Bayelsa poll: Court of Appeal reverses Sylva’s sack

Less than 12 days to the governorship election in Bayelsa State, the Court of Appeal, Abuja, has reversed the nullification of the candidacy of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Timipre Sylva.

The appellate court in a judgment delivered yesterday, held that Justice Donatus Okorowo of the Federal High Court, was wrong in ordering the sack of Sylva as a candidate of the APC in the November 11, governorship election in Bayelsa State.

According to the judgment, the trial court erred to have assumed jurisdiction in the matter, on grounds that the plaintiff at the Federal High Court, Demesuoyefa Kolomo, lacked the necessary locus standi to initiate the suit in the first place, having not participated in the primary election that produced Sylva as flag bearer of the APC in the forthcoming election.

The appellate stressed that the issue of jurisdiction was fundamental in an election matter, and a court must first take a decision on it before any other thing.

According to Justice Binta Zubairu, who delivered the judgment, where a plaintiff who filed a suit in a pre-election matter lacked the necessary legal authority to do so, the proper thing for any court to do was to strike out the suit.

She pointed out that evidence showed that the plaintiff was not an aspirant not participated in the APC’s primary election that produced Sylva as candidate, hence cannot challenge the nomination or qualification of Sylva for the November 11, governorship election in Bayelsa State.

The appellate court pointed further that no matter appealing his reasons may be, Section 152 of the Constitution, bars him from challenging the nomination or sponsorship of a candidate by his political party.

Justice Zubairu, added that since the plaintiff was not an aspirant at the APC’s primary election, the Federal High Court was therefore robbed of any jurisdiction to hear his case, adding that since the lower court had no jurisdiction in the first place, all actions taken in the matter is declared a nullity.

The appellate court in addition stated that once a judgment was found to have been delivered without jurisdiction, “no matter how sound” it may be, “it is an exercise in futility”, and bound to be set aside.

The appellate court subsequently voided the judgment of Justice Donatus Okorowo, which nullified Sylva’s participation in the November 11, governorship election.

By this judgment, INEC would have to list Sylva as candidate of the APC for the governorship election in Bayelsa State.

Justice Binta Zubairu, who delivered the lead judgment subsequently slammed a cost of N1 million in favour of Sylva.

Sylva had approached the appellate court to reverse the order barring him from participating in the November 11 governorship election.

Justice Okorowo, held that Sylva cannot be on the ballot for the APC, having been sworn in twice and served for five years as governor of Bayelsa.

According to the judge, allowing the former governor to do so would breach the Constitution of the country. The court had explained that if Sylva contested and wins and is sworn in, he would spend more than eight years in office as governor of the state.

Okorowo, while relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Marwa vs Nyako, held that the drafters of the Constitution stated that nobody should be voted for as governor more than twice and that the parties to the suit agreed that Sylva was voted into office two times.

He subsequently made an order disqualifying Sylva from the November 11, governorship poll.

Dissatisfied, the immediate past Minister of State for Petroleum Resources went to the appellate court to challenge his sack.

His lawyer, Dr. Ahmed Raji, submitted that the trial court’s judgment was against settled principles of law and notable precedents, adding that the appeal raises three fundamental issues touching on jurisdiction, locus standi and wrongful evaluation of affidavit evidence.

The appellant submitted that Okorowo in his judgment wrongly assumed jurisdiction by delving into the internal affairs of his party, which is a non-justiciable cause of action and thereby occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice.

In addition, he argued that the trial court has a duty to understand the case presented by the parties and apply the law correctly.

In ground two, the former governor said Justice Okorowo erred in law when he wrongly conferred, allowed and adjudicated on the matter when the respondent has no locus standi to initiate or institute the action having confessed not to have participated in the primary election that produced him as the governorship candidate of the APC, thereby occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice against him.

The appellant submitted further that the lower court failed to properly evaluate, determine and pronounce on his notice of preliminary objection challenging the competence of the suit and thereby breached his right to fair hearing as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution.