Akpabio/Ekpeyong: Tension in Akwa Ibom, as INEC, PDP, APC await rerun
Mixed feelings have trailed the recent judgment delivered by the Appeal Court in Calabar, ordering a fresh election in parts of Ikot Ekpene Senatorial and Ikot Ekpene/Obot Akara/Essiem Udim Federal Constituency. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said the judgment vindicated the Commission, as it affirmed its position that the widespread violence and irregularities during elections in Essien Udim Local Government vitiated the outcome in that area.
However, the two major parties— the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Party (APC) are celebrating, saying victory at the rerun is certain. Supporters of both parties often discuss and brag about victory anytime the rerun comes up. The atmosphere in Ikot Ekpene and Uyo is tense, as the rerun is on everyone’s lips.
The Appeal panel, led by three Appeal Court judges: Justice S. Tanko Hussen, Justice M. Bolaji-Yusuf and Justice M. Mustapha, ordered a rerun in Essien Udim Local Government to determine the winner for Ikot Ekpene Senatorial and Ikot Ekpene/Obot Akara/Essien Udim Federal Constituency. Thus, the appeal of Senator Godswill Akpabio of APC, challenging the lower tribunal’s decision in Uyo and the election of PDP’s Senator Chris Ekpenyong for Ikot Ekpene Senatorial and that of Akpan Sunday of APC and others against Ekong Nsikak of PDP for Ikot Ekpene/Obot Akara/Essien Udim Federal Constituency succeeded in parts.
The judges unanimously ruled that the election in Essien Udim was characterised by lots of violence, and in accordance with the Electoral Act, such election cannot stand. Hence, a fresh election in that area was ordered. They, however, dismissed other issues Akpabio and Sunday raised in other areas, as they could not prove such.
For instance, they said Akpabio could not be declared winner, since he could not prove the over 61,000 votes he claimed to have got in Essien Udim alone. Essien Udim votes in the Federal Constituency election margin between Nsikak and Sunday were cancelled, as there were 8, 000 votes. Since neither of them could be declared winner; hence the rerun.
A statement by INEC’s Public Affairs Officer, Mr. Don Etukudo, said: “The Court re-affirmed and preserved the elections as declared by the Commission in nine out of the 10 LGAs that make up Akwa Ibom North West (Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial District as valid. It, however, ordered a rerun of the Senatorial election within 90 days in Essien Udim Local Government only, where the Commission had decried the massive rigging and manipulations that culminated in the dubious award of 61, 329 votes to Senator Akpabio alone in the LGA, intended to upturn the results of the other 9 LGAs. This was when the accreditation figure from the Smart Card Readers (SCRs) ticked on the Voter Register for the entire Essien Udim stood at just 19,455. The Commission rejected this travesty and maintained its position, despite the pressure, blackmail and threats to lives of lNEC officials.
“The Court also ordered fresh elections in the same Essien Udim LGA in respect of the House of Representatives seat, while upholding elections in Ikot Ekpene and Obot Akara, the other two LGAs that constitute the Federal Constituency. The State Constituency judgment is being awaited.
“Nigerians will recall that Essien Udim was the only State Constituency (of the 26), where INEC did not declare anyone winner or make a return on account of the violence and irregularities reported by the Commission’s field staff and corroborated by the Press, as well as local and international observers…”
A top INEC source said: “Those fake voter demographics of 105,555 on the basis of which the court said election should be re-conducted will be completely exposed as unreal, because some persons used to write results of that place were able to sustain it for a long time, but the current INEC has changed the situation.”
Going into the rerun, Akpabio is expected to register a minimum lead of 38, 056 margin to upturn Senator Chris Ekpenyong’s election.
An APC chieftain in Calabar, Mr. Udo Akpanudo told The Guardian: “We are satisfied with the victory. Now, it is time for us to return home and work for the rerun, which we are very sure, all things being equal, we will win.
“Remember, this is Akpabio’s Local Government Area, and with good campaign, we can easily get well over 35,000 votes to win. Akpabio’s people love him, and the same people will come out to vote for him. What we want is a free and fair election.”
