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Majority of Nigerians who participated in an online poll by PREMIUM TIMES, backed the Supreme Court on its ruling on the Bayelsa governorship election.

The Supreme Court, on February 13, sacked David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the governor-elect of Bayelsa State, barely 24 hours to his inauguration.

The court ordered INEC to declare the party with the highest number of lawful votes and geographical spread the winner of the election. The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Douye Diri, was later sworn in as governor.

The ruling has since generated outrage among Nigerians. While many say the court was wrong to have made the judgement, others believe otherwise.

The Poll

Over 23,066 voters participated in the poll which was conducted on the PREMIUM TIMES’ website and on its official Twitter and Facebook pages.

The poll lasted for about seven days and was conducted in a way that made it impossible for a respondent to vote more than once from the same computer or mobile device.

Participants were asked a single question: “Do you agree with Supreme Court’s ruling on the Bayelsa governorship election?” with options of “yes”, “no”, and “I don’t care.”

It was almost a tie on the Facebook poll as over 9,984 respondents (52 per cent) aligned themselves with the apex court while 9,216 participants (48 per cent) voted against the judgement.

On Twitter, 1,055 participants (50.8 per cent) voted in support of the ruling, 646 respondents (31.1 per cent) voted against. While 376 participants (18.1 per cent) said they do not care.

And on the website, 836 respondents (46.7 per cent) voted “yes”, 676 respondents (37.8 per cent) voted “no”, and 277 respondents (15.5 per cent) said they do not care.

The ruling

A five-member panel of the apex court led by Justice Mary Odili nullified Mr Lyon’s election on the grounds that his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, presented false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) in aid of his qualification for the November 16 governorship election in State.

The apex court, in the judgement delivered by Justice Ejembi Eko, consequently ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Messrs Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo.

This was sequel to a suit filed by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), Douye Diri, against the APC candidates and INEC, seeking the disqualification of the APC deputy governorship candidate.

They had claimed that Mr Degi-Eremienyo gave false information in his CF 0001 form submitted to INEC.

Mr Diri and Lawrence Ewhrujakpor have since been declared winners of the election and sworn in as governor and deputy respectively.

Mr Diri came second in the election with 143,172 votes to Mr Lyon’s 352,552 votes. He won the election in two of Bayelsa’s eight local governments while Mr Lyon won in the remaining six.

Conflicting arguments

Besides participants from the poll who have agreed and disagreed with the ruling of the Supreme Court, other legal experts have argued for and against the judgement, too.

The argument has been that while Mr Degi-Eremienyo is guilty, the punishment should not rub off on Mr Lyon. Many have also said the Supreme Court is wrong to have declared the candidate with the highest votes as winner of the election, rather than order a fresh one.

A senior lawyer, Sebastine Hon, said the Supreme Court was correct in its decision.

He explained that under the constitutional scheme of the 1999 Constitution, one is not qualified to become a governor unless and until he chooses a running mate, who will contest the election with him.

The fate of each, therefore, is inextricably intertwined, until they are inaugurated, in which case, each acquires a distinct legal personality and has to personally answer for his good or bad deeds, he said.

A lawyer, Musa Maina, said in as much Mr Degi-Eremienyo is disqualified for presenting false information to INEC and the election of the governor cannot stand without a deputy (in accordance with Sec 187(1) of the Constitution of the FRN, 1999 as amended), he faulted the Supreme Court for making the order to install the highest winner in the election.

He said the election was voided on qualification and the most appropriate order to make is for a fresh election.

Sec 140(2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 provides: “Where an election tribunal or court nullifies an election on the ground that the person who obtains the highest votes at the election was not qualified to contest the election, the election tribunal or court SHALL NOT DECLARE THE PERSON WITH THE HIGHEST VOTES as elected, BUT SHALL ORDER FOR FRESH ELECTION”.

The reasoning of the learned jurists should always go in tandem with the position of the law. Anything outside that is catastrophic to the legal system in particular and our democracy in general, he said.

Senior lawyer, Femi Falana, earlier said the apex court made a mistake when it treated a pre-election matter as a post-election case.

“Section 133 of the Electoral Act stipulates that upon the conclusion of an election and once candidates are declared, any challenge of the conduct of the election, of the qualification of the candidates shall be heard and determined by an Election Petition Tribunal.

“The election was held on the basis of the judgement of the Court of Appeal which was to the fact that yes! Degi-Eremienyo changed his name many times, not that he forged any of his certificates; there was no such proof. Therefore, he can contest the election. On the basis of that judgement, the people voted; which means by that judgement, the election was valid and legal.”

The APC has since filed a suit seeking a review and reversal of the judgement, and the court has set February 26, to hear the case.

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