Bayelsa Speaker Defies Court Ruling, Refuses To Vacate Seat | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Bayelsa Speaker Defies Court Ruling, Refuses To Vacate Seat

Posted: Jan 17, 2016 at 4:25 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)
Konbowei Benson

Konbowei Benson

By Igoniko Oduma,Yenagoa

Facts emerged at the weekend that the Speaker of Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Konbowei Benson, has not vacated his seat at the Assembly more than one month after he was sacked by the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt,Rivers State.

Checks by Daily Independent on Sunday, 17 January 2016, indicated that  Benson, who represents Southern Ijaw Constituency 4 on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was removed by the court in a ruling on 9 December 2015 which declared his election null and void.

He had been dragged to the Bayelsa State House of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ebifaghe Orunimighe, who challenged his purported electoral victory at the April 2015 general elections for the Southern Ijaw 4 seat in the Assembly.

The APC candidate challenged the victory of Benson on grounds that election did not take place in four wards and in the areas poll held, there was over voting.

Oruminighe particularly averred in his petition that there was no election in Olodiama Ward 3, Apoi Ward 15, Forupa Ward 14 and Ukubie Ward 16.

On October 16, 2015, the state  House of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal presided over by Justice Onanaeze  Madu dismissed Orunimighe’s petition for lack of proof.

But justices Mohammed Garba, Ejembi Eko and Stephen Adah, who sat on the appeal panel that delivered the judgment set aside the decision of the tribunal and upheld the prayers of Oruminighe.

In the judgement delivered by Justice Eko, the panel decided that the appellants proved with their evidence that there was no election in Appoi Ward yet results were posted in result sheets that were earlier snatched and collated into the overall results in the constituency.

The panel which also held that there was an inexplicable over voting said: “The line of attack by the appellants under issue 2 is that upon proper evaluation of exhibit P viz-a-viz the total number of vote cast at the election put at 34,985 as announced by INEC. There was an inexplicable over voting.

“Out of these 34,985 votes, 6038 from Olodiama Ward 4 and polling units 20-30 of Forupa Ward are not in contention as submitted by the appellants. Thus, 28,849 votes are suspect or disputed votes.

“Had the trial tribunal properly evaluated exhibit P it would have come to a conclusion that there was over voting in the constituency. Clearly there is an electoral malpractice where the number of votes cast are in excess of the total number of voters accredited to vote.

“The trial tribunal failed, neglected and refused to evaluate the critical evidential materials contained in the documents tendered and admitted in evidence by the appellants”.

Resolving issues 1, 2 and 3 raised in the appeal in favour of the APC candidate the tribunal declared the election that returned the Bayelsa Speaker null and void.

“I allow the appeal in substantial part. My findings on issues 1, 2 and 3 justify the declaration that the election/return of the first respondent Hon. Benson Friday Konbowei, as the purported winner of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly seat for Southern Ijaw Constituency 4 elections held on April 11, 2015 was null and void.

“It is hereby ordered that fresh election shall be conducted in all the wards of the constituency within 90 days from today except in Olodiama Ward 4 and the polling units 20-30 in Foropa Ward 4.

“The results from these Olodiama Ward 4 and polling units 29-30 in Foropa Ward 4 shall upon the fresh elections in other wards as ordered, thereafter, be duly collated and final declaration and return made”, Justice Eko said.

It was learnt that Benson had been presiding over intermittent proceedings at plenaries since the Court of Appeal ruling, being the final court in Assembly election petitions.

On Friday, 15 January 2016, Benson also presided over proceedings where Governor Seriake Dickson presented the state government’s Appropriation Bill of N150.645billion for the 2016 fiscal year.

The fate of the budget was said to be hanging in the balance as lawyers insisted that Benson had no business as a lawmaker much less parading himself as a speaker to receive the financial estimate of the state.

The lawyer to the APC candidate,  Bipeledei Efieseimokumo, said it amounted to a contempt of court for Benson to be parading himself as a lawmaker after the court judgement.

He said Benson ceased to be a member of the House on December 9 when the judgement was delivered adding that all actions and decisions he undertook within the period were illegal.

He said the speaker could not feign ignorant of the judgement since his legal team was part of the process that led to the ruling.

“The implication of that judgment is that the Speaker of House of Assembly, Rt Hon. Kombowei Benson,  ceased to be a member of the state House of Assembly. And any actions, decisions, including monetary appropriations made since that 9th of December judgment are all illegal.

“That is the position of the law and we have communicated that to the Clerk of the House. When David Mark was ousted by the court of appeal,  there was no issue of implementation.

“His lawyers had informed him, look, you have lost this case,  it is for him to vacate the seat. What are you waiting for? The judgment takes effect the moment it is delivered.

“As a civilised citizen, once you are aware that the judgement of court has been delivered, it is for you to obey the judgement. For you to now cling on technicalities that you are not aware, that you have not received the judgment is just the voice of a drowning man”, he said.

Efforts to get Benson’s reaction proved abortive as he had been keeping mum on the outcome of the matter