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Thursday, July 25, 2024

The Bayelsa Conundrum



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Recent events in the life of the nation especially the numerous acts of bombings and mass murders in Borno and other Northern states and Abuja have impelled me to write this piece. Before the election of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, many people had tried to use these of bombings and mass killings to discredit him as a weakling who could not act as commander-in-chief. Fortunately, all of that came to naught and a great majority of Nigerians came out and voted for him in an election which was generally certified as free, fair and credible by both the local and international observers.

Now, even after his swearing-in and more than 100 days into his presidency and counting, the bombings and mass murders in Borno and Jos have not abated despite the good intentions and efforts of the Jonathan administration. Fortunately, however, there has been a large measure of peace in his native Bayelsa State. His Governor, the young Chief (Dr) Timiprie Sylva had the foresight to commence a process of reconciliation with the militants who had made the State and the entire nation ungovernable. Not long thereafter, the then president, Umaru Musa Yar’Ardua (now late) and his able Vice, now president, saw the wisdom in this approach and established the Amnesty Programme. Today, relative peace has returned to the creeks of the Niger Delta and the nation’s crude oil production capacity has jumped from about 750,000 barrels per day to more than 3 million barrels per day. This has yielded substantial revenue for national development at all tiers of governance.

This is where the worrisome development in Bayelsa State arises. Who wants to disturb this relative peace in the Niger Delta in general and particularly in Bayelsa State? Who wants to destabilize Bayelsa? Is it intended to be used to further attack and disparage the president as a man who cannot keep the peace even in his own home? Or as some skeptics would ask, is Mr. President trying to use his federal might to orchestrate the current state of suspense in Bayelsa?

For most people not steeped in the mucky waters of Nigerian politics it may be difficult to know where all this is going to. But as everyone knows, the governorship election in Bayelsa State did not hold in April, 2011 along with those of 5 other States. Before the High Court overruled INEC, the parties had held their primaries, elected their candidates for governorship and submitted same to INEC. By that ruling, the governorship election in Bayelsa was postponed to ————————-2012. So many months after the general elections, INEC has now woken from its slumber and is pressing for a ruling to the effect that the High Court was wrong in extending the tenure of the affected governors.

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In a nation where all the parties are agreed on the fact that the judiciary is up for sale to the highest bidder (remember the Salami saga?) the question now is: who is beating the drum for this latest bravado by INEC? But before you hazard any guess, it is important to speculate what will happen in Bayelsa and the 5 other states should the Court of Appeal come to a different ruling from the High Court. Strictly speaking, the Governors and their deputies will automatically step down and the Speakers of their various Houses of Assembly will assume the mantle of leadership. Then the sleeping EFCC will wake up from its slumber, chase the ex-governors and their deputies for just or for no cause whatever as the ‘harmless’ president and his enforcers in Abuja anoint his chosen ones to run on the ticket of the ruling party.

On paper this sounds very simple. But I can assure you that this is a harbinger for instability the like of which the nation has not seen in a long time. To be sure, the governors will not go down without a fight. To chase them off before the elections with EFCC and the Courts will further scandalize the anti-corruption agency and lower its already low standing in the eyes of right-thinking members of our nation and the international community. Secondly, there will be no better way to heat up the polity than embarking on this gambit. Third, the unrepentant militants who have remained dormant for some time now will find the excuse and the space to come back to ‘business.’

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The other thing the ruling PDP must consider is the combined effects of sections 33 and 35 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended. Can any party legitimately hound a governor who is yet to be convicted out of a race for which he has been nominated by the party in a primary and his name has been submitted to INEC as the party’s representative merely because the election was delayed by an order of a Court of competent jurisdiction? I respectfully submit that it is not open to a party to substitute a candidate whose name has already been submitted to INEC as the party’s candidate on the mere ground that that election was postponed by order of court. The only condition under which the party is allowed to substitute a candidate is where the candidate has died or is incapacitated or has voluntarily withdrawn from the race or from the party and he has put his position in writing to his party.

As several commentators have stated, the PDP will be handing over the reigns of power in the affected States to the opposition by default if it ventures to substitute candidates it had already submitted to INEC for the same elections. On mere technicality, the opposition will clinch victory from the jaws of defeat.

All said the wise path to follow is either to allow the primaries already held to stand or to use the current State party structures to hold new primaries if directed in writing to do so by INEC. If the second option is followed all the parties will be affected and none will take advantage to clinch the position merely by resort to litigation. Finally, though we all strive to have an independent INEC, where as in this case, its pursuit of the current appeal might lead to a breakdown of law and order, then it must be prevailed upon to abandon its appeal and work hard towards giving Nigerians an even freer and more credible election.

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