The National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom State yesterday upheld the election of Mr. Bassey Albert (Akwa Ibom northeast senatorial district), Mr. Unyime Idem, (Ukanafun/Oruk Anam federal constituency) and Mr. Nse Ekpenyong (Oron/Udung Uko/Urueffong Oruko/Mbo/Okobo federal constituency).
The three-member panel presided over by Justice Jennifer Ijohor ruled in favour of the respondents who are all members of the People Democratic Party(PDP), citing the inability of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidates (plaintiffs) to prove allegations of criminality and non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, as contained in their petitions.
In the Akwa Ibom North Senatorial District petition, Mr. Bassey Etim and the APC alleged that Albert was not elected by majority of lawful votes; not qualified to contest the National Assembly elections as his documents were falsified; and that his emergence was by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the Electoral Act by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The petitioners, represented by Mr. Reuben Egwaba relied on Section 140(3) for the nullification of Albert’s election and the declaration of Etim as the winner.
In the alternative, the petitioners urged the tribunal to order a re-run and bar Albert from contesting.
However, Counsel for the PDP, Mr. O. B. Akpan and that of the 1st Respondent Mr. Solomon Umoh, represented by Mr. M. D. Gwaison, submitted that the petitioners, who made wild criminal allegations of falsification of documents and non-compliance with electoral act, did not tender any other document to prove their claim.
Akpan also said that a Witness subpoenaed by the petitioner, S. O. Ibrahim, deputy director, legal department of INEC had testified that Albert satisfied INEC’s screening to contest the elections, and that no reports had been received by INEC from WAEC or any of the institutions denying any document submitted by Albert.
On votes acquired by Albert, the respondents held that “the Petitioners submitted polling unit results as Exhibits P1-P317 and P320-P821 but merely dumped them at this Tribunal without linking any to their Petition during trial.
“All witnesses of the Petitioners including the Petitioner only relied on hearsay in their Witness Statements. They confirmed on cross examination that they only received reports from agents,” maintaining that they were unable to pinpoint units of which INEC did not comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
“On lawful votes, the Petitioners carefully avoided and abandoned their pleadings without giving any evidence, written or oral to prove how Senator Albert was not returned elected”.
Similarly, Idem’s election upheld on the grounds that the evidence of the petitioners and their witnesses were based on hearsay from polling unit agents.
In proof of their petition, the petitioners called only three witnesses, PW1 – Aniebiet Sunday Idung, PW2 – Friday Thomas Uwa, PW3 – Emmanuel Ukoette
However the Tribunal upheld the argument of the respondents that, “all grave criminal allegations must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Witnesses can only give evidences at polling units where they voted”.
The tribunal agreed with the 1st and 2nd respondents that the election into House of Representatives for the Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency of Akwa Ibom State was conducted by the 3rd Respondent in compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and 2019 General Elections Guidelines and Regulations in the discharge of its constitutional function.
The tribunal also ordered the Petitioner, Mr. Emmanuel Ukoette to pay Idem N100, 000.
Similarly, the petition brought before the tribunal by Mr. Victor Antai of the APC challenging Ekpenyong’s victory was dismissed for lacking in merit.