordered Ebebi to be reinstated.
Hear him: 'The court quashed the impeachment but did not direct the re-instatement of the impeached Deputy Governor. Consequently, the scenario is not quite clear, a situation that can only be subject to further legal clarification. In the light of the above, Bayelsa State government hereby calls on the people to remain calm and go about their usual activities as there is no cause for alarm whatsoever.'
But not prepared to take any chances, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly has approached the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court over the matter. While it is praying for an order to stay execution, it has also appealed to the Supreme Court against the judgment . According to the sworn affidavit, the appellant/respondent (Ebebi) has decamped to the Labour Party and has emerged as that party's senatorial candidate, adding that PDP was the original party the appellant used its platform to contest on a joint ticket with the incumbent governor and won as governor/deputy governor.
It was further stated that the PDP had again given the ticket to Governor Timipre Sylva to run jointly with Seigbarugu Werinipre, who will run in the April 2011 general elections for the office of governor/deputy governor of Bayelsa State. The affidavit reads in part: 'Between now and May 29 is just about three months away, and if this stay is not granted and the applicant's appeal to the Supreme Court succeeds, they will reap an empty judgment because by then fresh elections would have been conducted into the office of governor/deputy governor of Bayelsa State and there would then be no opportunity of enforcing that judgment of the Supreme Court against the appellant/respondent. And irreparable damage would be done to the applicants because there would be no return to status quo.'
Opposition parties in the state have also added their voices to the controversy, with a call on the Bayelsa State government to respect the court's ruling. While the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) said the Court of Appeal verdict had vindicated the party's position on the impeachment, the LP simply advised the Governor Timipre Sylva-led government to respect the court's ruling.
National Youth Leader of ACN, who was the immediate past chairman of the party in the state, Mr. Ebikibina Miriki, spoke for the party: 'ACN's position on the kangaroo and unconstitutional impeachment of the former Deputy Governor, Peremobowei Ebebi, has been vindicated by the Court of Appeal's ruling. The party had strongly condemned the process of the arrangee impeachment, which lacked transparency, due process and the rule of law. It was an action borne out of desperation, deceit, greed for power and playing politics with development of the people and using state funds to pursue personal agenda.'
LP spoke through its state Chairman, Adou Bobo: 'My advice to the governor is to obey the court's judgement and ensure the Deputy Governor is returned. He should observe what has been happening in the African continent and obey the court's ruling before the people would mobilise and move against the forces of injustices, corruption and poverty symbolised by Governor Sylva. This is another plus for the Judiciary.'
And in a veiled response to the opposition, the State Executive Council at its weekly meeting presided over by Governor Timipre Sylva passed a vote of confidence on Seibarugu and reaffirmed him as the authentic deputy governor. Sources at the meeting quoted Sylva as saying: 'Just as it is impossible to force a servant on an unwilling master, so also it will be difficult to force a Deputy Governor not willing to work in harmony with his master on me.'
Egba added a clincher: 'The State Executive Council today passed a vote of explicit confidence on the Deputy Governor, Werinipre Seibarugu. They declared that the only Deputy Governor they know is Seibarugu.' With Ebebi threatening to resume work as soon as the court papers is served on the Secretary to the State Government, and the government maintaining its ground, Bayelsans are anxiously waiting to see how the knotty issue would be resolved.