The Supreme Court has slated 20 January (Friday) for judgement in a dispute over the All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket for the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District election.
The APC is challenging the decision of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, which sacked Godswill Akpabio as its candidate for the senatorial seat election holding on 25 February.
Mr Akpabio is a former governor of Akwa-Ibom State and ex-minister of Niger Delta.
In Mr Akpabio’s place, the appellate court ordered INEC to recognise Udom Ekpoudom, a retired deputy inspector general of police, as the authentic candidate of the party.
When the appeal came up on Wednesday, a five-member panel of the Supreme Court led by Kudirat Kekere-Ekun fixed the date for judgement after taking arguments from lawyers to the APC and Mr Ekpoudom.
Ume Kalu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who argued the APC’s appeal, urged the apex court to nullify the appellate court’s decision of 14 November 2022, and affirm Mr Akpabio’s candidacy for the poll.
But Mr Ekpoudom’s lawyer, Solomon Umoh (SAN), prayed to the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal and uphold his client’s candidacy.
The case was the only one out of the three appeals that emanated from the dispute heard by the Supreme Court on Wednesday. It said the outcome of the one chosen would be binding in the other two cases.
The court said it was pressed for time owing to the deluge of pre-election suits that have flooded the court.
The Akwa-Ibom North-West senatorial district ticket of the ruling APC has been the subject of intense litigation following the party’s declaration of Mr Akpabio as its flagbearer.
Mr Akpabio had lost out in the APC presidential primary in Abuja. But APC had nominated him as its candidate for the senatorial election despite that he did not participate in the party’s senatorial primary election.
INEC had refused to recognise Mr Akpabio as a candidate on the grounds of his not participating in the party’s primary election that he monitored.
In September 2022, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered INEC to accept and publish Mr Akpabio’s name as the APC candidate for the Akwa Ibom North-West District for the 2023 elections.
In the judgement, the judge, Emeka Nwite, held that INEC acted illegally by declining to accept and publish Mr Akpabio’s name when it was submitted to it by the APC as its candidate.
The judge said INEC “is bound by the provisions of Section 29 (3) of the Electoral Act to publish only the personal particulars of the candidate of the first plaintiff for the Akwa-Iborn North/West Senatorial District elections in the person of the second plaintiff (Akpabio) as received from the first plaintiff.”
Mr Nwite said the INEC cannot publish any other name or particulars of any other candidate as the candidate of the APC for the Akwa-Ibom North/West Senatorial District elections, “except as nominated, submitted and received from the first plaintiff (APC).”
The judge faulted INEC’s claim that its refusal to monitor the primary poll conducted by the APC on 9 June 2022, which led to Mr Akpabio’s emergence as a senatorial candidate was because it had supervised the one conducted on 27 May, which produced Mr Ekpoudom as APC flagbearer.
The Court of Appeal had subsequently upturned the Federal High Court’s decision and affirmed Mr Ekpoudom as the party’s authentic candidate.
Displeased with the decision, the APC and Mr Akpabio appealed against it at the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s decision slated for Friday will finally lay to rest the dispute over the rightful holder of the APC’s ticket for the 25 February senatorial election.
Mr Akpabio stepped down for a former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, who emerged as the party presidential candidate.
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