As Diri savours court victories, Bayelsans yearn for development 

Douye Diri
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Senator , who ‘miraculously’ emerged the 6th governor of oil-rich on February 14, 2020, after the Supreme Court sensationally halted the swearing-in of David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (), needs hard to enjoy the goodwill of the people. His test as a governor focused on developing the state has just begun. Lyon had won the November 16, 2019, gubernatorial election, but it was overturned on account of discrepancies in his deputy’s certificate.

While Dirie is still savouring the euphoria of yet another Court of Appeal victory over his sack by the election tribunal, decaying and dilapidated infrastructure in the oil-rich state are some of the leadership challenges Diri faces, as he tries to convince Bayelsans of his ability to turn the fortunes of the state around for the better. More than eight months into his administration, nothing has changed despite over N100 billion accruals from the federation account so far. The governor has spent more time in Abuja trying to defend and consolidate on his miraculous emergence via the courts.

In fairness though, some observers say the many litigations against Diri are distabilising factors capable of scuttling whatever developmental agenda the new governor may have planned for the state. After the elections, many in his camp naturally drifted away, some possibly to the opposition camp, to see what they could salvage of their political career. On being suddenly called back to be governor, it taking Diri months to settle down.

However, while the new helmsman is struggling to find his feet, Bayelsa people have been groaning under the yoke of under-development. It’s as if the last administration left office without anything tangible to show for its eight years in office. With Diri, no tangible project has been initiated for execution. The internal roads in the state capital, Yenagoa, are gradually giving way to gullies. The heavy rains have worsened the situation for residents.

For starters, it took the governor six months to nominate and appoint commissioners. Although this was not his fault, as he had to battle forces within his party to come out with a list that would not further tear the party apart after a fractious electioneering campaign.

From the court litigations against his nomination as a candidate of the People’s Democratic Party () by Chief Ndutimi Alaibe and the certificate issues of his deputy governor through to election tribunal, which got to the appeal court, Diri has perhaps spent more time in courtrooms than his office since being elected. 

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From the Peoples Democratic Party () primary, Alaibe took him through the high court to the Supreme Court, challenging his emergence at the party primary. Alaibe participated in the primary, congratulated him when Diri emerged, but later went to court to challenge the process, saying the eight local government chairmen and councilors, who became delegates were not qualified to vote in the primaries.        

But when Alaibe approached the court, it ruled that the party had the power to determine its own rules. Not satisfied with the high court ruling, Alaibe went to the appeal court, which restated the high court’s position. He then went to the Supreme Court, which told him that the matter should not have come there since it was a party affair.

Diri’s external ordeals began after the approached the Supreme Court for declaring him the winner after a controversial ruling nullified the election of ’s David Lyon, hours to his inauguration. Diri had gone to court to challenge the educational qualification of David Lyon’s deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, who as Lyon’s running mate submitted forged credentials to INEC.

The matter, which began at the high court, went all the way to the Supreme Court. While the matter was thrown out at the high court and appeal court, respectively, the Supreme Court ruled that Lyon’s deputy had inconsistencies in the affidavit he submitted. A panel of justices, led by Mary Odili, then asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Lyon and issue another to the candidate with the second-highest number of votes.

The decision of the apex court was an affirmation of the verdict of a federal high court disqualifying Degi-Eremienyo, Lyon’s running mate, for the same offence. went for a review after the February 13 ruling, which was held on February 26, but the Supreme Court stood firm. This was another victory for Diri and the family.

In all, there were three instances of the Supreme Court, which the governor won, and instances of party members taking the governor and his deputy, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpor to the election tribunal, which culminated in the final verdict recently, with the governor again emerging victorious.

Other parties, which went to the election tribunal included Alliance for Democracy (AD), Liberation Movement (LP), and Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party (ANDP), all seeking either the nullification of the election or sack of Diri. While the ANDP got its way with the sacking of Diri at the tribunal, some others withdrew their suits. ANDP candidate had a temporary victory when the tribunal ruled in his favour, which the governor challenged at the appeal court.

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In all, there were six applications that the appeal court decided on October 2, with Diri winning all of them, including the one he instituted challenging the ruling of the tribunal. The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Friday, October 2, thus affirmed Duoye Diri as governor of .

The five-man panel of the appellate court, in two unanimous judgments on Friday, October 2, reversed the majority judgment of the Governorship Election Tribunal, which had earlier sacked Diri and ordered a fresh election.

In a split judgment on August 17, two out of three judges had upheld the petition filed by Lucky King-George, candidate of the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party, on grounds that the Independent National Electoral Commission was wrong to have excluded the party from the November 16, 2019 governorship election.

While delivering judgment, the five-man panel of the appellate court, led by Adriza Mshella, upheld Diri’s appeal. The court held that the petition filed by the ANDP at the lower tribunal was statute-barred.

As the drama continued at the courts, there were fears among the citizens of the state that the governor was spending time and resources defending his ‘miraculous’ Supreme Court ruling. Their fears were that development, which includes creating infrastructure and making life meaningful to the people, had been stalled.

For example, Yenagoa is always flooded whenever heavy rains start. The poor drainage system associated with bad inner roads, especially around Okaka and Yenizue Epie axis, does not help matters. People suffer sleepless nights trying to evacuate water from their houses. 

Apart from the bulldozers that demolished shops and illegal stalls at the Swali Market and Tombia Roundabout when peaked in the state, Bayelsans continue to bemoan the state of inner roads in the state capital.

According to a resident of Yenagoa, the state government should show concern about the dilapidated internal roads instead of demolishing people’s means of livelihood, adding that fixing the roads would make life easy for the people. As the rains intensified, most residents relocated from their homes while many remain trapped in waterlogged homes. The state capital is worse hit as most businesses and businessmen have relocated to other states as a result of the government’s inactivity in the past year.

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But in his reaction, the newly appointed Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Ayibaina Duba, denied that the people are complaining. He, however, argued that there were some setbacks, including the months the state battled the coronavirus pandemic.

He said; “First of all, I don’t think people are complaining, because development is in different streams. Let me put it this way: Yes, the government has been there for like you said, eight months, but you will recall that in these eight months, there have been a lot of setbacks. 

“From February 14 till today, we’ve spent about four or five months battling the and, as a result of that, the revenue dropped significantly. Because, as you know, the bulk of what we use for everything comes from Federal Allocation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), because the internal IGR is next to nothing. 

“Much as the government has been trying to shore up the internally generated revenue, you know that it can’t. You are here, so you know there are no taxable industries and things like that for us to internally generate revenue. The revenue we make, part of it comes from the taxes of civil servants. It’s like giving people money and collecting some back, you know.”

Duba also defended the state government on the issues of intrastate roads, which have not received attention since Governor Diri assumed office, saying; “The next is what you said concerns internal roads. If you listen to us very well, you will hear when the commissioner for works talked the other day about fixing about 50 of the internal roads. 

“The target of the government is, first, to get all those roads done; that’s what they want to do. I think they have done the costing and they’ve done their programming. So, before the commissioner came out to say the roads are going to be rehabilitated, that’s what will happen. Then, not just that, the outer ring roads, they’ve concluded that the one from Igbogene to AIT Road will be completed.”

While the government expects that the appeal court ruling will be the final of a series of judgments and litigations he has to contend with so he could face serious governance issues, residents are waiting eagerly to enjoy the campaign promises he made for which a section of the electorate voted for him.

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