Nnamdi Felix / Abuja
Hopes of former Bayelsa state governor, Timipre Sylva, to participate in Saturday’s governorship election in the state was on Tuesday dashed as Nigeria’s Supreme Court adjourned till 20 April to deliver judgment on the appeal he instituted in his bid to validate his victory in the Peoples Democratic Party’s primary election held in January, 2011.
At today’s proceedings, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, represented by Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, a senior advocate of Nigeria, objected to the interference of the court in what it considers to be basically an internal affairs of the party.
According to the senior lawyer, the central question which he court should consider in the determination of the embattled former governor’s case is whether the court can interfere in a pre primary election affairs of a political party. He went ahead to answer that question in the negative.
“Primary election was conducted in Bayelsa state by the PDP in January, 2011 but the former governor in court documents he filed in furtherance to his case, admitted that both he and the party had abandoned that primary election and complained that the party disqualified him from participating in the primary election of 19th November, 2011. It is clear that the controversy relates to the later primary election of the party where the former governor was disqualified from participating after paying the prescribed fee of 5.5 million Naira, which is an internal affair of the party”
Relying on an earlier decided case at the apex court in Onuora versus Okafor, the party insisted that the court has no jurisdiction to interfere in the matter and urged the court to decline jurisdiction in the matter.
Oyetibo further submitted that the party had not reached the issue of nomination of a candidate for the election before the former governor rushed to court. Oyetibo insisted that the issue of who to allow and who not to be allowed to participate in a political party’s primary election is entirely within the exclusive preserve of the party.
He also noted that the mere inclusion of the Independent National Electoral Commission as a party in the suit by the former governor does not automatically cloth the court with the jurisdiction to entertain the matter and insisted that there must be an action of the electoral body which the former governor was complaining against in order for the courts to have jurisdiction to entertain in the suit.
On his part, the former governor represented by Prince Lateef Fagbemi, also a senior advocate of Nigeria, argued that the second primary which the party conducted in the state which led to the emergence of Seriake Dickson was conducted while the case was already pending and argued that when the jurisdiction of the court is being challenged, as in case, that it is a cardinal rule that statement of claims determines whether a court has jurisdiction or not.
He submitted that his client protested against the conduct of fresh primaries in the state since he had neither withdrawn himself from the election for which his name and particulars had been submitted by his party earlier on, nor was he dead.
He contended that the suit they filed before the Federal High Court was a narrow one which contemplates whether the party can conduct another primary election in the state taking the provisions of section 33 and 35 of the Electoral Act where the prescriptions for the conduct of primary election was provided?
He protested the substitution of his client’s name by the PDP without complying with the provisions of the Electoral Act. “There is a legislation which provides what is to be done and how it is to be done, there must be compliance before it can be said that a person had waived his right.
He further argued that section 87(9) of the Electoral Act empowers the court to look into the complaints of an aspirant who complains of non compliance with the provisions of the Act and urged the court to assume jurisdiction and determine the matter expeditiously taking into consideration that the governorship election is scheduled to take place on Saturday, 11th February.
With the adjournment for the delivery of its ruling on the matter fixed for 20 April, the door has been firmly shut against the former governor’s hope of contesting in Saturday’s election.