As the Election Petition Tribunal hearing the petition by Chief Inibehe Okori against Senator Godswill Akpabio’s election reserved judgment, the fate of the former Akwa Ibom Governor hangs in the balance, writes Iniobong Ekponta in Uyo
Senator Godswill Akpabio Minority Leader, PDP, in the Senate is holding his breathe even though he carries himself about with the usual gaiety in the Red Chamber.
The long drawn National and State Houses of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal case filed by Chief Inibehe Okori of the All Progressives Congress, APC against the election of the former Akwa Ibom State governor is drawing to a close The tribunal sitting in Abuja yesterday reserved judgment in Okori petition.
Progressives Congress (APC) challenging the declaration of Akpabio of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner of the March 28, 2015 Akwa Ibom North-West senatorial district election.
The point at issues was not necessarily the qualification of Akpabio and the likelihood of his victory but his suitability. For Chief Assam Assam, counsel to the petitioner, Chief Okori, Senator Akpabio was not supposed to contest the Akwa Ibom North West senatorial seat but that of the North East for which his party, the PDP nominated him.
According to Assam Section 65(2)b of the 1999 Constitution does not state the process of sponsorship but the Electoral Act states that in Section 31(1). He drew the attention of the tribunal to the law governing the sponsorship of a party candidate and the independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. He said: “My Lord, Exhibit 13 followed Exhibit 14 and Exhibit 13 was issued as a consequence of Exhibit 14.
When we referred to Section 32 of the Electoral Act, it was for the purpose of showing that where the 1st Respondent to be actually nominated to contest election in Akwa Ibom North West senatorial district, there would have been the document of constituents nominating him.
The Respondents have not tendered the document that nominated the 1st Respondent. Only that would have shown that Exhibit 13 was an error.
Besides, by virtue of Section 33 of the Electoral Act the only way to alter Exhibit 13 is by death or voluntary withdrawal by the candidate”. With that submission, he said his point was not to question the qualification of Akpabio but his suitability in collusion with his party, the PDP.
He therefore prayed the tribunal to grant the prayers of his client and petitioner. He faulted what he referred to as attempt by the respondent to draw a wool across the eyes of the Tribunal by reducing to words what had already been reduced to words as required by law.
Quoting relevant sources, he affirmed that such illegal action was inadmissible in law. He said “It is a general and most inflexible rule that whenever written instruments are appointed by the requirement of law, any other evidence is excluded from being used either as a substitute or to alter or contradict them.
A document of nomination is required to be in writing by the provisions of section 31(1) and section 32 of the Electoral Act 2010. No oral evidence is admissible to contradict or substitute or alter the contents of that document. None of the parties to this petition urged the tribunal to discard the exhibit P19 (Card Reader report) as the primary process of accreditation.
We have argued in our written address that the case of APC vs JK Agbaje, which is now reported, is not an authority for the much-acclaimed statement that the use of the Card Reader is in conflict with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
In the circumstance, where 444,505 votes are alleged to have been cast and the only means of credible and transparent accreditation shows that only 205,519 persons were accredited to vote by the Card Reader Machine and there is absolutely no record of where Card Readers did not work in that the failure of the card readers, if any, were not recorded in the “incident forms” to provide the basis for falling back on manual voting, your Lordships must hold that there was over-voting in the constituency giving room for the nullification of the results and no more”
He added that ‘‘the thin line opinion which some respondent’s lawyers hold on proof of non-compliance. I want to say that there is no thin line here. 205,519 persons cannot legitimately cast 444,505 votes. That is a whopping over-voting with the statutory consequence of nullification”. Offiong Offiong, counsel to Senator Akpabio, Offiong Offiong (SAN) prayed the tribunal to dismiss the petition against his client for lack of merit.
According to him, his colleagues was trying to confuse the Electoral Act with the requirements of the Constitution by questions his client’s qualification. He maintained that the petitioners erred in law when he questioned the qualification of his client by using the Electoral Act cannot be used to interpret the 1999 Constitution.
He said: “ You cannot use the Electoral Act to disqualify Akpabio. You must restrict yourself to constitutional provisions. Any non-compliance with the Electoral Act is still subject to the provisions of Section 139(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
It is not my job to prove discrepancies in accreditation figures. Ask INEC, not me, and the petitioner never proved discrepancies in accreditation figures.
The onus lies on them to show the variance between the Card Reader and manual accreditation. Any attempt to ignore manual accreditation is a direct affront on the Electoral Act”
As things stand now, there is no telling where the decision will swing as both parties express optimism and maintain they each have a genuine case.