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Between Akpabio’s Loss And Shocking Revelations At Tribunal



When the audacious and strongman of Akwa Ibom State politics, Senator Godswill Akpabio  was reported to have lost his re-election to the Senate during the February 23, 2019 National Assembly poll, not many believed that the influential politician could be defeated so cheaply.

Not even President Muhammadu Buhari accepted the outcome of the contest as he declared that the APC and Akpabio were robbed of victory during the presidential and National Assembly elections in Akwa Ibom.

Curiously, Cris Ekpenyong, the declared winner of the race was Akpabio’s deputy when the APC chief was governor. INEC scored him 118,215 votes while Akpabio received 83,158 votes.

The result was announced at the INEC headquarters in Uyo instead of Ikot Ekpene because of the alleged security threats in the area.

To anyone who cared to listen, Akpabio repeatedly said that he would reclaim his mandate at the election petitions tribunal. He blamed his fate on top officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state.

Since the tribunal commenced sitting, startling revelations by witnesses called by the parties to the dispute have indicated that all was not well with the conduct of the election, the collation and announcement of the poll result.

Prior to the tribunal’s sitting, the popular view or position among his critics was that Akpabio was roundly defeated in the election because he ditched the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which he stood with when the party was almost torn to shreds during its protracted national crisis for the All Progressives Congress (APC) at a time he was needed in the PDP that he used to emerge as a governor for eight years and senator for four years.

But this deduction may be gradually changing among his rivals and his constituents as the latest of such shocking revelations came from even a PDP witness, who told the tribunal that he cancelled Akpabio’s votes under the instruction of the resident electoral commissioner (REC) in the state.

The PDP witness, Dr. Alloysius William, told the National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal, which sat in Uyo, the state capital last weekend that the REC, Mr. Mike Igini, directed him to cancel votes that had been collated for Akpabio, who was the APC candidate in the senatorial election.

INEC had declared the PDP candidate, Mr. Chris Ekpenyong, as the winner of the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District.

Already, Akpabio who challenged Ekpenyong’s victory at the tribunal has presented his witnesses in the case. Ekpenyong has done same and closed his case.

When the tribunal reconvened last Saturday for the PDP to open its case, William, a lecturer at the University of Uyo, shocked the court when he declared that results which had been collated at the local government and senatorial district offices of INEC with Akpabio coasting to victory were cancelled on Igini’s orders in his Uyo office.

Under cross-examination by Mr. S. I. Ameh, Akpabio’s lead counsel, William said that as the returning officer for Essien Udim, Akpabio’s home local government area, he personally prepared the result sheet, which he entered the score for the APC candidate as 61,329 votes while Ekpenyong got only 9,050 votes.

“I agree that adjustments were done. These adjustments reflected in the final scores. The adjustments were done outside Essien Udim council. They were done at INEC office in Uyo,” William said.

Asked to confirm the earlier testimony of Ekpenyong’s witness, Mr Anny Asikpo, that he (the returning officer) had at some point disappeared from the collation centre, William retorted: “I did not abscond.”

Another witness, a corps member, who was a presiding officer during the election, Mr. Endurance Zachary, claimed that the elections were marred by violence, adding that he was forced to make entries, which gave the APC victory.

When cross examined, Zachary said that he did not make any report to anyone about his claim that materials were hijacked by thugs. He also admitted that he was forced to write his name and signature but was stunned when Ameh showed him documents he claimed he was coerced to write his name and he wrote his three names: Ikhuenbor Endurance Zachary, whereas in his witness depositions that was not forced to write, he used two names only: Endurance Zachary.

Some associates of Akpabio maintain that he has a good case at the tribunal, adding that there is overwhelming evidence that INEC was not neutral in the election.

On March 4, 2019, President Buhari said that the votes of the people of Akwa Ibom State were stolen during the presidential and National Assembly elections, and vowed that they would be reclaimed through proper channel.

The president, who spoke through the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at a town hall meeting held by the elders and stakeholders of the APC in Uyo, charged on the electorate in the state to defend their votes during the governorship and State Assembly elections in the state.

Buhari said it was doubtful that Akpabio, the former Senate minority leader lost the election, insisting that INEC robbed Akpabio and the APC of victory at the polls.

He maintained that all the wrongs done during the presidential and National Assembly elections would be addressed through proper channel.

Osinbajo had said: “What happened on February 23 was robbery. The votes of the people were stolen but we are not deterred. The president sent me to thank you. We are going to make sure that everything that was stolen on February 23 would be restored.

“It is not possible that Senator Godswill Akpabio lost. We are in no doubt that Senator Akpabio is the elected senator of Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District. I and Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the party have been in the opposition for long and we cannot be defeated anymore.

Also at the event, Oshiomhole said that INEC colluded with some of the electoral officers to deny the state of its electoral victory on February 23.

“We have not come here to brag that our mandate was stolen last week. We have come to thank you that you voted for President Buhari, and all members of the party. You did your job but some armed robbers in INEC stole your votes. You think that those who stole your votes will have peace? We have come to reaffirm our commitment to democracy. We have come to affirm that no robber will go unpunished but when an electoral umpire is corrupt and collude with the opposition, we have the witnesses and we have lawyers to deal with that,” he said.

As soon as the result was announced by INEC, Akpabio rejected his purported defeat and vowed to challenge it at the tribunal.

While featuring on a national television programme after he was declared the second runner-up in the election, Akpabio said: “I won. It’s a temporary setback. That is why there are processes. For instance, if you feel that you were cheated or the collation was wrong, you have recourse to the courts. I did not fail; I can’t fail.

“I believe strongly that there must have been some wrong collation somewhere. Those things will be corrected. We have processes in the election. It’s from one stage; we have to do registration, vote and collate.

“As far as there is a mistake anywhere, you go to court and get your mandate. My mandate is somewhere waiting for me. My people know that I can’t fail an election,” he had stated.

Also, former secretary to the state government (SSG), Sir Etekamba Umoren, expressed the optimism that Akpabio would reclaim the seat at the tribunal.

Umoeren, a close ally of the former governor, said: “Everybody is saying that Senator Akpabio won the election, except INEC. There is incontrovertible evidence to prove that Akpabio won the election.

“Results collated from the field clearly showed that Akpabio won in all the 11 wards of the Essien Udim local government area. But where APC won the results were cancelled.”

In his reaction, Ekpenyong vowed that he would not lose sleep over Akpabio’s petition, as he prepared to defend the mandate given to him by the people of the district.

Akpabio, in his petition before the tribunal, asked the court to upturn the victory of Ekpenyong because of irregularities during the election.    

According to him, “incontrovertible result sheets from INEC office in Uyo showed different figures that I secured 138,256 votes as against Ekpeyong’s 123,843 votes. We are not satisfied with the results and outcome of that election, that is I am approaching the election petitions tribunal to ventilate my grievances as well as reclaim tmy stolen mandate,” Akpabio said.