A’Court raises hope for Akpabio, vindicates Yobe Judge, orders rerun election

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Chief Akpabio.

The Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar, Cross River State has annulled the election of Senator Christopher Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who until the judgment represented Akwa Ibom Northwest Senatorial District and ordered a rerun within 90 days.

In a unanimous judgment delivered on Saturday, by a three-member panel of Justice S. Tanko Hussen, Justices M. Bolaji-Yusuf, and M. Mustapha, the election of Ekpenyong was set aside, and a rerun ordered within 90 days in the Essien Udim Local Government Area to determine the actual winner of the February 23, 2019 senatorial election.

Akpabio of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who contested the election against Ekpenyong, and his party as second appellant, had challenged the earlier judgment of the election petitions tribunal, which upheld the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declaring Ekpenyong winner of the election.

The court upheld the election results for Obot Akara Local Government Area, and others disputed by Akpabio and the APC on the grounds that they failed to prove alleged irregularities in the conduct of the election, and the results announced by the INEC.

Though the court also declared that Akpabio and the APC failed to prove that they won the election in Essien Udim with over 61,000 votes, it, however, agreed with their arguments that the election there was characterised by gross irregularities, making the final results announced for the entire Local Government Area by the INEC unreliable.

The court, therefore, annulled Ekpenyong’s election and ordered a rerun in Essien Udim in other to determine the actual winner of the election on the grounds that the area has over 126,000 registered voters, which is more than the margin of valid votes between the two leading candidates in the election, and is enough to determine the actual winner of the election.

The appeal court also delivered other judgments among which was the ordering of a rerun for Ikot Ekpene/Obot Akara/Essien Udim Federal Constituency following the upholding in part of the appeal brought before it by Akpan Sunday of APC against the election of Ekong Nsikak of PDP.

The Appeal panel also set aside the judgment of the election tribunal and ordered a re-run in Essien Udim within 90 days. It also annulled the election of Nsikak, the PDP candidate.

However, the appeal court upheld the judgment of the election tribunal, which declared Mr. Patrick Ifon of PDP as the winner of Eket/Esit Eket/Ibeno/Onna Federal Constituency, and dismissed the appeal of Kufre Akpabio of APC.

Reacting to the judgment, counsel to Akpabio and Sunday, Mr. Paulinus Idio, applauded the judgment of the appeal court saying, “My Lord, we are very grateful for the well considered good judgment”.

Also reacting, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko said, “It has been what I would like to describe as a misfortune for both parties. There were losers and winners in the judgment of today. I am not a mathematician. I would have given you the percentage.

“It has been misfortunes. I want to commend their Lordship for the judgment of today. It has been a tedious job over this period of time in the Court of Appeal. It is a national service and they must be commended for committing so much time and energy on this exercise. This is the final court and so every party must abide by their judgment.

“For elections that were nullified partially must be inclusive. As a party in Akwa Ibom, we are satisfied with judgment. All we need to do is to go back home and talk to our people and prepare on how to win the rerun. Generally, we have nothing against the judgment,” he stated.

The judgment is in line with that of Justice Sheriff Hafizu, a member of the National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal that sat in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, to determine the petition brought before it by Mr Godswill Akpabio. The Justice has said there were enough evidence to prove the Senator was denied victory in the February 23 National Assembly election.

Justice Hafizu, from Yobe State, in a minority judgment held that Akpabio won the election and ought to have been returned as the duly elected Senator for Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District.

The W. O Akanbi-led tribunal had, in a majority judgment, upheld the election of Dr. Chris Ekpenyong as the winner of the February 23rd National Assembly election and dismissed the petition.

Akanbi with the concurrence of Justice Ebetu dismissed the petition on the grounds that it was too weak to support the allegations of none compliance with the electoral laws.

But in a dissenting minority judgement, Justice Hafizu held that the argument of the Respondents that Senator Akpabio ought to have called unit polling agents to prove his case was wrong adding that Akpabio had not challenged the results of the units and therefore there was nothing to prove.

According to him, the case of Senator Akpabio was cancellation of duly collated votes at INEC office which went beyond the units.

