Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

The need to let Nigerians know the true facts of Senator Akpabio’s legal journey to the 10th Senate of the National Assembly, has always been in my thoughts for the past twelve (12) months. My interface with a colleague of mine within the premises of the F.C.T. High Court, Abuja, has further buoyed me to make this write up.

I tried to discourage a fellow senior lawyer from taking up a brief which in my view had no cause of action. His reply to me was that if I could prosecute Senator Akpabio’s pre – election brief, I should not blame him for taking up the matter in issue. The connotation was that the pre – election suits that involved Godswill Akpabio were tainted with some unethical hue and the judgments of the Courts were unjust and flawed.

Earlier to this, some public commentators like Datti Ahmed, Prof. Anslem Odinkalu and more recently Oby Ezekwesili have equally alluded to the fact that only a flawed judicial system could lead to the emergence of Senator Godswill Akpabio as the Senator representing Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District in the 10th Senate. Some pundits have equally made some veiled attempts to liken the emergence of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Senator Akpabio as identical even when the facts are far from being the same.

The popular belief is that judgments were delivered by the various Courts in favour of Godswill Akpabio despite his non – participation at the primaries of his political party and that he was guilty of an offence dubbed “double nomination”. We will attempt to address these falsehoods hereinafter.

First, I state unequivocally that Godswill Akpabio is not guilty of double nomination and that he participated in and won the primary election for the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District that was conducted by the All Progressives Congress (APC) on June 9, 2022.

Three days earlier on June 6, 2022, he had withdrawn from the primary election for APC presidential aspirants and opted to run for the office of a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His withdrawal from the APC presidential primaries has been adopted as the bedrock for all the falsehood which underpin the Akpabio controversy.

Public commentators spread the erroneous assumption that if he was an aspirant at the APC presidential primary election on June 6, 2022, then he could not have been an aspirant at the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District primary election conducted by the APC on June 9, 2022. This opinion is neither founded on the Electoral Act, 2022, common sense or the intricacies of party politics.
Simply stated, there is no law which prohibits any citizen from participating in primaries of a political party for different public offices.

The extant Law prohibits the nomination of a citizen as a candidate for multiple Constituencies by a political party or the nomination of a citizen as candidate by multiple political parties. On the records of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the only political party that nominated Godswill Akpabio as a candidate was the All Progressives Congress and that nomination was solely for the Senatorial election.

This uncontroverted fact has not dispelled the malicious propaganda that the system was compromised to enable Godswill Akpabio escape retribution after committing the offence of double nomination. The second arm of the falsehood is that the Courts enabled Godswill Akpabio to participate in the general election when he did not participate in the primary election of his political party.

Prior to the general elections, the APC was embroiled in litigation to determine who were the elected executives of the party in Akwa Ibom State. This issue became the subject of litigation before the Federal High Court, Abuja Division. At the conclusion of hearing, the Federal High Court in a well – considered judgment adjudged the Stephen Ntukekpo led State Executive Committee as the duly elected State Executive of the APC in Akwa Ibom State.

This decision riled other pretenders to that office and in defiance to the judgment of the Court, they organized party primaries for all constituencies in Akwa Ibom State, including the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District of Godswill Akpabio. Some politicians elected to participate in such illegal party primaries which were held on various dates fixed by the pretenders, with the tacit support of the then INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State.

The winners of these primaries which were not organized by the National Working Committee of the APC were touted in the media as the candidates of the APC. The confusion was further heightened by the decision of the then Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State to observe these illegal primaries and forward the result of these illegal primaries to the INEC headquarters.

Godswill Akpabio elected to participate in the party primaries organized by the National Working Committee of the APC on June 9, 2022 where he scored the majority of the lawful votes cast at the said primaries and was duly elected as the candidate of the APC for Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District.

The events that occurred after the conduct of the APC Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District primary election were as theatrical as they were comical.
The National Working Committee of the APC forwarded the names of the candidates of the party for all elections in respect of Akwa Ibom state to INEC. INEC accepted the list but refused to publish the names of some of the candidates, including that of Senator Akpabio.

The reason given by INEC for the non – publication of the names of these candidates was hinged on a report by the then Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, that he did not observe the primaries conducted by the National Working Committee of the APC, despite having been informed of the venue, date and time of the primaries.

INEC’s refusal to publish the names of the candidates submitted to it by the National Working Committee of the APC as emanating from the various primaries conducted by the party led to the institution of various Court Suits to compel INEC to publish the names as required by Law.

The APC took out a Law Suit at the Federal High Court against INEC to compel INEC to publish the name of Godswill Akpabio as its duly elected candidate for the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District, while DIG Udom Udo Ekpoudom who emerged from the primaries conducted by the adjudged illegitimate faction of the APC in Akwa Ibom State, filed another Suit against the APC and INEC, seeking the acceptance and publication of his name as the APC candidate for the same Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District.

Judgment was delivered in favour of the APC in its Suit, directing INEC to publish the name of Godswill Akpabio as the party’s candidate for Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District.

