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Tribunal judgment: Ndoma-Egba, APC, 22 others head to Appeal Court

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Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad

Former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), All Progressives Congress (APC) and their 22 candidates that lost at the Cross River State Election Petition Tribunals in Calabar are heading to the Appeal Court.

They allege there are many loose ends not properly addressed by the tribunals and contradictions in their judgment that also sacked the only elected APC House of Representatives member, Dr. Alex Egbonna.

Panel One of the three tribunals headed by Justice Vincent Agbata as chairman, Ishaku Kunda, and Abubakar Bello as members and Panel Two, which is headed by Justice A. A. Babawale with S. B. Shuaibu and M. C. Okoh as Members had on Wednesday and Thursday struck out petitions of Senator Ndoma-Egba and 22 others, saying as, at the time of the election, they were not APC candidates based on the judgment of the Federal High Court, Calabar.

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Ndoma-Egba had petitioned the election of Senator Sandy Onor of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for Central Senatorial; Chief Wabilly Nyiam of APC against Senator Rose Oko of PDP for North Senatorial; Dominic Aqua Edem of APC against Pastor Essien Ayi of PDP for Akpabuyo/Bakassi/Calabar

South; Jude Ngaji of the APC against Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe of PDP for Ogoja/Yala; Mr John Gaul-Labo of PDP against Dr. Alex Egbona of APC for Abi/Yakurr; Mkpanam Obo-Bassey Ekpo of the APC against Daniel Asuquo of PDP for Akamkpa/Biase; Akiba Bassey Ekpenyong of APC against Eta Mbora of PDP for Calabar/Odukpani Federal Constituencies and a few others but lost.

The tribunals ruled that the Appeal Court in a pre-election matter had asked all parties to maintain status quo but not status quo ante, hence, the order by the High Court was still valid and subsisting and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) acted in obedience of the court order and could not have acted otherwise because the Appeal Court did not vacate the lower court’s order and a court order must be obeyed until it is discharged, hence, the removal of petitioners’ names could not be declared as unlawful.

Agbata had ruled that “the said National Assembly election conducted on February 23, without the first petitioner’s name (Ndoma-Egba) was in order and it falls within the realm of pre-election matter. This tribunal lacks jurisdiction to entertain this matter because it is a pre-election matter…the petition is, hereby, struck out (and) the said offending removal by INEC was lawfully taken.”

But the judges of the Second Panel, however, deferred from those of Panel One in their conclusions concerning the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain the exclusion matter being the crux of the petitioners’ case.

While the first panel, which sat on Wednesday, contended that the exclusion prayed by the petitioners qualifies for a pre-election case and declined jurisdiction, the second panel headed by Justice Babawale agreed with petitioners that election tribunal has jurisdiction to entertain their cases as it qualifies for a post-election matter and not pre-election.

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Ndoma-Egba, in an interview The Guardian said: “The tribunal has made its pronouncements. We believe that there are very many loose ends that were not addressed. They hinged their judgment on the fact that there was a court order. That issue was extensively addressed during the trial. INEC was not a party to that court order. I was not a party to the court order. How come we are expected to be bound by the order?… The Supreme Court has said, again and again, that exclusion matters are election issues and you say it is a pre-election matter. We are a bit confused. We need to get clarification. I owe the profession and the society a duty of developing our jurisprudence and developing the law for the benefit of society. For that reason, I will test the judgment on appeal.”

He appealed to his supporters to remain calm.

Ndoma-Egba’s counsel, Mr. Efefiom Ekong, who stood in for Chief Emeka Offodile said: “My Lord, even though we lost…without sentiments, we will see how we can develop the law further.”

Onor’s counsel, Mr. Patrick Akan, who stood in for Mr. Paul Erokoro commended the judgment saying: “It has added value to jurisprudence procedure…”

Egbona said: “We have been studying the judgment. In the meantime, we have taken appropriate steps in line with the provisions of the law, to announce our rejection of the judgment. Our lawyers are already doing the needful in those directions. We are determined to test the law, vis-a-vis the conclusions drawn by the judges. That is why there is an Appeal Court…”

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However, the House of Representatives member for Calabar Municipality, Odukpani Federal Constituency in the state, Ntufam Eta Mbora commended the judgment but expressed displeasure with the political class over the habitual resort to courts for settling of electoral matters without exhausting amicable options.

The State Publicity Secretary of APC, Mr. Bassey Ita said: “Judgments are always unpredictable but the surprise or shocker is when you don’t have the law tilting on the side of justice. That was what happened on Wednesday and Thursday. We played our part as a party at the tribunal using all the facts and exhibits to accentuate our position on the issue of exclusion of our candidates from the election proper and not the primaries. But for the tribunal to have brought up the issue of internal democracy, which is an exclusive reserve of a political party in an election matter as the basis for judgment, further questions the authenticity or the validity of that kind of judgment.

“The party and its candidates at the appropriate time will seek further clarification or understanding from the appellate court. We will soon lunch an appeal against the judgment for which we consider obnoxious…” he said.

The State Chairman of APC, Sir John Ochala, said: “What more can be so disheartening using such spurious technicality to declare our valid argument as the ‘’the devil’s alternative’’…” This, indeed, speaks volumes of the fact that there still exist some bad eggs within the judiciary. We reject the said judgment in totality and urge our teeming supporters and stakeholders not to despair, as we are set to appeal against the obnoxious verdicts.”


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