Gloom descended in the camp of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom following the decision of the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that there should be a rerun of the governorship election in the state across 18 local government areas.
Delivering judgment in a petition by the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Umana Umana, yesterday, the tribunal ordered a re-run in the councils. In the seven-hour judgment, tribunal Chairman Justice Sadiq Umar held that Umana and APC led credible evidence to prove electoral fraud in the councils.
The petitioners had prayed the tribunal to void the election of Udom Emmanuel of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) because the poll was marred by irregularities.
The poll, the APC candidate contends, did not comply with the Electoral Act.
Holding that the petition succeeded in part, Justice Umar held that the petitioners proved that registered voters were disenfranchised in the councils, confirming that about 566,534 registered voters were disenfranchised in the 18 councils, including Uyo, the state capital, during the April 11 election.
The other councils affected by irregularities include: Nsit Ubium, Nsit Ibom, Ibiono, Oron, Etinan, Udung Uko, Oruk Anam, Etim Ekpo, Onna, Uruan, Ikono, Ini, Ibesikpo, Nsit Atai, Eket, Ibeno, Ikot Abasi .
The tribunal was, however, silent on when the re-run should hold and whether Governor Emmanuel would remain in saddle till the poll is decided or not. But the Constitution stipulates a re-run should be held within 90 days.
Meanwhile, Governor Emmanuel’s lawyer, Paul Usoro claimed Wednesday night that his client was not sacked. But APC Deputy National Chairman (South) Segun Oni insist Emmanuel should quit office to ensure a level-playing field for all candidates in the election. In his reaction, the Akwa Ibom state PDP chairman, Paul Ekpo described the verdict as “confusing”.
According to the tribunal, petitioners were able to establish that elections did not hold in the affected councils. It said where there were attempts to conduct the poll, they were marred by irregularities, such as over voting, ballot box snatching and intimidation of voters.
The tribunal rejected the petitioners’ evidence in relation to the other councils because their “witnesses were not witnesses of truth”.
It also rejected the petitioners’ expert witnesses’ evidence, noting that the so-called experts were unable to show how they came about their findings in relation to their claim that election did not hold in the state.
The tribunal discountenanced the evidence on the non-use of card readers for accreditation, saying: “The report on card reader machine tendered by the petitioners was not conclusive” in proving the number of voters that voted on the Election Day.
It also dismissed the statement by the INEC headquarters ahead of the April 11 election, indicating that the poll must be exclusively conducted with the card reader and in whichever polling unit the machine failed the election must be postponed till the next day. “In view of these, the petition succeeds in part. The first respondent, INEC, is hereby ordered to conduct fresh election in the 18 local governments,” Justice Umar said
Earlier, the tribunal dismissed five motions on notice by the respondents challenging the competence of the petition.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had in April claimed that Emmanuel won the election with 996,071 votes; Umana polled 89,865 votes and Labour Party’s Senator Helen Esuene, 86,000.
If the 566,534 voided votes are removed from Emmanuel’s votes, he will be left with 429,537 votes. With 566,534 votes up for grabs, the rerun is an open race.
Either Umana or Esuene can still win if they do well in the race, but Emmanuel has an edge with 429,599 votes which is five times Umana’s and Esuene’s votes.
By Olisemeka Obeche