The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and the All Progressives Congress candidate for the Akwa Ibom North-West senatorial district Chief Godswill Akpabio may be heading for the Appeal Court to challenge the ruling of the National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal sitting in Uyo after a minority judgement deemed him to have been the winner of the February elections.
A member of Tribunal, Justice Sheriff Hafizu, said there were enough evidence to prove that Akpabio was denied victory in the February 23 National Assembly election.
Akpabio had challenged the election of Dr. Chris Ekpenyong, of the People’s Democratic Party, who was declared the winner of the election.
Justice Hafizu in a minority judgement on Wednesday night held that Akpabio won the election and ought to have been returned as the duly elected Senator for Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District.
The W. O Akanbi-led tribunal had, in a majority judgement on Wednesday night, upheld the election of Dr. Chris Ekpenyong as the winner of the February 23rd National Assembly election and dismissed the petition of Godswill Akpabio.
Akanbi with the concurrence of Justice Ebetu dismissed the petition on the grounds that it was too weak to support the allegations of none compliance with the electoral laws.
But in a dissenting minority judgement, Justice Hafizu held that the argument of the Respondents that Senator Akpabio ought to have called unit polling agents to prove his case was wrong adding that Akpabio had not challenged the results of the units and therefore there was nothing to prove.
According to him, the case of Senator Akpabio was cancellation of duly collated votes at INEC office which went beyond the units.
He said he found merit in the Petitioner’s case that his collated votes which showed that he won the election were cancelled by an INEC official to give victory to the People’s Democratic Party candidate
Justice Hafizu also held that from the evidence adduced during the trial it was obvious that the Returning Officer had cancelled the votes of Obot Akara Local Government Area due to an established case of over-voting and said it was wrong for the same cancelled result to be revalidated in INEC office in Uyo.
The Minority Judge also submitted that the Witnesses of the Respondents were unreliable as they gave contradictory evidence during trial.
He cited cases of witnesses who had alleged that they were abducted by APC thugs and forced to thumb-print for the party only for card reader reports to put a lie to such claims, a contention that the majority judgement glossed over.
According to Justice Hafizu, INEC was wrong to have cancelled the 61,329 votes by APC in Essien Udim Local Government Area against PDP score of 9,050 votes. He said the unlawful cancellation of the votes was a clear case of robbery since it did not follow the due process of INEC guidelines.
Accordingly, Justice Hafizu voided the declaration of Engr Ekpenyong as the winner of the election and declared his return invalid.
He also declared Senator Akpabio as the winner of the election for having the majority of the lawful votes and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to present a certificate of return to Senator Akpabio as the duly elected Senator of Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District.
Supporters the APC and lawyers applauded the minority judgement of Justice Hafizu, describing it as sound and bound to stand the test of time.
In his reaction, counsel for Senator Akpabio, Mr Adekunle Oyesanya (SAN), praised Justice Hafizu for his courage in giving the dissenting judgement and expressed the readiness of Senator Akpabio to go on appeal, adding that Justice Hafizu’s minority judgement represented the position of the law.