By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
Quite a lot of political neutrals have been sympathetic to David Lyon, candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the November 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa State. Lyon had completed the rehearsal for his Valentine’s Day swearing-in as governor when the Supreme Court invalidated his participation in the election and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to swear in the candidate with the highest number of votes, who, logically, was Diri Duoye, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party. From standing on the cusp of realising his long-time governorship ambition, Lyon was caught flat-footed and kicked into what could potentially be his political oblivion. He only saw the gates of Jerusalem; he wasn’t allowed to enter. How painful!
On the surface, Lyon deserves some sympathy. Only that he is a politician; and in my world, politicians deserve little sympathy. Although they’ve mastered the art of roping in the people in their moments of trouble, the bulk of them only think about their interests and their pockets. Lyon’s hurtful loss, therefore, represents no significant regression for the people, save the political hangers-on, the protesting thugs and the general beneficiaries of official graft.
The ‘real’ people can afford not to bat an eyelid. There isn’t much difference whether it is the PDP or the APC that loses an election — by the ballot, by the pronouncement of the court or by the bullets and machetes of thugs. Lyon is an example. The now APC man was a founding member of the PDP in Bayelsa. In fact, in 2000, while in PDP, he was Caretaker Committee Chairman of Apoi Olodiama Local Government Development Centre. He defected to the APC only in 2015, which is why those defending the legitimacy of the certificates in question may want to consider that Lyon and his running mate are well-known to the PDP; their secret was being challenged and exposed by those who should know — their ex-bedfellows. Yes, “their” secret, not Degi’s secret.
How can it be that Lyon was not bothered about Degi’s multiple identity? There was
Dei Biobara on the Primary School Leaving Certificate. There was Adegi Biobarakumo on the secondary school version. It was Degi Biobarakuma on the First Degree certificate, Degi Biobarakuma Wangaha on the MBA and, finally, Degi-Eremienyo on his deputy governorship candidature form. Unless Lyon wanted to have five running mates, or he wanted a political upgrade to the spiritual Trinity for a deputy, he must have smelled before now that there was something fishy about Degi whatchamacallit — because we don’t even know which of his five names to address him by.
It is interesting to note that question marks over the legitimacy of the Lyon-Degi ticket didn’t begin today. After last year’s primary, Heineken Lokpobiri, former Minister of State for Agriculture, challenged the conduct of the process that produced Lyon and asked to be declared the authentic candidate. Shortly before the election itself, a Federal High Court in Abuja disqualified Degi as Lyon’s running mate. The casualty at the time was Degi, not Lyon; APC could have fixed this if took its internal democracy seriously. And this is what I’m happy about.
The cruel manner of Lyon’s loss will force political parties, or at the very least the leading candidates, to pay more attention first to their internal verification mechanisms and next to their internal politics. The lead-up to the 2019 general election was littered with allegations and counter-allegations of certificate forgery. In both the PDP and the APC. The sheer number of these cases was astounding; and surely, not all of them could have been false. Many of them the party covered up; some didn’t win so their matter died naturally. Everyone would have taken notice of Lyon going down this way; Nigerian democracy will be the big winner if political parties understand they won’t always get away with intra-party shenanigans, and that their comeuppance can indeed occur at a most inopportune moment.
This judgement will strengthen internal politics of parties. In the past, Degi would have been found out by INEC and kicked out of the race. INEC could disqualify candidates back in the day but the parties always wanted overall control over the identity of the candidates they present at the polls. They have it; now they have to feel the weight of the responsibility. Back in the day, INEC had the powers to overrule a party by disqualifying candidates who did not scale through the electoral umpire’s screening. But Maurice Iwu, egged on by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, misused those powers. In February 2007, Iwu’s INEC disqualified Atiku Abubakar, candidate of Action Congress, from the April 2007 presidential election after a Federal Government Administrative Panel of Inquiry relied on a report by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to indict him for corruption and abuse of office regarding $20m Petroleum Technology Development Fund funds. However, Orji Uzor Kalu, who, like Atiku, was on that EFCC list of candidates unfit to hold public office on account of alleged corruption, was cleared as presidential candidate of the Progressive Peoples Alliance. The double standard was clear for all to see. Atiku fought the battle legally and won (although he would eventually lose the war) at the Supreme Court, which ruled INEC lacks the power to single-handedly disqualify candidates. These days, parties are the ones misusing those powers. APC’s self-destruction in Bayelsa should come with the much-needed reality check — when people like Adams Oshiomole eventually wake up from their dream and accept the finality of this loss.
Twelve years on, political parties have perfected the art of helping all sorts of charlatans, uneducated and quasi-educated people to power. Look at some of the people in positions of authority and you want to puke! Without mentioning any name, there are supposedly elected politicians today whose West African Senior School Certificate Examination certificates are still the subject of controversy in the court of public opinion even if the cases were already closed at the law courts. From Salisu Buhari, former speaker of the House of Representatives whose University of Toronto certificate probably originated from Oluwole, to Ademola Adeleke, the former Osun State governorship candidate of the PDP with dubious WASSCE certificate, there are too many certificate rogues in Nigerian politics. One by one they must be fished out, even if it means huge consequences for their political associates, in this case Lyon.
Soyombo, former Editor of the TheCable, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and SaharaReporters, tweets @fisayosoyombo