In delivering the said judgment, the Court found that Godswill Akpabio emerged from a primaries directed and conducted by the National Working Committee of the APC. The Court equally frowned at the refusal of the INEC to monitor the primaries organized by the National Working Committee of APC despite having been notified of the date, venue and time of the said primaries, and, that failure of INEC to monitor cannot be visited on the party or its candidate.

On the other hand, the Suit filed by DIG Udom Udo Ekpoudom against APC and INEC was dismissed for failure to join Senator Akpabio as a party to the Suit, his name having been submitted to INEC by the APC. DIG Ekpoudom’s failure to join senator Akpabio was found by the Court and equally rightly in my view, to be in breach of the Pre – Election Practice Direction, 2022 as made by the Chief Judge of the Federal High. The Court finally found that DIG Ekpoudom emerged from a party primary election that was not directed or conducted by the National Working Committee of the APC, but by an illegitimate faction of the State Executive Committee of the party, which had no vires to conduct the primary election of a political party.

Both judgments of the Federal High Court as stated above gave birth to two (2) Appeals. Ironically, the Appeal against the Judgment directing INEC to publish Senator Akpabio’s name suffered an early fatal mishap, as there were fundamental errors on the Originating Processes which could not be rectified by the Appellant’s Counsel within the 14 – day period allowed to Appeal against a pre – election judgment.

The other Appeal against the judgment in the Suit filed by DIG Ekpoudom seeking the Court to direct APC to submit DIG Ekpoudom’s name proceeded on Appeal and judgment was delivered in favour of DIG Ekpoudom by the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal judgment in favour of DIG Ekpoudom, which in my opinion, as counsel for APC and Senator Akpabio was perverse, led to a further Appeal to the Supreme Court.

Senator Akpabio who was hitherto not a party in the DIG Ekpoudom Suit from the outset at the Federal High Court and up to the Court of Appeal, sought for leave to Appeal as an interested party. Upon being granted leave by the Court of Appeal, Senator Akpabio filed an Appeal to the Supreme Court, wherein he raised the issue of being denied fair hearing by virtue of the Orders made against his interests in his absence, amongst other Grounds of Appeal.

The APC equally filed an Appeal seeking the reaffirmation of the candidature of Godswill Akpabio as its candidate having emerged from the primaries conducted by the National Working Committee of the party, as against the primaries that produced DIG Ekpoudom which was conducted by an illegal faction of the party in Akwa Ibom State. In all, there were three Appeals on the issue.

At the hearing of the Appeal, the Supreme Court panel with the consent of all Counsel took the hearing of the Appeal filed by the APC, which in any event was all encompassing and directed that parties in the other two (2) Appeals will abide by the decision in that Appeal. In a well – considered decision of the Supreme Court, the panel unanimously found in favour of the APC on all the ten (10) issues formulated for their consideration. The Supreme Court upturned the judgment of the Court of Appeal and affirmed the candidature of Godswill Akpabio as the APC candidate for Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District.

The Supreme Court further came to a finding that the Court of Appeal was wrong to have made Orders directing the replacement of Godswill Akpabio’s name with that of DIG Ekpoudom since Godswill Akpabio was not a party before them, and, ought to have been heard before Orders can be made against his interests.

The Supreme Court equally restated their earlier judgements, reaffirming the fact that only the National Working Committee of a political party can direct and conduct party primary elections for the nomination of candidates for an election.

The diatribe against the Supreme Court after this judgment was almost unprecedented. It was an organized media assault which worked to rob the public of confidence in the judiciary. It was malicious and unrelenting in twisting the facts of the case to convey the falsehood that the judiciary had consented to the rape of democracy, by enabling Godswill Akpabio to run as the candidate of the APC when he did not participate in the primary of the APC, and, when he was guilty of double nomination.

In our society where cases pending before Courts are first decided by the public, it is no surprise that law Courts are pilloried when the judgments of the Courts do not accord with perceptions shaped by the procured propaganda disseminated in the social media. I find it unsettling that well informed members of the society, just like the commentators I have mentioned hereinbefore, will join in this array of misplaced condemnation of both the judiciary and the candidate without seeking relevant facts.

The judgments in these Suits from the Federal High Court to the Supreme Court inclusive of the records of their proceedings are now public documents, and, can be easily obtained on application by any interested party.

Politics for all times remains a game of wits and permutations. I admit not being in a position to know the raison d’etre for Senator Akpabio’s decision to abandon his presidential ambition midway and declare his support for President Bola Tinubu. I am equally not privy to the decision of Hon. Ekpo Ekperikpe to step down for Senator Akpabio at the APC Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District primaries.

It may interest my readers to know that DIG Ekpoudom who led the legal battle against Senator Akpabio, from the Federal High Court through to the supreme Court was the Chairman of Senator Akpabio’s 61st Birthday celebration few days ago. The ways of politicians are only known to them and them alone.

I undertook this assignment not as a public relations stunt for Senator Akpabio, but in the discharge of my responsibility to the public and for posterity.

DATED THE 15th DAY OF DECEMBER, 2023

UMEH KALU, SAN, LIFE

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