The Court of Appeal Abuja division on Thursday held that Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State was validly elected as governor of the state and that he was lawfully declared winner of the December 6, 2015 election in the state.
In a unanimous decision of a five-man panel presided over by Justice Jimmi Olukayode Bada, the Court of Appeal resolved all the five issues raised by governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the election, Chief Timpre Sylva against the tribunal decision in favour of Dickson and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Justice Bada, who delivered the lead judgment, held that Sylva and his party failed to prove the allegations of corruption, non compliance, and gross violation of the Electoral Act and other malpractices they alleged that marred the conduct of the election.
The Judge said the foundation upon which the appellants based their case that the December 6, 2015 election in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area was unilaterally cancelled by the State Resident Electoral Commissioner was baseless and unfounded because of the overwhelming evidence that the poll was shifted based on the agreement of the stakeholders to January 9, 2016.
The Appellate Court held that from the available evidence, the December 6 poll was shifted to January 9, 2016 by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and political leaders after a stakeholders meeting attended by necessary parties.
Beside, Justice Bada said that the claim of Sylva and APC that the rescheduled January 9, 2016 election was unlawful, has been eroded by Sylva and APC participation in the rescheduled election.
Justice Bada further said that the burden of proof that the election of December 6, 2015 was unilaterally cancelled rested on the appellants who lost the claim as no adequate evidence was placed before the court as a proof of the allegation.
“The contention of the appellants that there was election on December 6, 2015 has no merit. They were expected to lead evidence to prove their claim that there was election on that day”.
“They failed to prove that the election conducted on January 9, 2016 at the Southern Ijaw was marred by irregularities, electoral malpractices, and allocation of votes and gross violation of electoral act. These allegations were not proved by the appellants.
“I am in total agreement with the judgment of the Tribunal that the allegation of malpractices were not proved because its decision was based on the evidence place before it”.
He added that the Tribunal was right in law in reaching its conclusion.
Having resolved all the five issues raised by the appellants in favour of the respondents, Justice Bala dismissed the petition in its entirety for lacking in merit.
The Court of Appeal also on Thursday dismissed the cross appeal filed for Governor Dickson which sought to disqualify Sylva from contesting the election in the first place. Dickson had alleged in the appeal which was based on section 182 (b) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that Sylva having contested two previous governorship election was not qualified.
The Appellate Court said that the tribunal was right when it declined to entertain Dickson’s complain because it was out of its purview. The tribunal also dismissed the appeal filed by the PDP for lack of merit.
It would be recalled that Sylva and APC had challenged the election of Governor Dickson at the State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal on the ground that the governor was not lawfully returned through majority votes by INEC.
But in a unanimous decision, the three-man tribunal, led by Justice Kazeem Aloba, held that the Sylva and APC failed to prove their case.
In the judgment delivered, the tribunal held that the election held in Southen Ijaw Local Government on January 9, 2016 was lawful and valid in law and that the governor was lawfully returned as the winner.
The tribunal further had held that from the evidence adduced before it, the election of December 6, 2015 was inconclusive and was rightfully rescheduled by INEC through the REC.
It also held that contrary to the position of the petitioner, election took place in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state.
Fielding questions from newsmen shortly after the judgment was delivered, counsel to Sylva and APC, Daniel Nwoko, said that the judgment of the Court of Appeal will be tested at the Supreme Court because there are aspects of the judgment that need clarification at the Supreme Court.
Counsel to Dickson, Emeka Etiaba, SAN, lauded the judgment and praised the Justices for the industry put in it.