APC sends Akpabio’s replacement to INEC
Nkanga, other stakeholders hail Akpabio
By Clifford Ndujihe, Chioma Onuegbu & Omeiza Ajayi
THE political atmosphere of Akwa Ibom State had been calm since Wednesday after Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio of the All Progressives Congress, APC, withdrew from the Akwa Ibom North West senatorial rerun between him and Senator Chris Ekpenyong of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.
Akpabio, in a letter dated December 2, 2019 to the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, said that he could not abandon his assignment as a minister in pursuit of a rerun election and urged the party to write INEC, in line with Section 33 and 35 of the Electoral Act, 2010, and submit a replacement to run in his place.
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However, residents who have been following the controversial senatorial battle since inception and particularly supporters of the PDP are boastful that Akpabio pulled out of the rerun because he was afraid of being defeated again.
Their thinking is however not unconnected with the insistence of Senator Akpabio and the APC on the removal of the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, of the state, Mr. Mike Igini to guarantee fair and credible poll.
Meanwhile, the body language of people of district also known Ikot Ekpene Senatorial zone and Ikot Ekpene federal constituency in particular shows that they feel settled by Senator Akpabio’s decision to withdraw from the rerun.
Even a source close to Senator Chris Ekpenyong, who spoke to Vanguard, three weeks ago, said that he was certain that Akpabio would not participate in the rerun.
Another source said that some stakeholders in the area prevailed on Akpabio not to run in the interest of the area and Akwa Ibom State. If he ran the area would lose the ministerial seat because he must resign to run. If he lost then he would be losing both the Ministerial and Senatorial positions, and be left without anything.
A civil servant from the Ikot Ekpene said that though he was not surprised following Akpabio’s silence since the Court of Appeal ruling in Calabar, he is equally happy that he took a better decision.
“If you noticed since the Appeal Court gave judgement and ordered that a rerun be conducted in the he has not made any public statement until yesterday (Wednesday) when he came up with the statement on his withdrawal. So I was not a surprised that he decided to pull out.”
Other sources from the area said they became convinced that Senator Akpabio was not going to participate in the rerun penultimate week when he made peace with some key political stakeholders, respected elders and opinion leaders from the area.
Currently, Ekpenyong has 114,973 votes from nine of the 10 LGAs of the zone while Akpabio has 76,917 votes. There are 95,987 voters with permanent voters cards, PVCs, in Essien Udim LGA, where Akpabio hails from, and where the rerun will take place.
Akpabio took right decision – Nkanga
Speaking on the issue, a chieftain of the PDP and former Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, retd, said Akpabio may have realised that he may lose everything since he has to resign his ministerial appointment to participate in the rerun.
His words: “For him to have taken a decision to withdraw, I think it is a very sensible thing to do because he maybe afraid of losing both the ministerial appointment and Senate seat.
“As a minister we want him to go and complete the East-West Road and let him also continue with the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
“We want to know those who have ruined Niger Delta, he should publish the names of all the contractors involved. We are giving him that job and we thank him for being sensible to withdraw from the rerun.”
However, contrary to the PDP claims that Senator Akpabio withdrew from the rerun election because of fear of defeat, some APC stakeholder said Akpabio would have won the rerun election.
A chieftain of the APC, Dr Chris Enoch said though Akpabio has taken the decision not to run that he has no doubt that he would have beaten Senator Ekpenyong.
His words: “since Akpabio has decided not to stand for the rerun election it is his personal decision. And if the party also decides to bring in a replacement or considers that that was not necessary, we will abide by that decision.
“Personally speaking, I think Akwa Ibom, Niger Delta region and Nigeria in general even needs Akpabio as a Minister because of the good work he has started especially to sanitize the NDDC. I think he has so much to do for the benefit of the people in that office than in the state of.
“ But I know that if he had decided to stand the rerun election he would still have won convincingly. Whatever decision the party takes regarding the Senatorial rerun, there will be nothing wrong.”
Fresh posers for APC, INEC as party sends Akpabio’s replacement
Meanwhile, Akpabio’s decision has raised fresh posers for the APC and the INEC regarding whether or not Akpabio can be replaced.
In response to Akpabio’s withdrawal, top party sources said the APC leadership had forwarded a replacement to INEC but said the party may still have to fall back on Akpabio, if the electoral umpire insists that the deadline for substitution of candidates had since lapsed.
“We have forwarded a name to INEC. This may not be the final decision on the issue because we have to await INEC’s response to the letter we sent to them. If they say there is no window for substitution, we may then have to fall back on Akpabio because he is our original candidate and there would be no legal issues regarding his candidacy”, said the party official who asked not to be named.
INEC had, last week, announced that it would conduct 28 court-ordered rerun elections across 12 states of the federation on January 25, 2020.
The party, Vanguard learned is however banking on Section 35 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which states that: “A candidate may withdraw his candidature by notice in writing signed by him and delivered by himself to the political party that nominated him for the election and the political party shall convey such withdrawal to the commission not later than 45 days to the election.”
“We submitted our letter before the 45 days time frame. We are hoping that INEC would uphold the contents of that letter”, the party official stated.
We’ll meet, decide and reply APC accordingly – INEC
When contacted, INEC’s Director in charge of Voter Education, Publicity, Civil Society and Gender Liaison, Mr Oluwole Osaze-Uzi, said the commission has received a communication from the APC regarding the substitution of Akpabio.
He however said INEC would have to meet and deliberate on the contents of the letter and reply the party accordingly. Yes, I can confirm that the Party has written. The Commission will study it and reply them shortly. The reply will of course be in accordance with the stipulations of the law on the issue.”
Why INEC must not allow APC replace Akpabio —Group
However, a pressure group, the ETG has advised the INEC to avoid allowing itself to be used to perpetrate illegality by accepting a new candidate from the APC.
ETG Convener, Dr. Kazeem Adekunle, in a statement said political parties can only substitute candidates 45 days to the election and not before a supplementary election.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Section 33 of the Electoral Act, 2010, made provision for political party to only change its candidate nominated pursuant to Section 32 except in the case of death or withdrawal by the candidate.
“However, Section 35 made it expressly clear that in the case of withdrawal by the candidate, substitution can only be made if it is done not later than 45 days to the election.
“Section 33 provides that; ‘A political party shall not be allowed to change or substitute its candidate whose name has been submitted pursuant to section 32 of this of this Act, except in the case of death or withdrawal by the candidate.’
“While Section 35 provides that; ‘A candidate may withdraw his candidature by notice in writing signed by him and delivered by himself to the political party that nominated him for the election and the political party shall convey such withdrawal to the Commission not later than 45 days to the election.’
“In this instant case, the election is a rerun in one of the 10 Local Government Areas in which the Senatorial election was conducted on February 23, 2019, about 300 days ago. The only situation where a political party can substitute candidate in an ongoing election like the Akwa Ibom North-West rerun will be pursuant to Section 36 (1). That is; in the event that the candidate dies.
“In this case, Senator Akpabio is still alive. He only chooses to chicken out of the contest because he has been appointed minister and he cannot take the gamble of resigning his position as a minister to contest an election he is not sure of winning. Therefore, APC seeking to substitute Akpabio with another candidate will mean the party and Akpabio eating their cake and still having it.
“INEC must therefore reject any move by the APC to foist illegality on the commission by changing the party’s candidate in an ongoing election. It is either Akpabio resigns as minister and stand as APC candidate in the election or APC accepts its fate of not having a candidate.”