The newly appointed Senate minority leader and former governor of Akwa Ibom state, Godswill Akpabio, Tuesday suffered a setback in his bid to retain his seat after the Akwa Ibom State National Assembly election tribunal ruled in favour of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Inibehe Okori, on two preliminary objections brought by Mr. Akpabio.
The three-person panel of judges, led by Goddy Anunihi, sitting at the Customary Court of Appeal at Dutsen Alhaji, Abuja, ruled against Mr. Akpabio on his submission that there was no need entertaining the petition from Mr. Okori because he was not even the candidate of the APC in the March 28 National Assembly election.
Mr. Anunihi said it was premature to decide at this stage of the trial the preliminary objection raised by Mr. Akpabio.
“The issue of the petitioner not having the locus standi would be considered as the trial progresses,” he said.
The panel also maintained that Mr. Akpabio’s claim of Appeal Court rulings on the issue of Oath of witnesses were contradictory.
They argued that there was significant and substantial compliance with Mr. Okori’s witness statements as deposed and therefore struck out the preliminary objection.
Mr. Akpabio had claimed that Mr. Okori’s witness statement were not deposed before a competent authority, but the tribunal ruled that the stamp and signature used by the secretary of the tribunal clearly stated that she was acting as Commissioner of Oath and stated that Mr. Akpabio cannot fault Mr. Okori’s witness statement.
Reacting to the ruling, counsels to Mr. Akpabio, J. Ogunyomi, and that of the third respondent, the Independent national Electoral Commission, INEC, S. Mbazuae, asked the tribunal, to fix the testimony of witness for Wednesday.
Counsel to Mr. Okori, Assam Assam, said he was ready for the commencement of trial.
The tribunal, however, agreed with the counsels to Mr. Akpabio and INEC and fixed Wednesday, July 29, for witness testimony.
The former governor had filed the two preliminary objections on July 14 and 15 through his counsel, Paul Usoro.
Mr. Usoro had last Thursday told the tribunal that the essence of the first motion is to seek an order of the tribunal declining jurisdiction to entertain the petition and striking out same on the grounds that the petitioners lack the requisite locus standing to challenge the conduct and result of the March 28 National Assembly elections.
He told the tribunal that his objections were hinged on Sections 85(1) and 137(1) of the Electoral Act, explaining that only a candidate for an election and a political party in an election can challenge the outcome of an election.
He also claimed the APC did not give INEC the mandatory 21 days notice for the nomination of Mr. Okori, hence the purported candidate filed by the APC with respect to the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial seat was not a valid candidate.
Mr. Usoro told the tribunal that based on a notice for nomination sent to INEC by the APC and dated November 18, 2014, the party had said their senatorial nomination would hold on December 8, 2014 which makes it a 20-day notice thereby violating the mandatory provision of not less than 21-day notice.
He argued that the action of the APC violated Section 15(2)(a) of the Interpretation Act.
“Neither Okori nor the APC satisfied this statutory provisions,” he said. He consequently asked the tribunal to uphold his preliminary objection and dismiss Mr. Okori’s petition as entirely incompetent as the petitioners never had the locus standing to institute the petition.
On the second preliminary objection dated July 14,2015, Mr. Akpabio, in a motion on notice before the tribunal and supported by a six paragraph affidavit, said his grounds for bringing his preliminary objection before the tribunal for the petition to be struck out is premised on the fact that the petition was incompetent and the tribunal had no jurisdiction to entertain it.
He said a condition precedent to the presentation of the petition had not been fulfilled, as the purported witness statements were not deposed in accordance with the provisions of the Oath Act.
He also said the purported witness statements were not sworn to before a competent authority as required by law and that any valid ground or grounds did not support the petition.
Mr. Akpabio also argued that the petition did not disclose any reasonable cause of action to warrant a hearing on merit.