The Court of Appeal in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, Saturday, ordered Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Senator Chris Ekpenyong.
Ekpenyong of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was declared winner of the February 23, 2019 National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal in Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District, against Senator Godswill Akpabio of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The INEC had declared that Ekpenyong scored 118,215, while Akpabio garnered 83,158 votes.
Results from the other nine local government, excluding Essien Udim local government area show that Senator Chris Ekpenyong led with 114,973 votes while Akpabio has 76,917, a difference of 38,000 votes, which Akpabio seeks to upturn.
The Independent National Electoral Commission had confirmed that only 19,455 voters were accredited in Essien Udim local government area during the election and had rejected the illegally manufactured scores that Akpabio appropriated for himself.
The INEC’s decision was upheld by the tribunal in Uyo, which decided that the 61,329 votes claimed by Akpabio were inconsistent with the number of accredited voters during the February 23 elections.
Based on this, Akpabio approached the National Assembly Elections Tribunal, seeking that 61,329 votes allegedly garnered from Essien Udim local government area be added to his tally to make him the winner of the election.
Deciding on petition No. EPT/AKS/SEN/06 2019- Senator Godswill VS Christopher Ekpenyong, the Court presided over by a five-man panel ordered that a fresh election be rather conducted within 90 days in Essien Udim local government, as a result of irregularities which all parties had admitted in their separate addresses.
Akpabio dissatisfied with the judgment earlier ruled against him by the Justice Akanbi-led Elections Petition Tribunal, which sat in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, Calabar.
However, Ekpenyong, a one-time deputy governor of Akwa Ibom is facing an uptill task in his effort to return to Senate as Essien Udim, the home base of Akpabio, has 120,000 eligible voters who can sway the election in favour of the minister.
Except Ekpenyong is favoured by the Senate President, he may not be allowed to enter the Senate chambers for proceedings and may not be paid his montly salary and other allowances for the the period of 90 days.
Speaking on the verdict, Senator Ekpenyong said his mandate remains intact despite the ruling by the Appeal Court on Saturday.
“I just finished interacting with the Senate president and we have an assignment on Tuesday. I remain the representative of my people in the senate and nothing has changed.”
Speaking to our reporter from his base in Abuja, Ekpenyong who confirmed that the ruling has not mandated him to vacate office, said he was surprised at the inconsistency in the judgement, with the court granting a prayer that was not sought by an appellant.
“Look all through his petition, Akpabio never sought for cancellation of election in the reliefs he sought, he was urging to be declared the winner in lieu of a purported 61000 votes he claimed for himself. I feel it is not right for a relief he didn’t seek to be awarded to him. But since it is the final arbiter in national assembly matters, there is no way we can appeal the ruling.
The former deputy governor however maintained that he is undaunted by the ruling and assured his supporters to remain calm while a date for the election is fixed.
“I am very prepared to defeat him again in Essien Udim, let’s go the field, he has to resign first as a Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in line with the provisions of the constitution,” Ekpenyong boasted.
“God gave me victory to salvage my people from deceit and poor leadership, and nothing has spoilt that victory,” he restated.
He said with election in one local government area only, all focus and attention would be given to the election and there would be no room for manipulation and rigging, as was noted in the area based on reports of observers and the electoral umpire.
“He brought war and federal might, but the people’s might and God’s mighty hand gave me victory. This is another opportunity for the gap of that victory to be expanded,” Senator Ekpenyong added.
In another development, the Appellate Court had in a petition No. EPT/AKS/HR/ 09/19 – Emmanuel S. Akpan vs Ekong Nsikak, ordered for re-run in Essien Udim in respect of Ikot Ekpene-Essien Udim-Obot Akara Federal Constitutency.
Akpan of APC had lost to Ekong of PDP.