Anxiety and jubilation enveloped Bayelsa State, yesterday, following the nullification of the election that produced Senator Douye Diri as governor in November 2019.
A three-man Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja voided the election over wrongful exclusion of Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP) and its candidate, King George, by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the November 16 election.
Immediately the news of the judgment filtered into Yenagoa, thestate capital, it threw the Government House and supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into panic and apprehension.
The opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) camp, however, came alive with many supporters waving the party flag and hugging one another at their secretariat along Melford Okilo road in jubilation over the judgment which they believed would afford their candidate the opportunity to participate in the reordered election and reclaim his mandate.
To forestall the breakdown of law and order, a combined team of armed policemen, soldiers from the 16 Brigade and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) were deployed to the streets by the government.
Diri, however, told Bayelans and PDP supporters that there was no cause for fear as he had instructed his lawyers to appeal the judgment.
The governor in a statement by his acting Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Daniel Alabrah said: “We trust in the judiciary and we are appealing the judgment. With God on our side, we will get justice. This is a court of first instance and I have instructed our lawyers to file an appeal. We have a right of appeal even up to the Supreme Court.”
Former governor of the state, Seriake Dickson, also urged Bayelsans not to be perturbed.
“The judgment is a temporary setback, which does not have any effect on the status quo, until all processes of appeal are exhausted. There is no vacancy in Bayelsa Government House. Diri remains governor until the Supreme Court decides. Of course, what this means is that the PDP will appeal this decision,” he said.
The majority of prominent Nigerians who spoke on the development regretted that the courts have taken over the responsibility of deciding the choices of the voters in the nation’s electoral process.
They equally berated INEC for not living up to expectation with its electoral exclusion policies, and advised the electoral umpire to promote an enduring participatory democracy in Nigeria, and not pose an obstacle to an inclusive democratic culture.
Former labour leader and chieftain of APC, Chief Frank Kokori, said it would have been good news for APC leaders in the South-South if it was a judgment of the Supreme Court, but lamented that it was not yet Uhuru since the governor and his party still had the option of goingon appeal.
However, for former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, argued that INEC and not the governor should be punished.
“INEC must make sure that election is conducted properly. In this case, who was responsible for excluding the ANDP from the election? Was it not the INEC? If it was the INEC, then it should be punished for the offence and not the governor.”
Also, professor of political economy and Head, Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL), Pat Utomi, said the new era of the courts deciding winner or loser of an electoral contest was an indication that the country has a lot of lessons to learn in a democracy.
“For me, the courts deciding who won or lost elections in Nigeria diminishes rather than enhances the electoral process,” he said.
Spokesman of the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Dr. Yinka Odumakin, also cautioned the electoral umpire to be more careful in the future even as he stressed that the development would not make any positive impact on the country’s democratic growth, but rather diminish it.
For human rights lawyer, Malachy Ugwummadu, the situation is becoming convoluted.
He said the development had only given credence to the narrative of deep involvement of the judiciary in electoral process – what people like to refer to as the ‘judicialisation’ of the electoral process.
Lagos lawyer and former President of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, said INEC must avoid making the same mistake in the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states by including all the political parties on the ballot.
National Chairman of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr. Yunusa Tanko, lamented what he referred to as the court’s usurping of the responsibility of the electorate to elect their leaders.
“It is completely an unwelcome development that our electioneering choices will be decided by the courts. It would have been better to have the elections completed at the polling stations.”
Credit: The Sun