Chris Ekpenyong and The Trials of Senator Akpabio By Osondu Ahirika

Distinguished Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio, CON is keeping hope alive, having approached the Tribunal, fighting hard, to reverse his shock retirement from the National Assembly.

Of a truth, he is no stranger to such trials and it’s usually, long winding road to resolutions. Here is a synopsis. On Friday May 24, 2015, four days to the end of his second term, the Supreme Court confirmed Godswill Akpabio as the validly-elected governor of Akwa Ibom State, in a unanimous decision that brought to a close, a four-year legal tussle by, Engr. Frank Okon to unseat him.

It was a tortous long drawn battle as Engr. Okon sturbornly contended that, the Court should nullify Mr. Akpabio’s election because he (Okon) and his supporters were not availed the information on the recheduled primaries after the cancellation of the previous exercise.

Okon, argued that he was unlawfully excluded from the January 9, 2011 Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Governorship primaries that produced Akpabio. Although it was subsequently annulled by the PDP National Working Committee and rescheduled, for reasons known only to him, Okon boycotted the rerun Primaries conducted on January 15, 2011. He however resurfaced in the Court, seeking to oust Akpabio, and perhaps be declared substantive governor.

Delivering a unanimous judgment, Justice Bode-Rhodes Vivour, on behalf of Justice John Fabiyi, and six other Justices of the Supreme Court set aside the earlier ruling of the Appeal Court in favour of Mr. Okon and restored the judgment of the High Court on the matter. .
As flimsy as his pre Election case seemed, it tarried for so long and there were tense moments, opposition newspapers sold stories of his imminent victory and having formed a cabinet in waiting. Akpabio weathered the storm and won.

That wasn’t Akpabio’s only headache. A simultaneous case was on, as the Governorship candidate of the defunct, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Senator John James Udoedehe was also in the Elections Petitions Tribunal challenging the declaration of Akpabio as winner of the April 29, 2011 Governorship polls of Akwa Ibom State.

The intrigues of this case was more dramatic. Udoedehe won on almost all rounds of the case. A few earthquaking ones may suffice. On November 14, 2011, while then Governor, Akpabio was in Abuja for his investiture among other select distinguished Nigerians by President Goodluck Jonathan with the National honour of Commander Order of the Niger, CON, the Supreme Court set aside the ruling of the Appeal Court which had dismissed Udoedehe’s petition giving Akpabio respite. A retrial was ordered by the apex Court dragging Akpabio down to ground zero from the euphoria of distinction.

Affliction arose a second time for Akpabio, when on February 6, 2012, while he was being honoured by the Sanusi Lamido Sanusi led Central Bank of Nigeria, with the Best Governor Award for Infrastructural Support to Micro and Small Scale Enterprises, the Elections Petitions Tribunal, which, in keeping with the Supreme Courts ruling, had commenced a retrial of the petition brought before it by Udoedehe, dismissed Akpabio’s objections to the continuation of the case, dampning the hurray of his swagger in the spotlight.

Udoedehe, who proved to be a killjoy gave Akpabio the fiercest political duel of his era, but petered out ultimately, after the opposition started premature celebrations of imminent victory for him.

What happened was simple. On February 27, the new Tribunal constituted to look into the petition gave effect to Section 285(6) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which reads: An election Tribunal shall deliver it’s judgement in writing within 180 days from the date of filing the petition. That’s how Udoedehe’s case became stillborn and mortified. Akpabio won.

Fast forward to April 18, 2015, having completed a full term of eight years as governor and proceeding to the Senate. Chief Inibehe Okorie of the All Progressives Congress, APC, filed a petition before the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal seeking a declaration that Senator Akpabio, then of PDP, was not validly elected to represent Akwa Ibom North West(Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial District in the March 28, 2015 polls, citing error in his nomination paper’s, where he allegedly registered as contesting for Akwa Ibom North East, rather than North West Senatorial District.

