Akpabio, Ekpenyong, Others Return To The Field As Court Of Appeal Orders For Rerun


The Appeal Court sitting in Calabar, the Cross River State capital on Saturday delivered judgment in the case between Niger Delta Minister, Chief Godswill Akpabio and Senator Chris Ekpenyong. The ruling has put Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district on the spotlight again.

Akpabio, a former two-term Governor of Akwa Ibom State and immediate past senator of the senatorial district, had approached the appellate court to challenge an earlier ruling at the tribunal that declared his opponent, Engr. Chris Ekpenyong, as the validly elected Senator for Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district.

Saturday’s ruling in Calabar means that Akpabio and Ekpenyong will head to the field once again to test their political might in only one local government area of Essien Udim within 90 days as ordered by the court.

The court was able to establish cases of irregularities and non-compliance with the Electoral Act in the conduct of the election within Essien Udim LGA, as such, held that no one should have been declared a winner.

Also, there will be a rerun election in Ikot Ekpene Federal Constituency following the nullification of the victory of Rt. Hon. Nsikak Ekong of the Peoples Democratic Party by an appellate court sitting in Calabar.

Just like the one involving Akpabio and Ekpenyong, the rerun between Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Akpan of the All Progressives Congress and his PDP counterpart, Rt. Hon. Nsikak Ekong will be held in Essien Udim local government area only. The results of Ikot Ekpene and Obot Akara local government areas are intact.

With both elections holding within 90 days in the same local government area both for different offices, how are events shaping up? Are the candidates and parties ready to slug it out for the trophy? What are their chances? What preparations are their parties putting in place?

PDP Reacts To Judgment
The Peoples Democratic Party through its Publicity Secretary, Comrade Ini Ememobong, in reacting to the two rulings, maintained that the outcome of the appeal court judgment affords the party another opportunity to assert its supremacy over the All Progressives Congress in the state.

According to the statement, “We welcome the judgement of the Court and hereby indicate our preparedness for elections, as this will provide an opportunity for us to widen the margin of victory against Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Akpan, Senator Akpabio and the APC. We are expectant that the Senator will very soon tender his resignation from his ministerial office to meet us in the campaign field, as the law demands.”
The party also maintained that the appeal court ruling confirms the irregularities that marred the polls in Essien Udim local government area, citing instances of falsification of figures, intimidation of INEC staff and other ugly incidents that characterised elections in the area.
Continuing, he said: “This judgement acknowledges the widespread irregularities that occurred in Essien Udim local government area, which were noted and highlighted in different reports from both domestic and international observers. It will recalled that the results from Essien Udim local government area was delayed for more than five hours after all other results had been turned in and collated. We recall further that Senator Akpabio and his APC supporters had taken over the INEC office at Essien Udim, chased out everyone, held the INEC staff hostage and falsified election results. The court judgement in nullifying the elections there, simply confirms the reality.”


APC’s Position On Ruling
The All Progressives Congress, APC in reacting to the appeal court judgments, said it vindicates claims by the party that the election was rigged in favour of the PDP and a reversal of “Igini’s tyranny”.
The statement which was signed by the State Chairman of the party, Ini Okopido, applauded the court ruling, saying that it affirms earlier complaints of the APC against Akwa Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mike Igini.
“Though short of the relief sought, we welcome the judgement of the Appeal Court and applaud the courage of the Justices to dispense justice without fear or favour. The judgement has no doubt affirmed earlier complaints by APC of the prejudice of Igini against the Party.
We commend the Appeal Court order for fresh elections in Essien Udim LG for the Senate and Ikot Ekpene Federal House seat whose questionable INEC result was vigorously contested by Rt. Hon.Emmanuel Akpan of the APC.”

Ahead of the rerun election, the APC, just as it did in the run up to the February 23 polls, have called for the redeployment of Mike Igini, maintaining that it has no confidence in his ability to preside over a free and fair contest.

“We have no faith in Igini’s impartiality as an unbiased and independent umpire. Igini is a compromised and avowed enemy of APC. We are distraught and doubtful of a change of posture by Igini and therefore cautious to go into a fresh election while Igini remains the State REC. We demand the immediate re-deployment of Igini in the interest of peace and justice.”

Will APC be granted their request of having Igini redeployed ahead of the rerun election having failed to achieve it in the lead up to the February polls? It remains to be seen how this pans out in the coming days even as PDP insists it is confident of victory.

INEC Reacts
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Akwa Ibom State in a statement signed by its Public Affairs Officer, Don Etukudoh, said the the Court of Appeal in Calabar has affirmed the position of the commission that there was widespread violence and irregularities during elections in Essien Udim LGA.

“The Court reaffirmed as valid and preserved the elections as declared by the Commission in 9 out of the 10 LGAs that make up Akwa Ibom North West (Ikot Ekpene) Senatorial District.
“It, however, ordered a rerun of the Senatorial election within 90 days in Essien Udim LGA ONLY, where the Commission had decried the massive rigging and manipulations that culminated in the dubious award of 61,329 votes to Senator Akpabio alone in the LGA, intended to upturn the results of the other 9 LGAs. This was when the accreditation figure from the Smart Card Readers (SCRs), confirmed by ticks on the Voter Register for the entire Essien Udim stood at just 19,455.

