The Akwa Ibom National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal Wednesday night dismissed the petition by Senator Godswill Akpabio of the All Progressives Congress(APC) challenging the election of Senator Chris Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) to represent Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District .
However, Ekpenyong’s declaration by the tribunal as winner of February 23 election did not come without some drama and confusion by supporters of Senator Akpabio, now minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
One of the judges in the three man panel had upheld the petition of Senator Akpabio and announced the nullification of the victory of Dr Chris Ekpenyong as Senator representing Akwa Ibom North West(Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial District.
Contrary to the judgement of the other two judges, Justice S. H Tahir whose ruling was delivered by 11.45 PM, said the petitioners Senator Akpabio and the APC, had no need to present polling unit agents to prove their victory since they were not challenging what transpired at the units.
Tahir also said that the power of cancelling illegal votes was not in the hands of the returning officer, but in the hands of polling unit officers.
He, therefore, urged the Independent National Electoral Commission to retrieve the certificate of return from Ekpenyong and surrender it to Akpabio as the elected Senator of the district.
But in the majority ruling read by the chairman of the panel, Justice W. O. Akanbi, the tribunal maintained that the petitioners failed to bring any witness from the polling units and thus could not prove substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
“Every reasonable person should support free, fair and credible election. The Returning Officer cannot be blamed for reporting what he saw to INEC ”
Relying on the case between ANDREW v. INEC, the court ruled that the burden of proof for proving substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act to ground a nullification of the election is on the petitioner and held that the Petitioner’s evidence was too weak in all ramifications to prove non-compliance, not to mention substantial non-compliance, which is the only ground for nullification of the elections.
The court in the end, in a majority Judgement of two justices dismissed the petition and upheld the declaration of Senator Christopher Ekpenyong as the winner of the February 23, 2019 elections.
“The Petition is hereby dismissed because they have not been able to prove noncompliance at all”, the tribunal declared.
Reacting to the victory, Senator Chris Ekpenyong through his Counsel Samuel Ikpo Esq, said “The judgement has buried the Petition that was long dead and dead for eternity “.
But Senator Akpabio’s Counsel Adekunle Oyesanya said he was disappointed that the majority decision did not favour him, and maintained that after studying the judgement with his clients, he will appeal the decision.
Few buses of uniformed APC supporters who adorned adjoining streets around Wellington Bassey Way after being restricted by heavy security agents from accessing the tribunal venue started beating drums to celebrate when they could not apparently understand the import of the judgement.
But their celebration was short lived when PDP youths led by the chairman of the State Youth Caucus and Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Youth Matters, Aniefiok Iwa Udofia led over 800 youths and a victory March from Wellington Bassey Way through Dominic Utuk Avenue, to the residence of the victorious Senator Chris Ekpenyong, where the celebration lasted until the early hours of Thursday morning.