While the opposition were dancing ‘azonto’, arguing that Akpabio is finished, the Justice Goddy Anunihu led Tribunal on October 14, 2015, dismissed the petition as baseless and lacking merit.
The death knell for Okorie was sounded at the Appeal Court where, in a unanimous decision, Justice Moshood Oredola read a verdict dismissing the petition, in concurrence with the Tribunal.

Again, Akpabio’s legend as a Cat with the proverbial nine lives survived. The appellate court held that, the appellants failed to, by preponderance of evidence, to prove that, Akpabio was not duly nominated by the PDP to contest the March 28 election.

If Akpabio’s Legend in Elections Petitions have made him invincible to litigants, his current circumstance is an unfamiliar territory. Coming full circle, he is now the Petitioner after losing the February 2015 Akwa Ibom North West (Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial District Election to the PDP Candidate and former Deputy Governor, Engr. Dr Chris Ekpenyong a. k. a Ukarakpa.
In what was the most protracted and controversial of the polls in Akwa Ibom State, Senator Akpabio who lost out after a three day stalemate was broken by the formal declaration of Ekpenyong as winner headed to the Federal Capital Territory(FCT) High Court sitting in Apo Judicial Division to file a case with a plea for the Court to issue an interim injunction restraining the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from issuing a Certificate of Return to Ekpenyong and further filed a case seeking review of the result by INEC.

Granted the preliminary injunction, his supporters went beserk with jubilation. Final ‘Obongowo’ as they fondly call him has roared like a Lion. ‘Akpabio wins round One’, they screamed. It was just a momentary political orgasm. The Distinguished Senator being a Lawyer knew better, that, the case was misplaced. This isn’t a pre-election matter like that of Frank Okon. The proper destination for the case is the Elections Petitions Tribunal, not the Courts. Certainly, not a far flung FCT Court.

Before his revelling supporters could say, ‘Jack ‘, Akpabio, through his Counsel, Mr Ameh Sunday SAN, withdrew the matter, and it was accordingly dismissed by Justice Valentine Ashi.

No! Senator Akpabio didn’t congratulate Ukarakpa. He did the legit thing and approached the Tribunal. This was his first time as the litigant in an election contest. He now seeks to retrieve, what he has made popular as, ‘his stolen mandate’, before the Justice W. O. Akanbi led Panel.

So far, he has made progress. On April 2, 2019, the Tribunal granted an exparte order to Senator Akpabio and his party, APC, to be given access to inspect the materials used for the conduct of the February 23 National Assembly poll.

Akpabio’s quest for judicial reprieve was seemingly fired up when both Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, during their ‘Thank You’ visit to Uyo, both argued that, it was impossible that Akpabio could be defeated in the election. They boasted that, they will retrieve the ‘stolen mandate’ in Court. Of course, the APC members began to celebrate this anticipatory Victory.

Akpabio’s current dilemma started, when he defected to the APC on August 8, 2018 and resigned as Senate Minority Leader. For this choice, Akpabio has earned acquittal, as
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, ruling on case, seeking to rusticate those who defected from their respective Parties in the National Assembly, agreed with Akpabio, who submitted through his counsel, Ameh Sunday SAN, that, the Senator only moved or joined the ruling APC, based on his freedom of association as envisaged by the law having been expelled from the PDP by his Ward and Chapter officials. A claim the PDP has since faulted.

If Senator Akpabio prides in his many lucky days at the courts on pre or post election matters, this entanglement with Ukarakpa may prove to be a different kettle of fish.
Being subjudice, I shall restrain my projection on this case.

I however wonder about this dance of the Senators and whose twerk will carry the day for cheering supporters?

Let me simply charge those who are still gloating that, Senator Akpabio has never lost a political battle in the Court’s and that Ukarakpa will be defeated ultimately, to hold their peace. They will do well to learn from the futile hype of the chances of the Udoedehe’s and Frank Okon’s of this world as highlighted heretofore. Let’s allow the petition to run its course without these unfounded, sensational tales of phyrric victory for either party. Enough said!

As I sign off, let me again congratulate Ukarakpa the Giant killer, who has done the unthinkable against all odds and wish him a fruitful tenure of effective populist representation of his people until 2023.

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