Buhari cancels visit as Bayelsa burns after Diri takes reins as new governor

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From the jaws of celebration, Bayelsans snatched a crisis that forced President Muhammadu Buhari to abruptly cancel a planned a visit to the Bayelsa State capital, Yenagoa to inaugurate the new corporate headquarters of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB). Last Friday’s visit, which would have coincided with the aborted swearing-in of David Lyon as governor, was also intended to usher in the All Progressives Congress (APC) inroad into the South-south geopolitical zone comprising Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers, Delta and Edo States.

 

But as rage and fury enveloped Yenagoa, after thousands of APC supporters went on the rampage, vandalizing government property and homes of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members, scores of soldiers who were deployed in anticipation of the president’s visit were suddenly withdrawn when it was obvious that Senator Douye Diri would be sworn into office as the governor; amid the escalating violence and rising tension.

 

Amid the rising tension, and to prevent a complete breakdown of law and order, the Police imposed a three-day dusk to dawn curfew. The Bayelsa State Commissioner of Police, Uche Anozie, announced the curfew would last from 8.00 pm to 6.00 am; explaining that the decision to impose the curfew was in reaction to the violent protests that rocked Yenagoa and its suburbs. There was palpable fear that violence might erupt again and so the police had to take proactive steps to avert further disturbance.

The violence and mayhem started after Sen. Douye Diri and his running mate in the November 15, 2019 Bayelsa governorship election, Sen. Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, had taken the oath of office administered by the state Chief Judge, Justice Kate Abiri, at Government House; during their swearing-in ceremony as governor and deputy-governor respectively. 

 

Governor Diri, in very brief remarks called for an end to the bitterness and acrimony. The governor, who called for a minute silence in hour of those killed during his governorship campaign in Nembe, pledged to embrace politics without bitterness in presiding over the state’s affairs. Diri, who was flanked by his deputy, said his administration had brought to the people of Bayelsa State, a message of hope and prosperity, pledging to be magnanimous in victory, adding: “If we kill ourselves, who are going to lead.”

The governor recalled how he, as a member of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), had joined other stakeholders to tour round the country for the creation of the state. To this end, he urged everyone in the state to join hands to build the dream Bayelsa State of the founding fathers.

 

Earlier in the day, APC protesters barricaded entries into the state from the East-West road, expressing disappointment over last Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, which nullified the victory of the APC ticket on the eve of the swearing-in of its candidate, David Lyon. The protest, which started peacefully with protesters demanding the reversal of the judgment, soon spread to other parts of the state capital, locking down all commercial and business activities in the metropolis, as shops, offices and even motor parks were shut down.

 

The protesters set up burn fires at the popular Tombia roundabout, making vehicular and human circulation difficult, just as the markets shut down completely. From there, they proceeded to INEC state headquarters to demand that no Certificate of Return should be issued to Diri, the PDP candidate, who had been declared the winner and issued a Certificate of Return, as the next governor of the state. The irate protesters chanted “no Lyon, no governor.”

 

The protesters marched all the way from Tombia, the city gate to downtown Yenagoa, a distance of over 20 km. The protest which was peaceful, turned violent when some irate youths went on rampage and attacked the PDP state headquarters, houses belonging to Diri and Prof. Steve Azaiki, a member of the House of Representatives; as well the state-owned Bayelsa Radio along Azikoro Road, where they looted and carted away valuables, while the station staff ran for cover. The attack forced the radio station to go off air. But for the presence of the security operatives, the protesters would have torched the house of a PDP chieftain close to a radio station.

 

At the PDP headquarters, the protesters pulled down posters and signboards at the gate, chased away the security and smashed the glass windows. At the library belonging to Azaiki, the gateman was beating to a pulp, while some of the protesters went into the library, looting and breaking all the computers, books and chairs.  Eye-witness accounts said four cars belonging to Diri and his wife were vandalized, while phones belonging to some of his domestic staff were seized and confiscated. As the situation degenerated, a detachment of soldiers and policemen confronted the protesters, shooting sporadically in the air, and forcing them to take to their heels. 

 

The Supreme Court on Thursday had sacked David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the ground that his Deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo, presented a forged certificate to INEC. The apex court held that since Degi-Eremieoyo shared a joint ticket with the governor-elect, his disqualification invalidated their nomination by the APC. The panel of Justices, led by Justice Mary Odili, in a unanimous judgment, also ordered INEC to declare as the winner of the governorship election in Bayelsa State, the candidate with the highest number of lawful votes cast with requisite constitutional (or geographical spread). Diri came second in the election, behind Lyon, who was initially declared the winner by INEC, having won in six of the eight councils, polling a total of 352,552 votes, against Diri’s 143, 172 votes.

 

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said INEC had received the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the judgment of the apex court, which disqualified the APC deputy governorship candidate and vitiated the joint ticket of the party earlier declared winner in the election. In compliance with the order of the Supreme Court, INEC proceeded to declare Diri as the new governor-elect.

 

Yakubu, while announcing the decision during a press conference in Abuja, explained that the Supreme Court invalidated the votes cast for the APC, adding that without the votes scored by the APC, whose candidates were deemed not to have participated in the election, by virtue of the judgment, the total number of lawful and valid votes cast in the election now stands at 146,999. Of this figure, Yakubu said the PDP candidate scored the highest number of lawful votes with 143,172, adding that the party also scored over 25% of the lawful votes cast in all the eight councils of the state.

 

“The total number of registered voters in places where the election was not held or cancelled as a result of sundry violations is 90,822. The candidate of the Accord Party has the next highest score with 1,339 votes. The margin of lead between the candidates of the PDP and Accord party is 141,833 votes. With this outcome, the election is conclusive at first ballot. Consequently, Senator Douye Diri and Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo of the PDP are hereby declared winners and returned elected as Governor and Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, respectively,” the INEC boss stated.

