By Enyichukwu Enemanna
A Federal High Court in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, has barred a former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources from contesting for office of the Governor in Bayelsa State, South-South Nigeria.
Timipre Sylva, a former Governor of the state, was elected as candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the November 11 governorship election in the state, where he is seeking to unseat the incumbent Governor Douye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who is seeking a second term in office.
The presiding Judge, Justice Donatus Okorowo in his ruling held that Sylva having been sworn in twice and ruled for five years as Governor of Bayelsa, would breach the 1999 constitution as amended if allowed to contest again.
The constitution pegs tenure limit for office of the governor and president for four years of a maximum of two terms.
According to the Judge, Sylva was not qualified to run in the poll, explaining that if he wins and is sworn in, he would spend more than eight years in office as Governor of the state.
Citing the case of Marwa vs Nyako at the Supreme Court, the Judge noted that the drafters of the country’s constitution stated that nobody should be voted for as governor more than two times and that the parties to the suit agreed that Sylva was voted into office two times.
He further stated that the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Marwa vs Nyako that nobody can expand the constitution or its scope.
“So, if Sylva is allowed to contest the next election, it means a person can contest as many times as he wishes”, the court held.
Sylva won the 2007 Bayelsa State gubernatorial election and succeeded Goodluck Jonathan who went on to the position of Vice President.
Sylva’s opponent in the 2007 election, Ebitimi Amgbare of the Action Congress, legally challenged his victory. Although the Bayelsa State Election Petitions Tribunal upheld Sylva’s election, Amgbare took the matter to the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt which overturned the Tribunal’s decision and nullified Sylva’s election on April 15, 2008.
The Appeal Court’s five justices were unanimous in their decision and ordered that Speaker Werinipre Seibarugo be sworn in to replace Sylva as acting Governor, with a new election to be held within three months.
A new election was held on May 24, 2008, and Sylva, again running as the PDP candidate, was overwhelmingly elected with 588,204 out of about 598,000 votes.
He was sworn in again on May 27, saying on this occasion that he would form a broadly inclusive unity government.
On January 27, 2012, his tenure was terminated by the Supreme Court with an acting governor appointed to oversee the state.