The National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal, sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, slammed the Senatorial candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP,) Engr. Chris Ekpenyong and the Party, over an attempt to cause the Tribunal to reverse itself.
The Tribunal had on April 2, 2019 granted an ex parte order to Senator Godswill Akpabio, and the All Progressives Congress, (APC,) for inspection of materials in the custody of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC.)
PDP had sought a counter order of the Tribunal to bar the APC and Senator Godswill Akpabio from inspecting electoral materials used in the February 23, 2019 Senatorial elections in Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District.
Counsel to the PDP, Mr Solomon Umoh, SAN, had prayed "the Tribunal to dismiss Akpabio's petition in its entirety," as well as "set aside the petitioner's request for inspection and forensic analysis of election materials."
However, in his ruling, Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice W. O. Akanbi, declared that the PDP's application for the inspection order to be reverse was an act alien to law. Justice Akanbi agreed with Sunday I. Ameh, SAN, counsel to Senator Akpabio, that Engr. Ekpenyong and the PDP suffered no prejudice, having been invited to be part of the inspection process.
He said the PDP counsel only succeeded in "hell-raising technicalities to waste the time of the Tribunal."
Justice Akanbi said Senator Akpabio's demand for inspection of electoral materials and the tribunal order granting same were in line with the provisions of Section 151 sub-sections 1 and 2 of the Electoral Act. The tribunal chairman, while dismissing PDP's argument that the ex parte order for the inspection does not align with the provisions of the Electoral Act, noted that any order from a court of competent jurisdiction in relation to the inspection is valid because the Electoral Act does not specify which order should accommodated or rejected.
The tribunal also declared that PDP's motion for an order to stop forensic analysis of the election materials was lacking in merit because any party in court is at liberty to any of its preferred method of inspection.
According to the Tribunal, "any party is at liberty to adopt any method of inspection. The parties involved in an election can chose to bring in forensic experts. The inspection can also be manually done. Even if the inspection is done with laboratory equipment, the law is okay with that," he noted.
The Tribunal Chairman likened the PDP's action to "crying wolf where there is none."
Speaking to newsmen after the ruling, Barrister Patrick Umoh, who stood in for the petitioner's lead counsel, Mr. Sunday Ameh, SAN, said the ruling had deepened judicial practice. According to Mr. Patrick Umoh, "the application was filed by the 2nd Respondent seeking to vacate the order of the Honourable Tribunal that granted us access to inspect the electoral materials at INEC. We responded, and at the end of the day, the ruling came in our favour, which is to the effect that the order of court to inspect the materials was correct in law. There is no way the 2nd Respondent has been prejudiced, as such the tribunal order was good in Law. We salute the judicial system. The ruling is good for the Nigerian legal system. We now know the position of the Law that with an exparte order you can inspect electoral materials as well as maintain your petition in court," he said.
The ruling is seen as a major boost for Senator Akpabio to reclaim his mandate in an election which he is believed to have won. The tribunal adjourned further sitting to Friday, May 10, 2019. Immediately after the ruling, the whole of Akwa Ibom state went into jubilation, thanking God for the victory of their senator.