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Bayelsa governorship: Diri, Lyon and the quirk of fate

Published by The Nation on Sat, 15 Feb 2020


By UnderTowJust when Nigerians and Bayelsans were beginning to ready themselves for David Lyon, erstwhile governor-elect, to unleash his lexical gymnastics on the state immediately after taking the oath of office, the flip-flopping Nigerian courts played the wet blanket on Thursday by sacking him on the eve of his enthronement. His running mate and deputy governor-elect, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, according to the courts, had submitted false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and appeared to have infected the All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket in the November 16, 2019 governorship election with a fraudulent hue. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Douye Diri, who came second in the election, instituted the case as a pre-election matter.The Federal High Court gave judgement in favour of Mr Diri, while the Court of Appeal last December reversed the judgement. On Thursday, the Supreme Court finally restored the Federal High Court decision and upturned the election of Mr Lyon who won in six of Bayelsa States eight local government areas. Before this piece was written, INEC was to decide whether the interpretation of the Supreme Court verdict meant the voiding of all the votes of the APC, in which case, Mr Diri had become the clear winner, or whether the APC votes still counted and Mr Diri would have to be weighed on whether the 25 percent of the votes he won in five local governments satisfied the provision of winning 25 percent in two-thirds of the local government, and whether the two-thirds of the states LGs is about 5.3 or 6.0.While Mr Diris case is not the only quirk of fate in Nigerias recent electoral history, his is exemplary and evocative. The PDPs Mr Lyon had just attended the rehearsal for his inauguration when the news of the Supreme Court decision hit him like a ton of bricks. The outgoing Governor Seriake Dickson had, a few days ago, also endured ridicule when PDP diehards, not knowing what the courts had in store for their party, assailed him, blaming him for undermining the party in the state. The PDP had kept its stranglehold on the state for decades, they wailed, and Mr Dickson, a veritable spoilsport, had come to upset the applecart. The outgoing governor was so pilloried at the entrance of the State House that his convoy had a tough time driving out. Now that the table has turned, what would the diehards say' Would they apologise'Alas, Mr Dickson was not the only one on tenterhooks a few weeks ago. But he is the happiest man in Bayelsa today, if not in Nigeria, with his candidate finally declared winner and sworn in yesterday evening. It is, however, sadly now the time for former president Goodluck Jonathan to be on tenterhooks. Having sulked badly when his favourite, Timi Alaibe, lost the PDP governorship primary, he was believed to have angrily but surreptitiously thrown in his lot with the APC candidate in the November poll, though he was and remains a PDP bulwark. The support the former president extended to the APC candidate, said some analysts, was so undisguised that when Mr Lyon won, Dr Jonathans Otuoke, Bayelsa State residence was one of the earliest places visited by the triumphant opposition politicians.With the Supreme Court turning the table so unpredictably in favour of the PDPs Mr Diri, how would Dr Jonathan comport himself in the next four years' Would he continue to sulk' Would he be scorned' Would he keep aloof' If the PDP bigwigs in the state are wise, they will ask Mr Dickson and Mr Diri, in company with some party leaders, and immediately after the swearing in of the new governor on Friday pay a courtesy visit to the former president and seek genuine and lasting reconciliation with him by incorporating all factions in the PDP into their big family. They should leave no one out. If they are wise, they should make the former president their father. His flip-flop in the November poll, when he backed the losing horse, is enough punishment, enough poetic justice. But politics is unpredictable, and no one can really say whether vengeance is not often too tempting for politicians to want to demand their pound of flesh.The intertwining of Bayelsa poll with Mr Diri may be the most remarkable touchstone of electoral or political quirk in these parts. But, there are many more such quirks. The Imo poll also produced something quite close to the Bayelsa anomaly. Dethroned former governor Emeka Ihedioha had been pronounced winner by INEC last March. But by mid-January, after winning at both the election petition tribunal and the Court of Appeal, Mr Ihedioha was shown the door barely eight months into his short reign. But that was not the quirk. The quirk was that the Supreme Court declared the candidate who came fourth in that controversial and heady poll as winner. The victory, moaned many puzzled and frazzled analysts, seemed to come against the run of play. How could the fourth-ranked come first' The PDP has since returned to the same Supreme Court asking them to reconsider that which they took from the party a little while ago when the justices declared Hope Uzodinma winner. In short, the party has returned to the apex court asking them to, with the benefit of hindsight, reconsider the convoluted arithmetic upon which they apparently drew inspiration to author the legal conundrum that has baffled and needled many an idealist and patriot across partisan divides.That same strange quirk of fate also caused tremors through the Rivers State political firmament in 2007 when former president Olusegun Obasanjo foisted an unusual primary outcome on the state PDP, an outcome that was so whimsical and paradoxical that it beggars belief. That outcome brushed aside the winner of the primary, Rotimi Amaechi, and enthroned Celestine Omehia. Quirkily, the PDP won the April poll of that year, having built its victory on the nothingness of an alien and foisted party primary. But the courts examined the Rivers State trajectory and, against all expectations, in October restored the normality which the partys constitution envisioned. Votes were cast for the party, said the apex court impatiently, and when by whatever means the true and right candidate of a party primary was identified, even after the poll, justice had to prevail, and Mr Amaechi became governor.Quirkiness was also visible as it plowed its way relentlessly through the warrens and sandy terrains of Zamfara State, uprooting an uproarious APC victory that numbered over 500,000 votes but which were smothered by rancorous party regulations, and delivering victory to the PDP governorship candidate who corralled far fewer votes of less than 200,000. It did not take the courts any discomfort or juridical confusion to unseat the APCs Mukhtar Idris and plant PDPs Bello Matawalle, another electoral quirk that will endure in Nigerias political memory. It may yet be that a reflection on these quirks, particularly the cost they often impose on political parties consequent upon their arbitrary conduct of primaries, may lead to far healthier politicking and far more robust primary elections in future.Less than three months after boisterously celebrating victory in the Bayelsa poll, the APC has again lost its foothold in the Niger Delta, and the iconoclasm that has been read into its electoral battles has suddenly turned a gloomy foreboding of apocalypse. Far beyond losing their toehold in the Niger Delta, the APC must find the courage to re-examine the politics and values they so inspiringly spoke about and propagated at their founding in April 2013. Rather than brood over the Bayelsa setback, or pace frantically over an uncertain fate in Imo, it may be time for them to energise a renewal of their party if they can find and give free rein to enterprising leaders who will personify their dreams.
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