The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, on Tuesday, affirmed Timipre Sylva as the valid candidate of the All Progressives Congress for the Bayelsa State governorship election billed for November 11.
The court, in a unanimous decision by a three-member panel of Justices, vacated the judgement of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which disqualified Sylva from participating in the gubernatorial poll.
It held that the litigant, Mr Demesuoyefa Kolomo, who initiated the suit that led to Sylva’s disqualification, lacked the locus standi (legal right) to do so.
Consequently, the appellate court, aside from setting aside the verdict of the high court, awarded a cost of N1 million against the respondent, Kolomo.
The High Court had in a judgement it delivered on October 9, declared that Sylva, who is the immediate past Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, was not eligible to participate in the gubernatorial contest having already spent five years in office as governor of the state.
The court stressed that since the 1999 Constitution, as amended, okayed a maximum tenure of eight years for a governor, should Sylva contest and win the impending election, he would exceed the constitutional threshold by spending a total of nine years in office.
Justice Donatus Okorowo held that uncontroverted evidence that was adduced before the court established that Sylva had earlier taken the oath of office as Bayelsa state governor, on two occasions.
Relying on a Supreme Court decided case law in Marwa Vs Nyako, the judge held that the constitution could not be stretched to elongate the statutory period that someone could serve as a governor in the country.
He declared that Sylva was not a valid candidate for the forthcoming Bayelsa state governorship poll.
The court directed the Independent National Electoral Commission to remove his name from the list of candidates for the election.
The judgement followed a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/821/2023, which was brought against Sylva by a chieftain of the APC in the state, Kolomo.
The plaintiff had in the suit he filed on June 13, prayed the court to among other things, determine: “Whether having regard to the indisputable fact that Sylva occupied the office of governor of Bayelsa from May 29, 2007, to April 15, 2008, and May 27, 2008, to January 27, 2012, he is qualified to contest and be elected for another four years term given section 180(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
However, dissatisfied with the judgement, Sylva, in a three-ground notice of appeal he filed through his team of lawyers led by Dr. Ahmed Raji, SAN, faulted the high court judgement which he said was against the settled principles of law and notable precedents.
He applied for an order of the appellate court, “staying execution and/or further execution of the entire judgment and the orders contained in the Judgment of the Court, delivered on the 9th October, 2023, pending the hearing and final determination of the appeal lodged against the judgement and Orders of this Court before the Court of Appeal, Abuja.”
Sylva further prayed to the court for an order of injunction, restraining all the respondents in the appeal from implementing and/or giving effect to the declaratory and executory orders contained in the judgment.
According to him, Justice Okorowo of the High Court wrongly assumed jurisdiction by delving into an issue that was within the domestic affairs of a political party.
He argued that the issue of nomination of a candidate by a political party is a non-justiciable cause of action.
Insisting that the judgement that disqualified him from contesting the governorship election occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice against him, Sylva, argued that the trial court had a duty to understand and properly evaluate the case presented before it by the parties and apply the law correctly.
More so, in ground two of the appeal, Sylva, who is a former governor of the state, maintained that Justice Okorowo erred in law when he wrongly conferred, allowed and adjudicated on the matter, even though the litigant had no locus standi to initiate or institute the action.
He told the appellate court that the plaintiff in the suit that led to his disqualification, Mr. Kolomo had admitted that he did not participate in the primary election that produced him as the governorship candidate of the APC.
Sylva contended that Mr. Kolomo, not being a contestant in the primary election, lacked the legal right to query his emergence as the flag-bearer of the APC.
He said the court failed to properly evaluate, determine and pronounce on a preliminary objection he filed to challenge the competence of the suit and thereby breached his right to fair hearing as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, as amended.