The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the election of Seriake Dickon as Bayelsa State governor.
The court, in a unanimous decision by a panel of seven Justices, dismissed the appeal by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last governorship election, Timipre Sylva.
The court also upheld the September 22 judgments of the Court of Appeal in deciding the three appeals in which judgments were delivered yesterday.
Justice Tanko Muhammad, who read the lead judgment in the appeal by Sylva and his party, dismissed it for “lacking in merit”.
Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, who read the lead judgment in the cross-appeal by Dickson, upheld the Appeal Court’s decision in a similar appeal which Dickson filed before the lower court and dismissed it.
Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, in his lead judgment in the cross-appeal by the PDP, allowed the preliminary objection by Sylva and APC and dismissed the main appeal.
The apex court will give reasons for the judgments on November 18.
Sylva and his party had urged the Supreme Court to void the Court of Appeal’s September 22 judgment which upheld Dickson’s victory in the governorship election.
The former governor and APC argued, among others, that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) decision to cancel the December 6, last year, election in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area and rescheduled it for January 9, this year, was a breach of the provision of Section 26 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010.
They also argued that elections had taken place in Southern Ijaw before INEC cancelled it on the ground of “alleged but unproven” irregularities.
Sylva and his party contended that the Court of Appeal misdirected itself and relied on hearsay evidence to arrive at its conclusion that election did not take place in Southern Ijaw.
The Appeal Court, in its judgment, upheld the July 26 judgment of the Election Petitions Tribunal.
It was the Court of Appeal’s view that Sylva failed to prove his allegation that the election held on December 6, last year, and the supplementary one held on January 9, 2016 were marred by substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
It also held that Sylva failed to prove the allegations of irregularities and corrupt practices raised in his petition.
It noted that while Sylva’s case was against the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to cancel the election held in Southern Ijaw Local Government on December 6, 2016, he failed to lead credible evidence to prove his case.
Sylva had argued that INEC’s decision to cancel the December 6, 2015 election in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area and reschedule it for last January 9, was a breach of the provision of Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act 2010.
On whether or not an election actually took place in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area on December 6, last year, the appellate court held that the prosecution presented contradictory evidence on this.
Against Sylva’s argument that INEC’s Resident Electoral Officers (REC) lacked the power to have announced a cancellation of the election, the court held that Section 153(1)(f) of the First Schedule to the Constitution allows INEC to delegate its powers to any of its REC.
It held that it was only INEC that could complain about how its REC exercised the delegated powers.
The court further held that by the evidence led by the appellant (at the trial tribunal), it was clear that there was no conducive atmosphere under which a peaceful election could have been held in Southern Ijaw, and that the most reasonable thing in that circumstance was to postpone the election, which INEC did.
It held that the burden was on Sylva to lead credible evidence to prove that election actually held in Southern Ijaw, which he failed to do.
“Where a party seeks declaratory reliefs, it is the law that his case succeeds on the strength of his case and not the weakness of the defence.
“A proper interpretation of Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act will accommodate what occurred in Southern Ijaw, where election was marred by violence.
“There cannot be said to have been an election. The decision to conduct the election at a later date can be better interpreted as postponement, not cancellation.
“The appellant, who asserted that there was election in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area on December 6, last year, has the burden to prove the election and not the other way round,” the court said.
The court faulted the decision by Sylva and his party to participate in the rescheduled election when they had protested INEC’s rescheduling of the election.
It held that having participated in the rescheduled January 9 election, Sylva and his party lost the right to challenge the propriety or otherwise of INEC’s decision to reschedule the election.
On whether or not the tribunal was right to have held in favour of the respondents by virtue of the evidence led, the appellate court noted that although Sylva and his party were able to show some instances of irregularities, it was not sufficient to prove that such irregularities substantially tilted the result of the election in favour to the eventual winner.
It also upheld the trial tribunal’s decision to delete names of some unnamed parties from the petition and to also delete some portions of the petition on the grounds that the appellants were unable to show how that decision worked injustice against them.
“With the resolution of all the five issues against the appellants, I am of the view that this Appeal is devoid of merit. It is accordingly dismissed. Parties are to bear their costs,” the court held.
The court also dismissed the two cross-appeals filed by Dickson and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which challenged the competence of Sylva’s candidacy for the election.