A member of the National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Justice Sheriff Hafizu, has said Senator Godswill Akpabio was robbed of his victory in February 23 National Assembly election.
According to him, there was preponderance of evidence to prove that Akpabio, now Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, defeated his opponent, Chris Ekpenyong, in the election for Akwa Ibom Northwest senatorial district.
Justice Hafizu in a split judgement on September 11, 2019 held that it was his view that Senator Akpabio overwhelmingly won the election and ought to have been returned as the duly elected Senator for Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District.
Engr Chris Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was declared winner of the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Senator Akpabio had challenged Ekpenyong’s declaration at the National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom citing unlawful cancellation of his collated votes by INEC to give his opponent an edge in the election.
Delivering judgement on the petition Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice W. O. Akanbi with the concurrence of Justice Ebetu dismissed the petition and upheld the declaration of Engr Ekpenyong as the winner of the February 23 National Assembly elections into Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District.
However, in his dissenting judgement, Justice Hafizu held that the contention of the Respondents that Senator Akpabio ought to have called unit polling agents to prove his case was wrong since Akpabio had not challenged the results of the units and therefore there was nothing to prove.
According to Justice Hafizu, the case of Senator Akpabio centred on cancellation of duly collated votes at INEC office which went beyond the units. He cited the case of Dr William who had admitted during trial that Senator Akpabio’s votes were altered in INEC office in Uyo on the instructions of the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Mike Igini and said such alterations were unlawful.
He said he found merit in the Petitioner’s case that his collated votes which showed that he won the election was surreptitiously and unilaterally cancelled by an INEC official so as to hand over victory to Engr Ekpenyong.
Justice Hafizu also held that from 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 held that the Witnesses paraded by 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 thumbprint for the party only for card reader reports to put a lie to such claim, a contention that the majority judgement glossed over.
According to Justice Hafizu, INEC was wrong to have cancelled the 61,329 votes garnered 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.
The majority judgement also glossed over evidence that were given in the case including certified true copies of results released by INEC which were tendered by the Petitioners. It also remained mute on the Police reports that the elections were free, fair and credible.
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 having garnered 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.
Attendees and lawyers at the Tribunal openly applauded the judgement of Justice Hafizu, describing it as sound and bound to stand the test of time and devoid of any pecuniary consideration but justice delivery. Supporters of Senator Akpabio jubilated and congratulated themselves on the minority judgement.
Counsel to Senator Akpabio, Mr Adekunle Oyesanya, SAN, praised Justice Hafizu for his courage in giving the dissenting judge represented the position of the law.
It would be recalled that a lawyer and human right activist, Barrister Leo Ekpenyong, had raised an alarm penultimate week in a widely published article: “Judgement for sale” alleged that two members of the National Assembly elections petition tribunal in Akwa Ibom State had been compromised predicting that there would be a split in the judgement the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District matter.