Supreme Court sacks Bayelsa governor-elect, deputy

The Supreme Court, on Thursday, sacked the governor-elect of Bayelsa State, David Lyon and his Deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo.

The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a five-man panel of Justices led by Justice Mary Odili, held that Degi-Eremieoyo presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Justice Ejembi Eko, who read the judgment, noted that the “claims” by Degi-Eremienyo appeared to be “fraudulent”, pointing out to “several names he used chameleonically to suit the changing environment.”

He ruled that Degi-Eremienyo’s disqualification on the basis of submitting false information to INEC had infected the joint ticket with which he and Lyon contested the election and emerged victorious.

He said, “In sum total, the joint ticket of the first and second respondents (Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo) sponsored by the 3rd respondent, APC, was vitiated by the  disqualification of the first respondent (Degi-Eremienyo).

“Both candidates disqualified are deemed not to be candidates in the governorship election.”

Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Eko,  nullified the APC’s victory, restored and affirmed the earlier judgment of Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which disqualified Degi-Eremienyo’s candidacy and nullified the party’s ticket for the poll.

He set aside the December 23, 2019 judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja which had contrary to the Federal High Court’s decision validated the former deputy governor-elect’s candidacy.

The appeal ruled upon by the Supreme Court was filed by the PDP, its governorship and deputy governorship candidates of the party, who had alleged in their suit originated at the Federal High Court in Abuja that Degi-Eremienyo presented to INEC, documents of academic qualifications with about nine variations of names different from the name that appeared on his Form CF001 submitted to the electoral commission.

The names  on the different documents attached to his Form CF001 were said to be, Biobarakum Degi-Eremienyo, Degi Biobaragha, Degi Biobarakuma, Adegi Biobakunmo, Degi-Eremienyo Wangagha.

He was said to have claimed to have obtained “his First School Leaving Certificate in 1976”  and presented to INEC “a First Leaving School Certificate of one Degi Biobaragha other than the one bearing his name Biobaragha Degi-Eremieoyo as shown in his INEC Form CF001”.

He was also said to have 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 Bibakuo other than the one bearing his name Biobarakuma Degi-Eremieoyo as shown in his INEC Form CF001.”

The Federal High Court had held that there was no evidence to prove that the documents with different name variations were his.

Upholding the finding on Thursday, the apex court held that the affidavits of correction of names and regularisation of names filed by him were not enough as he ought to have followed the laid down legal procedures.

The Supreme Court also held that “having not approached the authorities which issued the certificates of academic qualifications in 1976 (the first school leaving certificate) and 1984) (the West African School Certificate/GCE), the first respondent’s brandishing of the certificates using affidavit to assert the ownership of the certificates was erroneous.”

It held that “clearly, the lower court erred when it held that the affidavit of correction of names sworn to by the first defendant” had corrected the numerous discrepancies in his names in August.

He said, “Section 182(1)(j) of the 1999 Constitution provides that nobody shall be qualified for an election for the governor of a state if he has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission”, adding that “the word fraud” could mean “fabricating, framing and inventing false identification and making deliberate falsehood”.

He  added, “The lower court (Court of Appeal) was wrong that the appellants did not establish that the first respondent in Form CF 001 presented to INEC contained materially false information as to the personal particulars of the first respondent.

“The trial court on the contrary was right. On this issue I also allow the appeal,  set aside the judgment of the lower court delivered on  23 December 2019 and I hereby reinstate the judgment of the trial court delivered on November 12, 2019 including all the others made therein.”

The Supreme Court ruled that the votes credited to the APC’s candidates were wasted.

It ordered INEC to withdraw the certificates of return issued to Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo as the winners of the poll.

It ordered fresh ones to be issued to the governorship and deputy governorship candidates of the party with the highest votes and met the constitutional spread of votes in the election.

It also ordered the newly-declared winners of the election to be sworn in at the appropriate time.

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