By Ikechukwu Okoli
The Akwa Ibom National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal has come out to dismiss the petition by Senator Godswill Akpabio of the All Progressives Congress (APC) challenging the victory of Chris Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District election.
However, one of the judges in the three-man panel upheld the petition of Senator Akpabio, now the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, and announced the nullification of the victory of Dr Chris Ekpenyong as Senator representing Akwa Ibom North-West(Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial District.
Justice S. H Tahir said the petitioners, Akpabio and APC had no need to present polling unit agents to prove their victory since they were not challenging what transpired at the units.
Tahir however further stated that the power of cancelling illegal votes was not in the hands of the returning officer but in the hands of polling unit officers.
Justice Tahir however enjoined INEC to retrieve the certificate of return from Ekpenyong and surrender it to Akpabio as the elected Senator of the district.
However, in a majority ruling of the tribunal read by the chairman of the panel, Justice W. O. Akanbi, the court maintained that the petitioners failed to bring any witness from the polling units and thus could not prove substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
Akanbi said, “Every reasonable person should support the free, fair and credible election. The Returning Officer cannot be blamed for reporting what he saw to INEC.”
The Tribunal in a majority judgement of two justices dismissed the petition and upheld the declaration of Senator Christopher Ekpenyong as the winner of the February 23, 2019 elections.
“The Petition is hereby dismissed because they have not been able to prove noncompliance at all”, the tribunal declared.