It was a rude shock to the nation when the Supreme Court handed a cruel judgement to David Lyon and his deputy governor-elect, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, in the Bayelsa State governorship election petitions case last Thursday, February 13, 2020. It was a season of love and the atmosphere in the camp of the All Progressives Congress both at the national and state levels was that of merriment, and jubilation ahead of the planned inauguration of Lyon as the fifth governor of Bayelsa State on Friday, February 14. Lyon was at the rehearsals of his inauguration when the apex court sacked him and his deputy for his running mate’s submission of forged documents to qualify for the election. It was a hard-won victory for the APC in the November 16, 2019 governorship election as the oil-rich state had never been ruled by any other political party since the return to civil rule in 1999 except the Peoples Democratic Party.
What got the APC into trouble was the fact that Degi-Eremienyo representing Bayelsa East in the Senate had multiple identities. The first sign of trouble for the APC was when on November 12, 2019 Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja disqualified Degi-Eremienyo for presenting academic qualifications with various variations of names different from the name that appeared on his Form CF001. The names on the different documents attached to his Form CF001 were said to be, Degi Biobaragha, Adegi Biobakumo, Degi Biobarakuma, Degi Biobarakuma Wangagha and Degi-Eremienyo.
He claimed to have obtained his First School Leaving Certificate in 1976 and presented to the Independent National Electoral Commission a First Leaving School Certificate of one Degi Biobaragha other than the one bearing his name Biobaragha Degi-Eremienyo as shown in his INEC Form CF001. Degi also claimed to have obtained his West African Examinations Council General Certificate of Education in 1984 and presented to INEC, a GCE certificate of one Adegi Biobarakuma other than the one bearing his name Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo as shown in his INEC Form CF001. Justice Ekwo held that there was no evidence to prove that the documents with different name variations were his.
The Supreme Court judgement has raised a lot of posers. Given that this same Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo is a serving senator having been elected in 2019, why didn’t his traducers challenge him then? If he had previously worked in any organisation, why were his multiple identities not an issue then? Some political watchers feel that the Supreme Court should not have sacked Lyon whose candidacy was intact. However, due to the fact that it was a joint ticket and the duo had yet to be sworn in, what affected Degi-Eremienyo automatically affected Lyon. Section 182 (1)(j) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, states that, “No person shall be qualified for election to the office of governor of a state if he has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
The APC and its sympathisers also accuse INEC of wrongfully interpreting the apex court judgement by voiding the 352,552 votes of the party in the election. Recall that the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, had said matter-of-factly at a press conference last Thursday night that no candidate would be sworn in on February 14 in Bayelsa as, according to him, no other candidate including Diri of the PDP met the constitutionally required threshold of 25 per cent of votes cast in two-thirds of the state apart from having a majority of valid votes cast.
More importantly, the party said the apex court erred in law by not declaring a rerun. According to it, Section 140 (2) of Electoral Act 2010, as amended, says, “Where an election tribunal or court nullifies an election on the grounds that the person who obtained the highest number of votes at the election was not qualified to contest the election, or that the election was marred by substantial irregularities or non-compliance with the provisions of this Act, the Election Tribunal or court shall not declare the person with the second highest votes or any other person as elected, but shall order a fresh election.” The question then is, why did the Supreme Court fail to take cognisance of this provision?
I’ve also asked myself, if Lyon and Degi-Eremieoyo had been sworn in before the verdict of the apex court, would the joint ticket rule still have applied given the fact that the Supreme Court had ruled previously in the case of Vice President Atiku Abubakar and President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007 that the joint ticket terminates after inauguration into office. Another poser is that if the Supreme Court had sacked Degi-Eremieoyo on the grounds of forgery and perjury, why didn’t the apex court also remove him from the Senate and order for his prosecution? Will he even survive the bid of his traducers to remove him from the Senate now that it has been proved that he used forged credentials to get elected in the first place?
Ironically, the new Deputy Governor, Senator Lawrence Ewhruojakpo, has been reportedly dragged to court over alleged certificate forgery by Timi Alaibe. He was alleged to have forged his degree and National Youth Service Corps exemption certificates. If this is true, we await the Supreme Court’s verdict on this. But, come to think of it, why do our politicians forge certificates to contest elections? We have had instances of a former Speaker of House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, which Simon Kolawole referred to in his column in THISDAY on Sunday, February 16, 2020 thus: “A former Speaker of the House of Representatives once told me that when he wanted to constitute committees and asked members to submit their credentials, he almost ran mad. He could not believe the number of “honourable members” who came forward with bogus certificates, mostly from foreign institutions.”
Why go through the hassles of forging academic credentials to contest elections in Nigeria when you actually don’t need any in the real sense of the word? This is so because what is needed to contest elections in Nigeria is a minimum of School Certificate or its equivalent. The interpretation of School Certificate as given in Section 318 of the Constitution is this: “School Certificate or its equivalent” means (a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or (b) education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or (c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and –
(i) service in the public or private sector in the federation in any capacity acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for a minimum of 10 years, and (ii) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totalling up to a minimum of one year, and (iii) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and (d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Thus, there is no basis to forge any academic credential to contest elections in Nigeria.
I really pity the APC on its electoral loss especially in Rivers, Zamfara and Bayelsa states. Because with the loss of Bayelsa, which is the fourth largest producer of crude oil in Nigeria, the party lost a great opportunity of party funding. Aside from that, Bayelsa would have given it a better in-road into the Niger Delta area because the party is in control of only Edo State among the six states making up the South-South zone.
As the saying goes, before you blame the hawk for wickedness, first blame the mother hen for exposing her children to danger. Before castigating INEC and Supreme Court for electoral misfortune in Bayelsa, the APC should first blame itself for its recklessness, impunity and lack of internal party democracy. If the party had done due diligence in screening of its candidates, it would not have been denied its victory at the point of celebration. The biggest political lesson here is for all political parties to play by the rules and for party gatekeepers to stop imposing candidates on their party members. Something I find difficult to understand in Bayelsa State is that the three senators from the state were candidates in the last governorship poll of November 16, 2010. Diri and Ewhruojakpo of the PDP are serving senators just as Degi-Eremieoyo of the APC. Assuredly, with the swearing in of Diri and Ewhruojakpo as governor and deputy governor last Friday, INEC will have to conduct fresh senatorial elections in the two districts. Should Degi-Eremieoyo ultimately lose his exalted seat as well, that means INEC will also have to conduct a fresh poll for his replacement.
By Jide Ojo
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