The Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja on Wednesday ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct a fresh governorship election in 18 out of the 31 local government areas of the state.
The results in the 18 local government areas were nullified on account of the disenfranchisement of registered voters.
The Justice Sadiq Umar-led panel, in its judgment which took seven hours to deliver on Wednesday, held that 566,534 registered voters were disenfranchised in the 18 local government areas including Uyo, the state capital, during the April 11 governorship election.
It held that the petition filed by the All Progressives Congress and its candidate, Okon Umana, challenging the declaration of Udom Emmanuel of the Peoples Democratic Party as the winner of the April 11, 2015, succeeded in part, as the petitioners were able to establish that election did not hold in the local government areas.
The local government areas in which fresh elections were ordered to be conducted are Etim Ekpo, Uyo, Ikono, Ibesikpo, and Onna Ikot.
Others are Oruk, Uruan, Ibenu, Ibono- Ibom, Nsit Ibom, Nsit Ubium, Ini, Oron, Nsit Atai, Etinan, Udung Oko and Eket.
The tribunal did not however specify the period within which the election in the affected local governments must be conducted.
It held that the petitioners were able to establish that elections did not hold in the local government areas and that where there were attempts to conduct the poll, it was marred by irregularities, such as irregular voting, ballot snatching and the intimidation of voters.
It, however, rejected the evidence by the petitioners with respect to the rest of the local governments in the state on the grounds that the witnesses were not witnesses of truth.
It also rejected the evidence by the petitioners’ witnesses who were described as experts.
The tribunal held that the so-called expert witnesses did not show how they came about their findings on their claim that the election did not hold in the state.
On the non use of card readers, Justice Umar held that the “report on card reader machine tendered by the petitioners was not conclusive” about the number of voters who voted on the election day.
It also dismissed the statement by the national headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission which indicated that the governorship poll must be exclusively conducted with card readers and in whichever polling unit the machine failed the election must be postponed till the next day.
“In view of these, the petition succeeded in part. The first respondent, the Independent National Electoral Commission, is hereby ordered to conduct fresh election in the 18 local governments,” Justice Umar ruled.
The petitioners, who called 49 witnesses to prove their case, had alleged that election did not hold in the entire state on April 11, as election materials were hijacked before getting to their destinations.
They also alleged intimidation of voters with the exercise characterised by shootings.
Before delivering judgment on Wednesday, the tribunal first dismissed five motions on notice by the respondents challenging the competence of the petition.
Meanwhile, the Akwa Ibom APC has said it would appeal the judgment.
The state chairman of the party, Dr. Amadu Atai, stated that the party was not satisfied with the tribunal’s nullification of the election in 18 local government areas.
He added that there had been widespread irregularities in the governorship poll in all local government areas of the state, adding that there were no elections at all some other LGAs.
According to him, the judgment of the tribunal regarding the governorship election in the state was inconclusive. He noted that the APC has begun the process of appeal.
“The tribunal has cancelled the governorship election in 18 local government areas as it ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct election in the affected LGAs. But we are going to appeal because we expect cancellation in more local government areas where discrepancies were pervasive,” he said.
The Peoples Democratic Party state chairman, Mr. Paul Ekpo, however, said that the judgment was very confusing. He added that the only good thing about the judgment was that the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, still remains in power.
According to him, PDP would meet to review the judgment.
He said, “The judgment is very confusing except that my governor, who had won the election overwhelmingly in the state, still remains the governor. The rerun in the 18 LGAs as ordered by the tribunal, as you know we will win. Besides, we will meet at the party level to look at the judgment.”