The All Progressives Congress ( APC) is in a fix. Last week, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, disqualified its candidate for the November 11, Bayelsa Gubernatorial poll, Chief Timipre Sylva from participating in the election. Sylva, who served as the  Minister of State for Petroleum, in the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, is a former governor of the oil rich state. 

The trial judge, Justice Donatus Okorowo, while delivering judgment in 

 suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/821/2023 was filed by Deme Kolomo, a member of the Bayelsa State chapter of the APC, ruled  Sylva having been sworn in twice and ruled for a total of five years as governor of Bayelsa would breach the 1999 constitution as amended if allowed to contest again.

According to the court, the former minister was not qualified to run in the November poll because if he wins and is sworn in, he would spend more than eight years in office as governor of the state.

Okorowo, citing the case of Marwa vs Nyako at the Supreme Court, stated that   the drafters of the country’s constitution stated that nobody should be voted for as governor more than twice and that  parties to the suit agreed that Sylva was voted into office two times.

He noted  that the Supreme Court had ruled in the case of Marwa vs Nyako that nobody can expand the constitution or its scope. Consequently,  if Sylva is allowed to contest the next election, it means a person can contest as many times as he wishes.

Sylva, who had contested the 2007 governorship election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) first took oath of office as Bayelsa State governor, on May 29, 2007. The However, On April 15, 2008, the Court of Appeal nullified his election, and ordered a rerun. And the former governorship  won the fresh election. Regardless, towards the end of his tenure in May 2011, he secured a court order that his tenure began in 2008, not 2007. 

Like Sylva,  former Governors Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto),  Liyel Imoke (Cross River) Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) Ibrahim Idris (Kogi), who had won rerun polls,  after their elections were nullified, headed to the court. However, former Lagos State  military administrator, General Buba Marwa, who was eyeing the Adamawa governorship seat would have none of it. 

Marwa challenged the court order. After an initial loss at the Court of Appeal, the retired Army officer took his case to the Supreme Court. Eventually, on January 27, 2012, the Supreme Court sacked Sylva and the other governors, who had insisted that that their tenure has not elapsed during the general election in 2011.

According to the apex Court, the 1999 Constitution stipulates that the tenure of governors would be four years. The Supreme Court, relying on section 180 (2) of the Constitution,  held that the said section did not envisage any form of elongation of tenure for state governors, as well as the President.  

Consequently, Bayelsa joined the league of states, with off-season gubernatorial elections. The speaker of the state House of Assembly was mandated to take over the affairs of the state as acting governor, pending the conduct of a governorship poll. 

Unfortunately for Sylva, he could not clinch the gubernatorial ticket of the PDP.  Former President Goodluck Jonathan political family had settled for Henry Seriake Dickson, then a member of the House of Representatives as its choice for the PDP gubernatorial candidate and governor of the Niger Delta state. Thus, the former minister’s hope  to return to office through the 2012 Bayelsa governorship poll was dashed. 

Expectedly, the disqualification of Sylva from the November 11 gubernatorial contest has continued to elicit diverse reactions. While the opposition PDP is celebrating the disqualification of the former governor, and by extension the APC from the November 11 contest, the ruling party says the judgment will not stand. 

APC National Chairman, Abdullahi Ganduje, had described the judgment as a “little distraction”, which will overcome and win the gubernatorial contest. Ganduje said  “last two weeks, I was in Bayelsa for two good days and I think they were ready and still ready to win the election. Therefore, this is a little distraction anyway, but we will overcome it. “

Nevertheless, analysts say the APC may be walking a familiar path in Bayelsa. This is because apart from  the judgment disqualifying Sylva, there is also a suit before another court, challenging the eligibility of the APC deputy governorship candidate, Joshua Maciver, to participate in the November 11 poll. Recall that that the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC) had declared the APC  candidate, , in the 2019 Bayelsa gubernatorial election, David Lyon, as winner of the contest. Regardless, on the eve of his inauguration, the Supreme Court nullified Lyon’s election. The apex Court had ruled that his running mate,  Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo,  was not qualified to participate in the election . Consequently, the apex ordered that the PDP candidate, Douye Diri, who came second in the poll be issued with Certificate of Return as the governor-elect. Thus, the ruling party lost the chance to displace the major opposition party as the ruling party in Bayelsa State.

Regardless, while the APC has kicked against the court judgment, Sylva has already filed an appeal challenging the judgment.  On its part, the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC),  which spoke through its Chief Press Secretary, Rotimi Oyekanmi, has that it will await the outcome of the litigation to determine its next line of action regarding the participation of the APC in November 11, Bayelsa governorship contest. Although the APC and its gubernatorial contest are optimistic that they will have the last laugh at the court, analysts say the ruling party is walking a tightrope in Bayelsa governorship contest. 


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