Confusion has trailed the judgement of the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Tribunal on Wednesday, following the nullification of election in 18 local government areas of the state without unseating the governor.
The tribunal had Wednesday ruled on the petition by the All Progressives Congress, and its candidate, Umana Umana, challenging the election of Mr. Emmanuel of the Peoples Democratic Party.
The judgement was however unclear as it was not categorical on whether Governor Udom Emmanuel should leave office.
In the ruling, the tribunal held that election was not properly conducted in 18 of 31 local government areas of the state.
The three-member tribunal, led by Justice Sadiq Umar, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct re-run election in the affected 18 local government areas.
Some of the affected local government areas include Eket, Uyo, Onna, Nsit-Ibom, Nsit-Ubium, Ibiono, Ibesikpo Asutan, Nsit-Atai, Etinam and Oron, among others.
While it called for rerun in the affected local government areas, the tribunal failed to make pronouncement on the status of the state governor.
It also failed to give specific time frame for the conduct of rerun election in the affected local governments.
The decision of the tribunal threw many Nigerians into confusion including PREMIUM TIMES, which initially reported in error that Mr. Emmanuel’s election had been upheld.
However, when this newspaper sought the opinion of Nigerians, there was mixed reaction on the matter.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Sebastian Hon, said he is surprised at the tribunal’s ruling.
He argued that even if it had nullified election in half of the local government areas in the state, the tribunal ought to have removed the governor and called for a rerun.
He said, “I think an error of judgment has been committed, by nullifying in 18 local government areas, it means the governor was not validly elected and should not continue in office.
“However, under the Electoral Act, even if a governor is removed, he cannot vacate the seat until the time appeal is exhausted.
“But it was the duty of the tribunal to have made that pronouncement as a consequential order. It is an order that flows naturally from the judgment.”
He, however, advised INEC to conduct rerun election in the affected local governments within one month or at the expiration of the appeal window so the people of Akwa Ibom state would know who their real governor is.
A member of the APC legal team in the case, Ubong Offiong, said the ruling left some gaps which were difficult to understand.
By cancelling election and ordering rerun in 18 out of the 31 local government areas in the state, he noted that the tribunal has left some questions unanswered, Mr. Offiong said.
“For instance, we know that the governor of Akwa Ibom State cannot be deemed to have been elected on the basis of 13 local government areas given the fact that the state has 31 local government areas,” he said.
“The governor could only be validly elected if he had scored at least 25 per cent of the votes in 24 local government areas of the state.
“By upholding election in 13 local government areas effectively means that the present governor was not validly elected. But because the tribunal did not expressly say so at the end of the day, gives room to confusion.”
Again, Mr. Offiong faulted the tribunal for calling for rerun in the 18 affected local government areas without indicating a definite time frame within which INEC should conduct the election.
He insisted a lacuna could be created where all the parties fail to appeal the judgment of the tribunal.
He continued, “I believe the tribunal could have said since election has been cancelled in the 18 local government areas and therefore the present governor was not validly elected, they should be a rerun within three months or a specified time frame.
“In that case, if any of the parties goes on appeal, the court would either uphold the ruling or change it.”
Even the PDP believes the judgment is vague.
The PDP Chairman in Akwa Ibom state, Paul Ekpo, said the judgment was confusing.
Mr. Ekpo said the only good thing about the judgment was that the governor, Mr. Emmanuel, remained in office.
“The judgment is very confusing except that my governor, who had won the election overwhelmingly still remains the governor,” Mr. Ekpo said.
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