Another APC chieftain and Media Relations Consultant, Etim Etim said: “By nullifying Chris Ekpenyong’s election in the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial Election and ordering a fresh election in Essien Udim LGA, the learned justices of the Court of Appeal had unanimously affirmed the earlier position of many key stakeholders in Akwa Ibom, that Mr. Mike Igini, the Resident Electoral Commissioner, who conducted the election, was a biased, compromised and corrupt electoral umpire.
“In several petitions, press statements and pronouncements, many politicians and stakeholders in Akwa Ibom asked for Igini’s redeployment and to be replaced with a REC that would provide level playing field. Specifically, Igini was seen as being too cozy with PDP…”
He said APC was sure of victory at the polls, as “there are I00, 000 plus voters in the LGA. The margin between the two contenders is just 38,000 plus. Essien Udim is Akpabio’s home base and political stronghold. I expect him to score up to 80, 000 votes in the rerun. With that, he will reclaim his mandate.”
State Chairman of APC, Akwa Ibom Chapter, Mr. Ini Okopido, in a statement said: “Senator Akpabio’s victory in his Local Government was expected and of common knowledge because the community is his political base. We commend the Appeal Court’s order for fresh elections in Essien Udim LG for the Senate and Ikot Ekpene Federal House seat, which questionable INEC result was vigorously contested by APC’s Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Akpan.
“As we prepare for the rerun elections in Essien Udim LGA, we are cautious and mindful of the fact that the exercise will be superintended by Mike Igini. We have no faith in Igini’s impartiality as an unbiased and independent umpire. Igini is a compromised official and avowed enemy of APC.
“We are distraught and doubtful of a change of posture by Igini. Only a foolish survivor would ask the same hired assassin to extract the bullet from his body. We demand the immediate re-deployment of Igini in the interest of peace and justice.”
The Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko said: “It has been what I would like to describe as a misfortune for both parties. There were losers and winners in the judgment. I am not a mathematician; I would have given you the percentage.
“For elections that were nullified partially must be inclusive. We in Akwa Ibom PDP are satisfied with the judgment. All we need to do is to return home and talk to our people and prepare for how to win the rerun.”
On APC’s reaction, Nwoko said: “The truth is that the Appeal Court judgment has affirmed Emmanuel Udom’s election and vindicated INEC. For Akwa Ibom North West, the real case that was taken to the tribunal was that they scored 61, 000 plus votes in Essien Udim local government, and INEC said the result you pushed out did not emanate from the votes during the election. So, the commission was right in cancelling the votes.”
On APC’s call for Igini’s removal, he said: “We did not employ Igini and so, we cannot determine his fate. He has his employer’s (INEC) confidence. He has proved to be a man of integrity through his steadfastness over the years, not only in Akwa Ibom State, but also in other states. Why would you change INEC leadership in Akwa Ibom State?
“The right of Appeal is a constitutional one, and PDP will not stop anyone from going to the Supreme Court. As an interested party, I will not advise them to go or not to go.”
Reacting to the Appeal Court judgment and the upcoming rerun election in Essien Udim Local Government, a PDP stalwart in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, Mr. Jeremy Ebom said: “We are very happy with the outcome of the Appeal Court and we are fully prepared for the rerun.
“The PDP members in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District are fully set to ensure Chris Ekpenyong is returned to the Senate. As far as we are concerned, Akwa lbom State is PDP and PDP is Akwa lbom State and as far as Essien Udim is concerned, APC cannot get 100 per cent vote. We are going to work and ensure that, at worst, we split the votes 50-50. We are working to ensure PDP takes the day.
“But we will advice Governor Udom Emmanuel to come in fully to empower the people, by creating programmes that will further attract the people to vote for PDP. I am aware the APC, probably because of the rerun election is giving out forms to empower the people. The PDP should equally do something to attract the people.
“I am sure with the help of the commissioner and other stalwarts in the area, they should be able to mobilise the people for the rerun election. It is going to be a battle and I am sure PDP will still carry the day. But what we are praying for is a free and fair election by INEC and unbiased security agencies.”