The Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, sitting in Abuja, yesterday, cancelled the governorship election results in 18 local government areas, LGAs, in the state. A three-man panel of Justices at the tribunal, headed by Justice Ishaq Umar, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct re-run elections in the affected LGAs.
The tribunal said it was satisfied that a total of 566, 436 voters in the areas were disenfranchised during the governorship election that held in the state on April 11, 2015. According to the tribunal, section 108(2) of the Electoral Act, empowered it to, in view of circumstances that surrounded the governorship election in the 18 LGAs, nullify the outcome and order INEC to organise a re-run.
Specifically, it listed the LGAs where INEC must conduct a re-run poll as: Etim-Ekpo, Uyo, Ibesikpo, Onna, Ikono, Oruk-Anam, Uruan, Ibeno, Ibiono Ibom, Nsit-Ibom, Nsit-Ubium, Ini, Oron, Nsit-Atai, Etinan, Udung-Uko and Eket.
Though the petitioners, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom State, Chief Umana Okon Umana, alleged that the governorship poll was fraught with manifest irregularities, the tribunal, maintained that the alleged electoral anomalies and non-compliance with the Electoral Act, were not enough to warrant outright nullification of election results from all the 31 LGAs in the state.
“This petition partly succeeded. INEC is hereby ordered to conduct a re-run election in 18 LGAs. There will be no order as to cost. Parties are to bear their cost,” the tribunal ruled.
Preliminary objections: Earlier, the tribunal dismissed preliminary objections that were raised against the petition by Governor Udom Emmanuel and his party, the PDP.
The two respondents had urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition for want of merit.
They contended that the APC did not field a valid candidate at the poll. The respondents argued that the notice APC gave to INEC before it conducted its primaries that produced Umana as its governorship candidate for the April 11 poll, failed to meet the compulsory 21 days stipulated by the Electoral Act.
The tribunal overruled PDP on the premise that the issue of nomination of candidate for an election was a pre-election matter that was outside its mandate.
Meantime, the petitioners, through a total of 58 witnesses produced in the course of the proceedings, told the tribunal that the governorship election was a sham.
Besides alleging that electoral materials were hijacked by armed thugs, the petitioners, told the court that election did not hold in many parts of the state. The petitioners contended that what obtained in Akwa Ibom State on April 11 was a partial election, alleging that figures were merely allotted to the PDP candidate. The APC urged the tribunal to go ahead and determine whether in view of the weight of evidence it tendered against the election, including seven video recordings, governor Udom could be said to have secured majority of the lawful votes cast, to warrant his declaration as winner of the election.
Among those that testified before the tribunal that governorship election did not hold in the state included the former governor, Chief Obong Victor Attah, and former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Chief Don Etiebet.
The petitioners prayed the tribunal to set aside the Certificate of Return that was issued to governor Udom and order a fresh election in the state.
Nevertheless, in its judgement that lasted over seven hours, the tribunal, held that the allegations that the petitioners raised against the governorship election were criminal in nature, stressing that it ought to be proved beyond every reasonable doubt.