Thursday, 12 September 2019

No Senate Return For Akpabio As Tribunal Throws Out Petition

The National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state has upheld the victory of Senator Christopher Ekpenyong representing Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District.

The three-man panel presided by the Chairman, Justice W. O. Akanbi, ruled that Ekpenyong, who is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was duly elected by majority of votes cast during the February 23, 2019 Senatorial election.

Two of the three judges ruled in favour of the victory while one ruled against, leading to a majority decision which dismissed the petition filed by Senator Godswill Akpabio of the All Progressives Congress (APC), challenging the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) declaration that Ekpenyong won the elections.

The first Petitioner, Senator Godswill Akpabio had challenged the elections on the ground that: Senator Christopher Ekpenyong was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the February 23, 2019 elections for Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District. Similarly, Akpabio had said that the election that produced Senator Ekpeyong as winner was invalid owing to non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act in the conduct of the elections. However, the tribunal dismissed the petition of Senator Akpabio that the first Respondent, Christopher Ekpenyong, was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the February 23, 2019 elections.

It dismissed the motion filed by Akpabio that the result of the elections be nullified as it was not held in compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act and a re-run ordered, as well as an order declaring the first Petitioner, Godswill Akpabio as the winner of the elections having polled the highest number of valid, lawful votes at the elections.

The tribunal dismissed all the preliminary objections filed by all the respondents in the petition and resolved to settle the case on the merits, to wit: did the Petitioner prove by admissible evidence that the election was invalid? Did the first Petitioner establish that he, Senator Godswill Akpabio won the elections by polling the highest number of votes cast at the elections against Senator Christopher Ekpenyong who was declared winner by the INEC? The tribunal held that the burden of proof for proving substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act to ground a nullification of the election is on the petitioner.

Relying on the case of Andrew vs. INEC, the tribunal held that the petitioner’s evidence was too weak in all ramifications to prove non-compliance, not to mention substantial non-compliance, which is the only ground for nullification of the elections. The tribunal further stated that the petition failed to bring any witness from the polling units and could not prove substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act. The tribunal, therefore, by a majority judgement of two justices dismissed the petition and upheld as valid the declaration of Senator Christopher Ekpenyong as the winner of the February 23, 2019 NASS elections.


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