There was a problem in the Justice W. A. Akanbi-led National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal sitting in Uyo on Thursday, September 12, 2019 as the disagreement among the Judges has threatened to tear the Panel apart.
The Tribunal had on Wednesday, September 11, 2019, delivered judgement in the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District election petition upheld the declaration of Engr. Chris Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
However, a member of the Tribunal, Justice Sheriff Hafizu, had in a dissenting judgement voided the declaration of Engr. Ekpenyong as the winner of the election and declared his return invalid. He also declared Senator Akpabio as the winner of the election having garnered majority of the lawful votes and ordered INEC to present a certificate of return to him.
Trouble started on Thursday (today) when the Tribunal was about to reconvene to adjudicate on other election petition matters including delivering judgemnt in the pending Ikot Ekpene/Essien Udim/Obot Akara federal constituency matter.
Senator Akpabio belongs to the federal constituency and his case bears a striking semblance with the case of Hon. Emmanuel S. Akpan in material particulars. Sources said when the Judges met in their Chamber to share their views on the judgement, Justice Hafizu threatened to expose his colleagues over a raging allegation of justice-for-cash among tribunal members in the state.
A sign that all was not well among the judges was when a registry staff announced to lawyers and supporters who had thronged the court room that the matter earlier slated for 9.00am had been shifted to 12.00 noon. By 12.00 noon, the same staff announced a further change of time to 3.30 pm. Again, by 3.30 pm the registry staff emerged to announce to the bewildered members of the Bar and supporters that the cases had been further shifted to 6.30 pm which attracted jeers from the members of the public.
We gathered that Justice Hafizu had threatened to resign from the Panel and told his colleagues that he would not be part of a Panel that does not deliver justice but instead hawk it for purchase to pervert the course of justice.
This is said to have created a deadlock as Justice Akanbi and Justice Ebetu were said to have prevailed on their colleague not to do anything that would bring to disrepute the image of the judiciary. However, as at the time of going to press, Justice Hafizu is said to have stuck to his gun and threatened to expose his colleagues.
It would be recalled that a lawyer and human rights activist, Barrister Leo Ekpenyong had raised an alarm penultimate week in a widely published article: "Judgement for sale" and alleged that two members of the National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom State had been compromised and predicted that there would be a split in the judgement of Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District matter.
Akwa Ibom State Attorney General,, Barrister Uwemedimo Nwoko, denied that Governor Udom Emmanuel had bribed two of the Tribunal Judges and threatened to sue Barrister Leo Ekpenyong. However, legal analysts were surprised that true to the revelation of the human rights activist, the Judges were split in their judgement.
Barrister Ekpenyong had, however, fired back and threatened to report the judges with evidence to the National Judicial Council for necessary disciplinary action if confirmed to have been bribed.
As at the time of going to press, there were still on-going efforts to persuade Justice Hafizu to continue and deliver his minority judgement since the others have refused to see reason to deliver justice without favour.