By Carl Umegboro
The Supreme Court on February 14 shocked the nation by its decision on the Bayelsa pre-election petition in which it nullified the declaration of the APC candidate, David Lyon as governor-elect, and ordered his replacement with the next candidate with highest votes and geographical spread.
By the verdict, the PDP candidate, Senator Douye Diri who polled 143,172 votes to take second position behind APC’s Lyon with 352,552 votes was declared the rightful governor-elect and sworn-in shortly. APC’s votes were consequently categorised as wasted votes. By implication, only a total of 149,999 people representing valid votes determined the destiny of Bayelsans.
The second was that the mess resulted from Lyon’s running-mate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, who presented controversial information to INEC among his requirement for the November 16, 2019 governorship election in the state. In other words, the sacked governor-elect suffered shared liability on account of their joint ticket. Thus, by the sins of his deputy, Lyon’s joy was cut short.
What is required in Bayelsa verdict is the highest degree of sensitivity, otherwise, it could set a wrong precedent. Thus, the apex court has accepted to revisit the verdict – worrisome, Nonetheless, the apex court may now have to be reviewing its decisions, meaning that an end to litigation may henceforth become a myth.
But looking at the Imo and Bayelsa verdicts, could the apex court eventually reverse its decision in any of the matters? Though, it is rarely done, nevertheless, it isn’t impossible. “Justice must not only be done but seen to be done” as held in R v Sussex, ex parte McCarthy (1924) 1 KB 256, (1923) All ER Rep 233 by Lord Hewart CJ is a guiding principle in legal jurisprudence. But unlike the Imo case, the Bayelsa verdict stands a chance of being reversed based on merit.
On the Bayelsa verdict, the line the Justice Mary Peter-Odili-led panel toed may trigger off crisis if not thoroughly reconsidered. The decision of the Court of Appeal was profoundly clearer and more logical. For instance, there’s no law that prohibits persons from change of names. Presently, the only requirements are affidavit and publication. That’s the law. The number of times is persuasive but not law. No doubt, it doesn’t reflect decency to have numerous affidavits for change of names; albeit no law has specified the number of times a person could change his name.
In other words, the ideal action would have been to markedly highlight it as disgusting, uncivilized, reckless and a sarcastic innuendo by obiter dictum (statement by the way) in the course of the judgement. The requirements for a change of name was met by the affidavits and publications adduced. Had it been a substantial evidence indicated forgery, then it would be a different ball game. Unfortunately, none, and the court cannot form an impression from the sky or mere assumptions. Thus, emotions substantially prevailed at the expense of law.
Beyond that, the ugly implication is that by the apex court’s pathway, affidavits for change of names may henceforth be accepted by discretion. Sadly, it will affect too many persons, including the innocent, especially as the court didn’t categorically state the number permissible for change of names. This is because Nigeria is a developing and religious nation where people change their names for one reason or the other.
Without a doubt, some had changed or modified their middle names and later as a family did same on the surnames on account of religious beliefs and civilization. Will such people now become criminals and disqualified for public office over such developments without any lawful indictment? An unassertive quest respectfully from their Lordships.