“The Commission rejected this travesty and maintained its position despite pressure, blackmail and threats to lives of lNEC officials.

“The Court also ordered fresh elections in the same Essien Udim LGA in respect of the House of Representatives seat while upholding elections in Ikot Ekpene and Obot Akara, the other two LGAs that constitute the Federal Constituency”.

Godswill Akpabio Speaks
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, in a short post on his Twitter page shortly after the ruling said the position of the appellate court is victory for democracy.

“Today’s Appeal Court judgment is a victory for democracy. Let me say that I am grateful to God and my people for always standing by me. I will never take your support for granted,” the tweet read.
But away from his reaction to the ruling, the former Senate Minority Leader is in a dilemma given that as a Minister, he, by law, should resign in order to contest the rerun election. The question now on the lips of political analysts is: will Akpabio relinquish his current position and contest a Senatorial seat he is already trailing by over 35,000 votes? According to INEC records, the number of accredited voters in Essien Udim stands at 19,455. This is in contradiction to the conflicting and unsubstantiated figures being bandied in some quarters. But whatever happens at the rerun, Akpabio will need 38,056 votes to defeat Chris Ekpenyong who already has nine local government areas firmly in his kitty. At the February 23 election, INEC had declared that Ekpenyong scored 114,973 to defeat Akpabio who earned 76,917 votes.

There are unconfirmed reports that Akpabio is seeking for the redeployment of Mike Igini, the Akwa Ibom State INEC REC. It was gathered that he also wants security operatives who’ll likely stand in his way at the rerun to be redeployed too. This, sources say, is a plot to allow him have a field day during the rerun poll. But, information has it that it is unlikely that his request will be granted.
At any rate, Senator Godswill Akpabio is expected to win the rerun given his popularity in Essien Udim, being his local government area. He is loved by the people hence is expected to triumph. But the rerun may yet be an academic exercise because even if Akpabio carts home all the votes in the rerun, he won’t still overtake his opponent.
Will the former two-term governor resign and contest the election? Why would he want to take such a curious and apparently unwise decision? Will he surrender by withdrawing from the race in order to concentrate on his ministerial post? The answers will come in the coming days.

Chris Ekpenyong Sure Of Victory
Engr. Christopher Ekpenyong will go into the rerun basking in the confidence that he will still emerge victorious no matter the outcome. But he will, along with the PDP, want to assert their supremacy as the party to beat in the state.
The PDP is in charge of the 31 LGAs in the state hence looks odds-on favourite to win in Essien Udim. But being that Akpabio is himself a strong and popular politician, the PDP won’t find it easy in Essien Udim hence the votes are likely to be shared with APC tipped to have the lion’s share.
Prior to the February polls, Ekpenyong had little or no chance on paper against a hugely popular Akpabio. But a combination of fate, luck and some political miscalculation by his opponent tilted the pendulum in his favour. Having resumed duties at the Senate, the rerun election is a distraction he would have loved to bypass.
But in spite this, the former deputy governor says he is ready to defeat Akpabio again. He said that his opponent brought war, but God’s might and that of the people saw him through. “I am very prepared to defeat him again in Essien Udim, let’s go to the field, he has to resign first as a minister in line with the provisions of the constitution.
“God gave me victory to salvage my people from deceit and poor leadership, and nothing has spoilt that victory, adding, “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.

Nsikak Ekong Versus Emmanuel Akpan
For the soul of Ikot Ekpene/Obot Akara/Essien Udim Federal Constituency, Hon. Nsikak Ekong and Hon. Emmanuel Akpan will battle for the 19,455 votes available in Essien Udim local government area where a rerun is to be held.
Ekong, a former House of Assembly member, goes into the rerun with victories he secured in other two local government areas, while his opponent of the APC, Emmanuel Akpan, will be hoping to upset the applecart by winning landslide in Essien Udim to stand a chance.
Nsikak Ekong is loved by the people of the area. His time as House member brought about renewed hope to the people. His generosity and quality leadership skills is likely to speak for him when voters head to the polling booths.
Emmanuel Akpan, on his part, will be banking on the magic wand of Senator Akpabio to swing victory his way. Another advantage is that he hails from Essien Udim, and given that this will decide who wins the contest, he will pull all the stops to ensure he wins.
It could be recalled that the Returning officer for Ikot Ekpene Federal Constituency, Dr. Daniel Udoh, in announcing the outcome of the election, had said that Emmanuel Akpan of the APC polled 22,052 Votes, while Nsikak Ekong of the PDP polled 29,849 votes.
The battle between both men will certainly go down to the wire. The outcome will be determined on the fairness of the process, how both candidates mobilise their supporters and the preparation level of their parties.

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