By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA–The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, affirmed the governor-elect of Bayelsa state, David Lyon, as the authentic candidate of the All Progressive Congress, APC, in the governorship election that held in the state on November 16, 2019.
The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a five-man panel of Justices led by Justice Mary Odili, dismissed an appeal a former Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, filed to be declared winner of the governorship primary election the APC held in the state on September 4, 2019.
In the lead judgement that was delivered by Justice Inyang Okoro, the Supreme Court held that Lokpobiri’s case had become statute barred.
It upheld the January 11 judgement of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, which dismissed Lokpobiri’s suit against Lyon’s emergence as governorship candidate of the party, on the premise that it was filed outside the 14 days period stipulated by section 285(9) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The apex court held that contrary to Lokpobiri’s claim, the cause of action in the substantive suit he filed before the Federal High Court in Yenogoa arose on September 4, 2019, when the APC primary election held and not on September 7 when Lyon’s name was submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Justice Okoro stressed that Lokpobiri’s failure to institute the action within 14 days after he became aggrieved that Lyon was declared winner of the primary election, ousted the jurisdiction of the high court to entertain his case.
It will be recalled that Justice Jane Inyang of a Federal High Court in Yenagoa had in a verdict she delivered on November 14, 2019, two days before the Bayelsa state governorship election took place, upheld Lokpobiri’s suit and nullified the primary election that produced Lyon as flag-bearer of the APC for the poll.
Dissatisfied with the verdict, APC promptly obtained an interim order from the appellate court which stayed the execution of order of the lower court that barred it from participating in the gubernatorial contest.
Lyon eventually contested and emerged winner of the election with a total 352,552 votes.
Meanwhile, in its subsequent judgement, the appellate court held that Lokpobiri’s suit was statute barred since it was not filed within the constitutionally prescribed timeframe.
However, in the appeal he filed through his lawyer, Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, prayed the Supreme Court to determine whether in view of provisions of section 318(4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and the Interpretation Act, the appellate court was right to dismiss his suit pursuant to section 87(9) of the Electoral Act and section 285(9) of the Constitution, on ground that it had become statute barred.
Aside from urging the apex court to set aside the judgement of the appellate court, Lokpobiri, sought to be declared the valid winner of the APC primary election, a prayer that was refused.
The Justice Odili-led panel held that the appeal marked SC/35/2020, lacked merit, even as it also dismissed two other appeals Lokpobiri filed to challenge Lyon’s nomination as APC governorship candidate in Bayelsa state.
The Appellant had in his suit, insisted that he defeated Lyon at the said primary election.
He alleged that though he won the primary contest, the APC went ahead to announce Lyon as winner and subsequently forwarded his name to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as its candidate for the gubernatorial poll.