2023: Neutralize security threats to enable Nigerians exercise voting franchise — INEC tells Security Heads

*As INEC begs Prof Uduk to open defence

By Chioma Onuegbu Uyo

Akwa Ibom State High Court sitting in Uyo, has granted Independent National Electroral Commissíon, INEC, abridgement of time to conduct further proceeding on the ongoing trial of Professor Ignatius Uduk of University of Uyo over alleged electoral fraud during 2019 general polls.

The Court granted the application filed by the Commissíon, after arguments on the applicationwas taken during yesterday proceeding.

However the court could not hear the application filed by the accused person’s Counsel because the application was filed a different suit number which is not the substantive charge before the court.

The trial judge, Justice Bassey Nkanang ruled that the accused person has had enough time to open his defence.

Nkanang adjourned the case till May18 for for the defence, stressing,”And this shall be the ruling of this Court”

Speaking with newsmen shortly after the proceeding, the Prosecuting Counsel, Clement Onwuenwunor (SAN) expressed concern over reluctance of the accused person Prof Uduk to open his defence and clear his name from the allegations preferred against him by INEC.

Onwuenwunor who lamented that since January 27, 2022 that the prosecution closed its case, the defence has had sufficient time to put in their defence if they have any, expressed the hope that they would make progress when they come back on May 18.

He however explained that from what his observation so far, that he thinks the defence counsel feels he needed to exhaust all options available to him in the matter.

His words: “After the closure of the prosecution’s case on January 27, 2022, he filed a ‘No case submission as well as notice of preliminary objection. But after that was considered by the court, both applications were dismissed.

“We had expected him to come forth with their defence if they have any. But unfortunately, we are seeing some form of filibustering from the defence so far. And we have been appealing to them that there is every need for the defence to clear his name; as a university Professor, there is a serious need for him to clear his name.

“And what the Law says in our constitution is that whoever is accused in any criminal offence is entitled to trial within a reasonable time. He has had almost 5months since we closed our case, to open his defence, so that we will be done and dusted with this matter. It is taking too long to conclude.

“So as we come back on May18, we expect that the defence to throw in the towel. It is not compulsory that they must defend the case, what is necessary is that they should be given the opportunity to defend the case. But if they don’t want to utilize that opportunity then we have options available to us”.

Asked what transpired in respect of applications filed in court, Onwuenwunor explained: “We filed an application for what we call abridgement of time to conduct further proceedings on the this matter. After arguments were taken in the application it was granted by the court

” And the defence Counsel said he has also filed an application which he actually served but he filed it with a different suit number which requires a different file. And the procedure of the registry is that before any Judge can handle such file it must be endorsed by the Chief Judge (CJ) because it is coming in as fresh case.

” So that frustrated that application from being heard today because the trial judge had wanted to take both applications together. The Judge wanted a new file to be created for it so that he can entertain it.

” In the course of creating a new file, the Registrar now informed the Court from the registry that they will be unable to create that new file until the CJ approves. The CJ will have to reassign it before the judge can competently entertain it”

INEC is prosecuting the Professor of Physical and Health Education, UNIUYO on three- count amended charge bordering on abandonment of duties, publishing of false election result scores, and lying on oath.

However, the Professor who served as the Collation/Returning Officer for Essien Udim State consituency, during the 2019 general elections had in January 2022, pleaded not guilty to the allegations.

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