At the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State on Thursday, 8th August 2019, where Minister-designate, Godswill Akpabio is challenging the declaration of Chris Ekpenyong as the winner of the Akwa Ibom North-West (Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial District.
However, more dramas played out as Akpabio's counsel, Sunday Ameh (SAN), shocked the tribunal during the adoption of his written address that result of February 23, 2019, senatorial election in Ikot Ekpene was prepared even before the election day.
Ameh told the tribunal that the Independent National Electoral Commission's Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, Mike Igini, falsified Akpabio’s result in favour of the People Democratic Party's candidate, Ekpenyong. Based on the anomalies observed, Ameh urged the tribunal to declare Akpabio of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the senatorial election.
He submitted that Akpabio is the validly elected senator for Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District having scored the majority of the lawful votes cast in the election. Ameh also submitted that Ekpenyong, who was declared winner of the election, was not elected by lawful votes cast as evidence showed that Akpabio had the highest votes scored.
The tribunal was thrown into shock when Ameh exposed how the INEC Returning Officer for Essien Udim Local Government Area, Dr Olosunde William, after recording the result for the Local Government Area took the result to INEC office in Uyo and canceled the votes of Akpabio to give an edge to his opponent.
According to Ameh, the Returning Officer had admitted that he collated the result for 11 Wards of Essien Udim Local Government in Form EC8B1 handed over to him by the various collation officers. He had also stated that the results were compiled by him in Essien Udim and Akpabio scored 61, 329 votes while Ekpenyong scored 9, 050 votes. However, in a curious twist, the Returning Officer without the presence of the party agents and other officials unilaterally reduced the votes of Akpabio to 6, 241 in INEC office in Uyo.
Ameh submitted that the alteration of Akpabio’s votes at INEC office in Uyo was illegal. “Form EC8C1 which showed the adjustment of the result is dated February 24, 2019. While Form EC8CD1 which showed the result collated by INEC in Essien Udim is dated February 25, 2019. My Lord, that is dishonesty,” Ameh submitted.
Counsel to Akpabio said the appropriate person to write the report holding or not holding or cancellation of the result is the Presiding Officer at each Polling Units. He posited further that all the Presiding Officers who appeared in court when cross-examined responded that they did not cancel any result and they did not know what Form EC40G which should have been used in event of any cancellation was.
According to Ameh: "In the absence of any valid report for the cancellation, the respondents cannot impugn the integrity of the result that was collated by INEC in Form EC81 tendered before this tribunal,” he submitted.
He drew the attention of the tribunal to the submission by PDP witnesses during cross-examination, alleging that APC thugs carted away all electoral materials in some Wards in Essien Udim, however, they had no explanation when shown the card reader reports and voter registers of the same units they claimed were carted away.
Meanwhile, Ekpenyong urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition filed by Akpabio for lacking in merit. The former Deputy Governor also argued that the reliefs sought by Akpabio differed from the grounds of his petition.
Senator Ekpenyong through his counsel, Kanu Agabi (SAN), in his written address said that out of 10 local government areas that make up the senatorial district, witnesses were called by the petitioner for only two local government areas.
He also argued that the petitioner was unable to substantiate his claims, as the depositions he relied on, had no evidential value. “My lord, you remember each and every one of his witnesses saying "my deposition is made up of what I saw and what I was told."
“On the authority of Gungiri Vs Nyan, the Supreme Court said, if a witness does not distinguish in his deposition, between what he heard and the things he saw, that such depositions have no evidential value," he said.
He insisted that all the witnesses could not differentiate between what they saw and what they heard and that responsibility cannot be that of the court.
“The depositions were chorusing one another. Why would A who was in Jericho have an identical situation with B who was in Jerusalem? Chief Agabi averred further that: “The relief of being declared the winner is only available to a petitioner who pleads majority of lawful votes. In this petition, the petitioners are not seeking nullification of the election, but rather they are seeking to be declared the winner. Reliefs must flow from the grounds, and their ground does not avail them.
Agabi insisted that no single agent was called by the petitioner, yet all the witnesses called by the respondents alleged malpractice at the polling units. He said this could be likened to Algebra where one is expected to show the formula and process he used in arriving at his conclusion.
On his part, Solomon Umoh (SAN), counsel to the PDP told the tribunal to dismiss the petition due to the absence of polling witness to give life to the claims of the petitioner.
Umoh maintained that “a petitioner who brings his case on fraudulent cancellations, must establish two ingredients, that there were cancelations, alterations or mutilations in the electoral document and that the cancellation, alteration or mutilation were dishonestly made in a view to falsify the result of the election.”
He said that the effective way to unravel the truth was based on the integrity of Form EC8A, the unit result, where votes are generated. The PDP counsel wondered why the petitioner failed to present any unit witness before the tribunal, thereby making Form EC8As to appear helpless.
Citing various court precedents, Umoh argued further that “in any matter of this magnitude, Polling Unit agents must be witnesses to how they were produced and must be signatories to them; otherwise it has a doubtful and suspicious origin.”
INEC counsel Robert Emukpoeruo citing the poor foundation of the petition urged the tribunal to dismiss it completely.
The INEC counsel maintained that the petitioner was obliged to bring unit results and not just result from the collation centre because their petition claimed that the first respondent did not win by the majority of lawful votes cast. Emukpoeruo further argued that votes are not cast at the ward or local government collation centres, but at Polling Units and reasoned that the petitioners ought to have led the tribunal to the Polling Units.
On this, Ameh said the respondents completely misunderstood the case of the petitioner.
According to Ameh, the petitioner case are on the grounds that Senator Ekpenyong was not validly elected by the majority of lawful votes cast and his return was not in compliance with the Electoral Act. After listening to the submissions of the parties, Chairman of the tribunal, Justice W. O. Akanbi thanked the parties and counsel for their cooperation throughout the proceedings.
He said the matter was adjourned for judgment on a date to be communicated to the parties concerned.