The Supreme Court, Tuesday, declined to annul the election of Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State. In a unanimous decision, a seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court led by Justice Mohammed Tanko, dismissed appeal the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its governorship candidate in the state, Timipre Sylva, lodged against Dickson.
Justice Tanko who read the lead verdict held that the petition lacked merit. “This appeal lacks merit and it should be dismissed. I hereby dismiss the appeal and affirm the judgment of the court below. I shall give my reasons on Friday, November 18. Parties are to bear their cost”, Justice Tanko held. Nevertheless, the court, in two other judgments by Justices Kudirat Ekekere-Ekun and Olukayode Ariwola, dismissed cross-appeal Dickson and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, filed against Sylva and the APC, though they also reserved their reasons till Friday. It will be recalled that Sylva and the APC had in the dismissed appeal, urged the apex court to set aside the September 22 verdict of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which validated the election that brought Dickson to office. The appellants, through their lawyer, Mr. Sebastine Hon, SAN, raised 27 grounds they prayed the Supreme Court to consider with a view to determining whether Dickson of the PDP was validly elected or not. They contended that the appellate court panel headed by Justice Rotimi Olukayode Bada, misdirected itself in law when it dismissed appeal challenging the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to declare Dickson as winner of both the December 5, 2015 and January 9, 2016, supplementary election in Bayelsa State. The appellants argued that the unanimous decision of the five-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal to uphold the July 26 judgement of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, occasioned a great injustice on them. APC told the apex court that the appellate court failed to properly evaluate the weight of documentary evidence it adduced against Dickson, even as it dismissed same as hearsay evidence. At the appellate court, APC and Sylva who is a former governor of the state, had argued that the tribunal erred in law when it held that the reasons INEC gave on why it cancelled election result in some parts of the state was within the provision of section 26(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010. They insisted that Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act made no provision for “cancellation” of election, but “postponement” of election. According to the appellants, “The phrase ‘other emergencies’ under section 26(1) of the Electoral Act is limited to the action of INEC ‘postponing’ an election and not ‘cancelling’ one that had already taken place”. They further argued that the tribunal Judges, “misdirected themselves in law when they held that the appellants failed to prove and or tender any documents showing that election results had been uploaded on the database of INEC before the cancellation of the election and that such failure not only meant abandonment of pleading, but withholding of evidence, which if tendered, would be fatal to the appellants”. It was their argument that the tribunal erred in law when, in its haste to dismiss the appellants’ case in respect of Southern Ijaw LGA, deliberately refused to judicially evaluate the evidence called by the appellants in proof of their case in that LGA. They stated that no election or collation or results, known to law, took place in Southern Ijaw LGA. They also faulted the tribunal for failing to void Dickson’s election when it found that the combined result of election recorded by both candidates was 48,146, less than over 120,000 total registered voters in Southern Ijaw LGA. The tribunal which conducted its proceedings in Abuja had also dismissed Sylva and APC’s joint petition. A three-man panel tribunal led by Justice Kazeem Alogba, held that the petitioners failed to by way of credible evidence, prove their allegation that the election was marred by irregularities. The tribunal held that neither APC nor Sylva was able to substantiate their allegations beyond reasonable doubt, saying the petition was not backed by proof and required standard. According to Justice Alogba, “The petitioners failed to prove that the second respondent (Dickson) did not score the highest lawful votes. “Therefore the return of the second respondent by the Independent National Electoral Commission on January 10, 2016 was valid.” The petitioners had on January 30, gone before the tribunal to allege that the election was characterised by malpractices, intimidation of voters, hijacking of electoral materials, non-voting and non-collation of results in substantial parts of Sagbama, Yenogoa, Nembe, Ogbia,and Ekeremor Local Government Areas. The petitioners argued that the Resident Electoral Commissioner REC, in the state, lacked the power to unilaterally cancel the supplementary election scheduled in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area for December 6, 2015 and rescheduled it to January 9, 2016. However, while dismissing the petition, the tribunal held that INEC had the power to cancel the scheduled supplementary election. It said that contrary to contention by the petitioners, the decision to cancel the December 6, 2015, poll was not unilaterally taken by the REC, but was taken by INEC and “merely announced by the REC”. Decision of the tribunal was upheld by the appellate court which held that, “where a party seeks declarative reliefs, the burden is on him to win on the strength of his own case and not on the weakness of the defence”. It held that neither Sylva nor APC was able to discharge the burden of proof imposed on them by the law. The court said the appellants failed to prove that there was substantial none compliance to section 139(1) of the Electoral Act in conduct of the Bayelsa State governorship poll.