After almost a week of exchange of blames, accusations and counter-accusations, the legal team of Senator Godswill Akpabio, (Akwa Ibom Northwest, today, Tuesday, April 23, 2019, finally inspected the election materials used in the last senatorial election in the area.
Senator Akpabio’s team of lawyers, led by Patrick Umoh, was at the state headquarters of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Udo Udoma Avenue, Uyo, Akwa Ibom state around 10am for the inspection. It was gathered that the ongoing inspection process was stopped last Tuesday because of the Easter holidays after Akpabio’s lead counsel, Umoh, accused INEC of preventing his team from accessing and inspecting the materials.
They were led by the INEC officials to the Strong Room where the materials stacked in heaps were sorted out.
However, Barrister Ekom Nwoko, one of the lawyers representing the PDP at the election petition tribunal, said he was at the venue to observe inspection by the petitioners, having been joined as a respondent in the matter. Nwoko disclosed that the PDP and the first respondent, Dr. Christopher Ekpenyong, have filed a motion for the tribunal to set aside some reliefs granted ex parte at the tribunal, especially the forensic examination of election materials.
Expressing the hope that some reliefs would be set aside, Nwoko added, “Our motion is premised on section 151 of the Electoral Act, and inspection of Electoral materials does not cover forensic examination of materials. That is the premise of our motion, and likely, the motion will come up next week, but we have not got a date yet.”
Speaking in an interview few hours later, the Public Affairs Officer of INEC, Akwa Ibom state, Mr. Don Etukudo, said the legal team of Akpabio was able to sort out the election materials for the ten local government areas of the Akwa Ibom ( Northwest) senatorial district.
In his words, “You have seen that the inspection process is going on. The legal team of the APC started the process of inspection of the election materials when we took them to the Strong Room and they saw the materials. What the APC legal team has been able to do today is to bring out the election materials for all the ten local government areas. By tomorrow (Wednesday) they will start the actual inspection of the materials. They will start with Abak, Etim Ekpo and Ika local government areas.”
Etukudo, who noted that the team was able to sort out election materials for the ten local government areas before 4:00pm, stressed that he had no doubt that the challenge of sorting the materials out from the stacked heaps would be surmounted. On when inspection of materials for other cases at the tribunal would commence, Etukudo explained that the tribunal asked the commission to make materials available to only Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district.
Senator Godswill Akpabio of the APC had few weeks ago approached the Election Petition Tribunal in the state to challenge the results of the February 23, 2019 elections which saw Dr. Christopher Ekpenyong, of the PDP winner.
Recall PremiumTimes.com earlier published weeks back that INEC, shortly after the February 23, 2019 national election, had suspended the announcement of results in Akwa Ibom North-West District, where Godswill Akpabio contested for re-election. According to an INEC official in the state then, Senator Akpabio’s major challenger, Chris Ekpenyong of the PDP, was leading in the results announced so far before the commission took a decision to suspend further announcement. “We are having some issues with the election in Essien Udim Local Government Area,” said the official who did not want his name mentioned in this report then, because he was not authorized to speak on the matter. “If we accept the results from the local government area, Akpabio’s votes will overshoot that of Chris Ekpenyong. There are issues in the results which we are yet to be resolved,” the official said. Essien Udim, where Senator Akpabio comes from, is said to be one of the local government areas with a large voter’s population in the state. The senator in a result released on Saturday by INEC in his own polling unit, Ukana West Ward 2, scored 1, 533 votes, while Mr Ekpenyong, a former deputy governor of the state, scored just four votes. Senator Akpabio’s party, the APC, before the commencement of the elections, had accused the Resident Electoral Commissioner, (REC) in Akwa Ibom, Mike Igini, of being partisan in favour of the PDP. The APC had called for Mr Igini’s re-deployment from the state. The PDP responded by saying the APC was agitated because the REC refused to be “compromised” by the party. Mr. Igini has a reputation in Nigeria as being an incorruptible electoral officer. If Akpabio fails to win re-election, it would be a major political upset in the state. This was the situation before the tribunal ordered an inspection of the election materials by Akpabio’s legal team.