By Chioma Onuegbu – Uyo
The National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Uyo led by Justice W. O Akanbi was thrown into confusion on Thursday, September 11, 2019, as one of the judges of the three man panel, Justice Hafizu Tahir abandoned sitting on the Ikot Ekpene/Essien Udim/Obot Akara Federal Constituency seat.
Accordingly, only two members of the panel gave judgment in the case filed by Emmanuel Akpan of the All Progressives Congress, APC challenging the election of Nsikak Ekong of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP held Thursday night.
The Tribunal struck out the petition filed by Akpan against Ekong.
Justice Tahir is the judge who on Wednesday, September 11, 2019, gave minority judgment in favour of Senator Godswill Akpabio’s petition, as the winner of the Akwa Ibom NorthWest Senatorial seat in the February 23, 2019, senatorial election.
The speculation in the state capital on Friday following his absence at the Tribunal is that he (Tahir) walked out of the tribunal in protest after giving the minority judgment in the case between Ekpenyong and Akpabio.
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Sources in the state even alleged that he’s abandoning the tribunal may not be unconnected with his (Tahir) failure to convince other two judges of the panel to sway judgment in favour of Akpabio.
However at the resumed sitting of the Tribunal by 11.30pm on Thursday, the majority judgment read by the Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice W. O. Akanbi, agreed that INEC was justified in cancellation of results inwards where there were widespread thuggery and election violence and thus held that by the majority of valid votes cast at units where there were peaceful conduct of elections, Nsikak Ekong who stood elections on the platform of the PDP won the elections as declared by INEC.
On the issue of canceled votes which was contended by the petitioners, the court referred to the guidelines of the 3rd Respondent (INEC) which provided that any unit or Ward where elections, where marred by thuggery and violence, would result in outright cancellation.
It held that the tribunal was confronted with testimonies by ward and unit officers who testified and presented pieces of evidence that showed no accreditation and elections in the affected places.
Relying on testimonies by subpoenaed INEC officials and other witnesses, the Tribunal condemned the inhuman treatment on officials and voters by the APC in the election.
The Tribunal also maintained that the INEC official Dr. Williams Olosunde (RW14) was right in playing along with the armed thugs to save the lives of the officials, maintaining that it would have been impossible to resist the threats at gunpoint, which is why the returning officer said he managed to escape without announcing any result.
“RW 14 told us the circumstances he canceled the result, and given the circumstances, it would be wrong to say that Dr. Olusunde acted arbitrarily.
“Dr. Olosunde also told us that he saw the frightened look on the faces of the polling and ward officers that came with the thugs to the collation centre”, and this justified his decision to play along with the perpetrators.
He relied on the testimony of Olusunde that he never announced the winner of the election and gave no agents a copy of the result until actual verification was later done in line with INEC guidelines at the INEC office in Uyo on Monday, adding that the returning officer and electoral officer had the right to report the anomalies to the commission.
“On whether or not the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the electoral act 2011 as amended.
“We cannot but believe the testimony of the Respondents witnesses R1 – R11, who spoke based on what they saw, while the petitioner’s witnesses mainly Wards and local government agents merely spoke on what they were told.”
“The petitioners have failed to prove their petition and the petition is hereby struck out.”, the Tribunal stated.
The tribunal also dismissed the joining of the 4th-5th Respondents in the suit by the petitioner.
However, the judgment on the federal constituency seat sealed the National Assembly election petitions sitting in the state.