He said he found merit in the Petitioner’s case that his collated votes which showed that he won the election were cancelled by an INEC official to give  victory to the People’s Democratic Party candidate

Justice Hafizu also held that from the evidence adduced during the trial it was obvious that the Returning Officer had cancelled the votes of Obot Akara Local Government Area due to an established case of over-voting and said it was wrong for the same cancelled result to be revalidated in INEC office in Uyo.

The Minority Judge also submitted that the Witnesses of the Respondents were unreliable as they gave contradictory evidence during trial.

He cited cases of witnesses who had alleged that they were abducted by APC thugs and forced to thumb-print for the party only for card reader reports to put a lie to such claims, a contention that the majority judgement glossed over.

According to Justice Hafizu, INEC was wrong to have cancelled the 61,329 votes by APC in Essien Udim Local Government Area against PDP score of 9,050 votes. He said the unlawful cancellation of the votes was a clear case of robbery since it did not follow the due process of INEC guidelines.

Accordingly, Justice Hafizu voided the declaration of Engr Ekpenyong as the winner of the election and declared his return invalid.

He also declared Senator Akpabio as the winner of the election for having the majority of the lawful votes and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to present a certificate of return to Senator Akpabio as the duly elected Senator of Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District.

In the same breath, the Court of Appeal in Lagos, yesterday, dismissed an appeal filed by the Labour Party (LP) challenging the judgment of the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that affirmed the election of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu as the Governor of Lagos State.

As at the last count, while the Court of Appeal had sacked Senator Dayo Adeyeye of the APC from Ekiti State and replaced him with Senator Abiodun Olujimi of the PDP, the ruling party also lost its seat in Sokoto South as another appeal court sacked Senator Abubakar Tambuwal and upheld the election of Senator Ibrahim Dambata.

Similarly, in Kogi, the appellate court had sacked Senator Dino Melaye on the pleas of Senator Smart Adeyemi and ordered a rerun, which has already been slated to hold on November 16, the same day a governorship election is holding in the state and Bayelsa State.

Equally, in Akwa Ibom, the Court of Appeal has sacked Senator Christopher Ekpenyong as a result of Senator Godswill Akpabio’s appeal and ordered a rerun within 90 days.

Meanwhile, in Lagos, in a unanimous decision, the appellate court held that the appeal by the LP lacked merit and “sank never to rise again, even on appeal.”

Labour Party and its governorship candidate, Mr Ifagbemi Awamaridi, had appealed the decision of the election tribunal delivered on September 23, insisting that Sanwo-Olu was not qualified to contest the election held in March 2019 and that he did not win the election.

The respondents were INEC, Sanwo-Olu, APC, INEC Residential Electoral Commissioner, the Returning Officer for the Lagos State Governorship Election, the State Commissioner of Police and the Nigerian Army.

But Justice Hannatu Sankey, who read the lead judgment of the five-man panel, affirmed the decisions reached by the election tribunal.

The court said the appellant failed to produce any oral or documentary evidence through witnesses and other channels to establish the fact that Sanwo-Olu was not qualified to contest the election, or did not win the election.

It ruled that the petitioner went on a “Columbian Journey of making assertions with nothing to back it up,” and thereby dismissed the appeal in its entirety.

It upheld the tribunal’s decision that no proof of allegation of collusion and assault against officers of the Nigerian Army was provided by the appellants, adding that no sufficient fact was provided to substantiate allegation of electoral malpractices at the polling units against the respondents.

“The appeal is lacking in merit and is hereby dismissed. I hereby uphold the judgment of the Lagos State Election Petition Tribunal,” the appellate court said.

All the other four members of the panel affirmed and concurred with the lead judgment.

The Appeal Court also dismissed an appeal filed by the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and its governorship candidate, Owolabi Salis, challenging Governor Sanwo-Olu’s victory.

Justice Ayobode Shodipe, who read the lead judgment, held that the appeal of AD lacked merit and was “Dead On Arrival.”

According to him, “The appeal is seriously lacking in merit and is hereby dismissed. The seven issues of the appellant (Salis) are hereby resolved against him,” Justice Shodipe ruled.

The Appellate Court also awarded a cost of N200,000 against the appellants in favour of each of the seven respondents (except the Commissioner of Police) in both appeals, bringing the total cost to N2.4million.

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