By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, today, affirmed that the former governor of Akwa Ibom state, Godswill Akpabio, was validly elected to represent Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District in the State.
In their judgment this afternoon, a three-man panel of Justices of the appellate court led by Justice Mashood Oredola, dismissed the appeal that was lodged against Akpabio by candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, for the Senatorial District, Chief Inibehe Okori.
The appellate court held that the Akwa Ibom State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal acted properly when it dismissed the joint petition that Okori and APC filed before it on April 18.
According to the court, the appellants failed to by preponderance of evidence, prove that Akpabio was not duly nominated by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to contest the March 28 election.
According to the appellate court, the fact that Akpabio was in an initial list that was sent to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, by the PDP, erroneously identified as the Senatorial candidate for Akwa Ibom North East, did not invalidate his election.
It held that Akpabio was duly nominated for the election in accordance with the provisions of section 65(2) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, and section138(1) of the Electoral Act.
”The tribunal was right to hold that no one was mislead by the mistake. The 1st Respondent was qualified and duly nominated by the 3rd Respondent.
”There is abundant evidence that the electorates, including the petitioners, were not in any way undecided as to the Senatorial District which the 1st respondent was nominated to contest the election.
“The 1st Respondent have proved by credible evidence that he was duly sponsored by the 3rd Respondent and was eminently qualified to contest the election.
”The electorates that trooped out to vote on March 28 must have their wishes and votes respected. The real essence of democratic practice is to afford them the opportunity to express their wish through the ballot, so as to have their say. Once they have spoken, their voice must not only be heard but must be protected as well as respected.
“In the overall, this appeal lacks merit and is hereby refused. The judgement of the tribunal delivered on October 14 is hereby affirmed. There shall be no order as to cost”, the appeal court ruled.
The appellants had at the lower tribunal, contended that as at March 28, 2015, Akpabio, was not qualified to contest for Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial Seat, having not been validly nominated or sponsored by any political party in line with the provisions of section 65(2)(b) of the 1999 constitution, as amended.
The APC candidate equally placed reliance on section 31(1) of the Electoral Act, which requires that political parties shall within 60 days to the election, submit a list of the candidates it would sponsor at the poll to INEC.
The petitioners urged the tribunal to determine whether the announcement/ declaration of the 1st respondent (Akpabio) as winner of the Senatorial District was not invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the Electoral Act, as amended.
It was also the argument of the petitioners that PDP fielded no candidate for Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District, even as they urged the tribunal to hold that all votes cast or allocated to the PDP were void.