The Nigerian Supreme Court Gets It Wrong (Again)

By Ikenga Chronicles February 13, 2020

The Nigerian Supreme Court Gets It Wrong (Again)

— Dr. Vitus Ozoke

New is that the Supreme Court of Nigeria has nullified the election of Bayelsa State Governor-Elect, David Lyon. The sole reason for Lyon’s election nullification is that the Court has determined that grounds exist for the disqualification of his Deputy Governor-Elect, Degi-Eremienyo. With all due respect, that is a very bad judgment by the Court.

There are two relevant provisions of the Nigerian Constitution – Sections 181(1) and 187(1). Section 187(1) provides: “In any election to which the foregoing provisions of this part of this Chapter relate, a candidate for the office of Governor of a State shall not be deemed to have been validly nominated for such office unless he nominates another candidate as his associate for his running for the office of Governor, who is to occupy the office of Deputy Governor; and that candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of Deputy Governor if the candidate who nominated him is duly elected as Governor in accordance with the said provisions.”

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The only pertinent question here is: Did Governor-Elect Lyon nominate another candidate as his associate for his running for the office of Governor, who is to occupy the office of Deputy Governor as required by Section 187(1) of the Nigerian Constitution? The answer is YES. Lyon nominated Degi-Eremienyo as his associate for his running for the office of Governor who was to occupy the office of Deputy Governor. That is all the Constitution requires of a candidate for governor as far as the nomination of an associate. It is not for that candidate to screen his nominee for deputy governor; it is the job of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). If the INEC, with all the resources at its disposal, screens a candidate for election as deputy governor, and finds him/her eligible, that candidate’s later disqualification by the Supreme Court should not also result in the disqualification and dismissal of the candidate for governor who nominated him/her.

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Unless the Supreme Court found collusion between the Governor-Elect and his Deputy Governor-Elect in the set of facts that led to the disqualification of the latter, the Court should not have nullified the entire election. Justice would have been better served by a bifurcated approach. The Deputy Governor-Elect should have been disqualified, as did the Court, while allowing the Governor-Elect, in the spirit of Section 181(1), to nominate a new Deputy Governor-Elect. Section 181(1) provides: If a person duly elected as Governor dies before taking and subscribing the Oath of Allegiance and oath of office, or is unable for any reason whatsoever to be sworn in, the person elected with him as Deputy governor shall be sworn in as Governor and he shall nominate a new Deputy-Governor who shall be appointed by the Governor with the approval of a simple majority of the House of Assembly of the State.” What Section 181(1) shows, in the context of the current situation, is that a candidate for Deputy Governor must not be a running-mate to the candidate for Governor for the relationship of Governor and Deputy Governor to arise.

The Meaning Of Selflessness

The Supreme Court, again in the absence of evidence of collusion between Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo in the set of facts constituting Degi-Ereminyo’s disqualification, should have disqualified Degi-Eremienyo and ordered the operation of the spirit of Section 181(1). Governor-Elect Lyon should have been allowed to nominate a new Deputy Governor with the approval of a simple majority of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly. Nullifying the entire election, by dismissing both the Governor-Elect and the erring Deputy Governor-Elect, is a total miscarriage of justice. By that decision, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has committed two egregious errors:

  1. It has punished Governor-Elect Lyon for no infraction of law; and
  2. It has punished Governor-Elect Lyon for an omission committed by the INEC, the agency paid not to make such omission.

This is a bad decision and I expect Lyon to join the growing bandwagon of petitioners for judicial review.

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