 

 

A breakdown of the new election results released by INEC revealed that after excluding votes cast for the APC, Diri scored over 90% of votes cast in all eight councils, except Nembe, where he had 55.35%. According to the new result, Diri scored the following in each of the councils: Brass- 10,354 (98.82%); Ekeremor- 18,344 (99.58%); Kolokuma/Opokuma- 15,360 (98.13%), Nembe- 874 (55.35%); Ogbia- 13,763 (93.56%); Sagbama- 60,339 (99.34%); Southern Ijaw- 4,898 (95.72%) and Yenagoa (94.76%).

 

Almost immediately, a National Commissioner at INEC, Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu presented a Certificate of Return to the Diri and Ewhrudjakpo as governor-elect and deputy governor-elect of Bayelsa State, respectively. But APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole insisted that INEC was wrong to issue the Certificate of Return (CoR) to Diri as governor-elect. He lamented that INEC chose to appropriate the judicial powers of the court to interpret laws, when it (electoral umpire) was neither competent nor has the mandate to do so.

 

Addressing a press conference in Abuja, the second after the judgement was delivered, Oshiomhole insisted that the Supreme Court for good reason gave a conditional order that INEC should swear in the second candidate with the highest number of vote and the required geographical spread. He stated: “I believe that the fact the Supreme Court insisted on constitutional spread is in recognition of the fact that the constitution does not want a situation in which anyone, governor or president, presides over the affairs of a state without at least enjoying two third support of electorate of that state. Clearly,  the votes scored by PDP and their candidate in that election only met requirements in five local governments and you need six local governments to meet the requirement of two third. The PDP candidate did not satisfy this requirement.

 

“INEC is now choosing to appropriate the judicial powers of the court to interpret laws that is neither competent to do nor has the mandate so to do. INEC fails to recognise that its responsibility does not include legal interpretation and the Supreme Court did not ask INEC to go and begin to assume the judicial powers. All what INEC needs to do is simple arithmetic. Who has the next highest votes?  Does such person have required vote spread?  If the answer is no, INEC can do no more. Now, INEC has decided to assume that the case of Bayelsa is exactly the same case as that of Zamfara.

 

The APC national chairman noted that if it were the intention of the Supreme Court to nullify or to declare the votes cast in favour of APC as wasted, the Supreme Court should have said so, adding that “INEC cannot import into the judgement or delete anything from the judgement.” The APC says it has written to INEC demanding for a fresh governorship election in Bayelsa.

 

Mr Yekini Nabena, the party’s Deputy National Publicity Secretary, told a news conference on Sunday in Abuja that Oshiomhole made the request in a letter to the INEC Chairman, titled: “Judgement in Appeal No: SC.1/2020 between Peoples Democratic Party and APC”. According to him, “the party’s National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole while affirming the supremacy of the Apex Court, forwarded a letter to INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu titled: Judgement in Appeal No: SC.1/2020 between Peoples Democratic Party and APC, requesting for conduct of fresh governorship election in Bayelsa. The contention on the Bayelsa governorship is far from over. We are all aware of the NYSC certificate forgery case of the Bayelsa deputy governor, Sen. Lawrence Oborawharievwo Ewhrudjakpo. And the decision of the APC National leadership is to continue to pursue all legal avenues to contest INEC’s decision to declare Duoye Diri as Bayelsa Governor, having failed to meet the mandatory constitutional requirement to become the governor,” he said.

 

But the PDP House caucus wants Oshiomhole prosecuted over what the party said was inflammatory comments that precipitated the breakdown in law and order in Bayelsa state. This was contained in a statement by the leader of the caucus in the House, Rep Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Obio /Akpor Federal Constituency of Rivers State). “Consequent upon the judgement, we call for the immediate arrest and prosecution of the National Chairman of the APC and the APC as a corporate entity under Section 31 (8) of the Electoral Act which provides that: “A political party which presents to the Commission the name of a candidate who does not meet the qualifications stipulated in this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000.” The PDP lawmakers also want the APC deputy governorship candidate prosecuted under the criminal Code.

 

In a related development, the immediate past governor of the state, Hon. Seriake Dickson, is said to be positioning himself to replace the newly sworn in deputy governor, Lawrence Ehrudjakpor, in the Senate. Dickson and Ehrudjakpor are from the same senatorial district. This is as PDP is alleged to have concluded plans to charge with perjury the APC deputy governorship candidate, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, whose alleged certificate forgery cost his party an election it had overwhelmingly won. PDP is pressing for the enforcement of the Supreme Court judgement against Degi-Eremienyo.

 

Huhuonline.com has learnt from PDP sources that the party is determined to have former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ndutimi Alaibe, replace Diri in the Senate, since both are from the same senatorial district, while Dickson is angling to replace the deputy governor.  The PDP is wary of the lawsuit filed by Alaibe against the emergence of Diri as PDP candidate following the September 3, 2019 governorship primary of the party. Alaibe’s grouse was that PDP allowed local government chairmen and councillors to vote during the primary elections, when the party’s guidelines did not allow elected chairmen and councillors elected within 90 days to the election to vote during the governorship primaries.

 

Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, who was at the time in acting capacity, had approved the request by Alaibe for the transfer of his suit against Diri to Abuja. Diri won the primary election with 561 votes to defeat Alaibe, who came second with 365 votes. Alaibe then filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Yenogoa, seeking the cancellation of the result of the primary; with PDP, Diri, and INEC among defendants in the suit, which is still pending at the Federal High Court, Abuja. The PDP will be bringing pressure to bear on Alaibe to withdraw his suit, but one PDP source said Alaibe was yet to make his position known.