Wednesday, May 23, 2012 would be another day in the Federal High Court, Abuja for Frank Okon and his legal team.
Mr. Okon, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in the April 2011 election in Akwa Ibom State, has been battling to wrest the mantle of leadership from the incumbent governor, Godswill Akpabio.
Mr. Okon had dragged the governor before the court seeking restitution over what he described as abuse of his fundamental human rights after Mr. Akpabio was declared the party flag bearer for the election.
His demand was for the court to declare that the PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) violated his rights by declaring Mr. Akpabio winner of the election.
Mr. Okon claimed he was screened and duly cleared by the PDP to participate in the primaries initially held on January 9, 2011. He said when the National Working Committee (NWC) met on January 14, 2011 to annul the outcome of that exercise, he was surprised that he was not duly informed about the new arrangement to fix a re-run for January 15, 2011, contrary to the provisions of the party’s guidelines that stipulated at least a seven day notice to all parties in such eventuality.
Mr. Okon also told the judge, Abdul Kafarati, that the decision by the PDP in Akwa Ibom not to inform him of the January 15, 2011 fresh primaries was premeditated.
He said it was primarily for the purpose of excluding him from the contest, as his name was conspicuously missing on the final copy of the result sheet submitted to INEC, which showed Mr. Akpabio as winner.
Mr. Okon is also claiming that the result sheet submitted to INEC was fraudulently procured. He said the former PDP National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, whose signature was used to authenticate the outcome of the election, could not have been in a position to sign any legal and binding document of the election held more than 72 hours after he was removed from office by a court of competent jurisdiction.
THE MANY TWISTS
Since Frank Okon began the legal tussle, there have been intriguing twists and turns and the case has faced a number of setbacks.
At one point, When the court was preparing to proceed to open hearing on the substance of the case, Imo Udo, another aspirant that participated in the elections, surfaced with an application asking to be joined as co-defendant in the case.
Mr. Udo would later withdraw his application. He amended it, asking to be joined as co-plaintiff.
Not long after Mr. Udo’s application was thrown out on April 18, 2012, and the substantive case fixed for the presentation of final briefs by all interested parties on May 3, 2012, Paul Usoro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Mr. Akpabio lead counsel, came up with another application for a preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the court to continue hearing the substantive case.
According to Mr. Usoro, since the Supreme Court had dismissed the case of former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva on April 20, 2012, where he claimed that the PDP was wrong in rejecting his nomination as candidate in the recent gubernatorial election in the State, Mr. Okon’s case should also not receive hearing. The application was supported by Olusola Oke, counsel to the PDP.
The two legal representatives held that the Supreme Court judgement on Mr, Sylva’s application appeared to have rendered Mr. Okon’s originating summons a nullity, considering that the two cases were similar and border on the internal issues of the same party.
Following that application, the adoption of final briefs was put off till May 23, 2012 to afford counsel to the plaintiff time to prepare a response.
When the court reconvenes on Wednesday, Mr. Okon’s legal team say they would attempt to convince the judge that the application was another delay tactic by the defendants.
“There is no basis to compare Mr. Sylva’s case with that of Mr. Okon,” a member of the legal team, Andem Ndem, said at the weekend.
“It is clear Mr. Sylva’s case bordered on the internal decision of the party to preclude him from contesting the primaries in the recent governorship elections in Bayelsa State. He was never cleared by the party to participate in the elections.
“However, in Mr. Okon’s case, he was not only cleared to stand for the primaries held in January 9, 2011, but he was deliberately denied the opportunity to participate in the re-run primaries held on January 15, 2011 after the outcome of the first exercise was cancelled on January 14, 2011.
“The PDP did not only violate the provisions of its constitution by ordering a re-run of that primaries barely 24 hours after it was cancelled, contrary to a minimum seven day required, but it also committed fraud and forgery in the election result it submitted to INEC.”
Mr. Usoro, Mr. Akpabio’s lead counsel, declined an interview with PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday. “I am in a meeting.
I cannot talk to you now”, he said the two times our reporter called him on phone from Abuja.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the questions that Mr. Okon’s legal team would seek answers from the court stem from an affidavit dated February 21, 2012 deposed in an Abuja High Court by Mr. Nwodo.
NWODO’S PRE-PRINTED RESULT
In the affidavit attached to Mr. Akpabio’s application opposing Mr. Okon’s amended originating summons, Mr. Nwodo, who was sacked from office on Wednesday, January 12, 2011 via an order of an Enugu High Court presided over by Justice R.N Onuorah, confirmed that “as at the 13th of January, 2011, I had ceased to perform and carry out all functions relating to the office of the Chairman” of PDP, having been restrained from continuing to exercise the rights, powers, privileges as well as functions attached to the office of the National Chairman of PDP.
Mr. Nwodo also stated in the affidavit that “I did not convene and/or attend any meeting on the 14th of January or any meeting whatsoever where the decision for rerun primaries for Akwa Ibom state was taken.
“That at the time the governorship primaries for Akwa Ibom State was cancelled and a rerun fixed, I had ceased to act as the Chairman of PDP”.
While in one breathe the former Chairman’s deposition sought to exonerate him from any complicity in any act purported to have been committed by him in his official capacity beyond January 12, 2011; in the other, his assertion in the same document raises fundamental contradictions that might make or mar the defendants’ case.
According to Mr. Nwodo, the documents used in conveying the result of the primaries to INEC, which bore his name and signature, were not only “pre-printed” by PDP “before the party primaries”, but “were distributed to different states in the country to be used for the conduct of the gubernatorial primaries in the various states respectively” prior to the January 13, 2011 when he had ceased to act as PDP’s National Chairman.
Mr. Nwodo’s justification was that the documents were pre-printed by PDP “well before the party primaries”, apparently without any anticipation of his sack on January 12, 2011. He also affirmed to one of the counsels to the plaintiff that “no document was signed by me after my resignation.”
POSERS TO CRACK
The questions Mr. Okon’s legal team say it would seek answers to are:
Can a headmaster, who was forced to vacate his office on the eve of an examination, have legal powers to authenticate the result of that examination he neither conducted nor superintended over, days after his exit?
If Mr. Nwodo was sacked as the National Chairman of PDP by a court of competent jurisdiction on January 12, 2011 and was further restrained from continuing to “exercise the rights, powers, privileges as well as functions attached to the office”, can any act purported to have been performed by him on January 15, 2011 (three days after) be considered legal, binding and enforceable in law?
If Mr. Nwodo was removed from office three days before January 15, 2011, the day the controversial primaries were held, does the appearance of his name and signature on the result sheet sent to INEC not conjure fraud and forgery obviously perpetrated long before the actual elections were held?
Is it legal in law for sensitive electoral materials to be pre-printed, signed and distributed by a political party to election venues long before the actual elections?
If the January 9, 2011 primaries were annulled during a meeting of the PDP’s National Working Committee (NWC) on January 14, 2011 and a re-run scheduled for the next day, why did the PDP choose to ignore the provisions of its electoral guidelines stipulating that participants in re-run elections be given at least seven days formal notification before a fresh election is held?
If Mr. Okon was duly cleared to participate in the January 9, 2011 primaries, why was he not informed of the decision to schedule the re-run in line with the provisions of the party’s guidelines, especially because the nomination form he submitted, bore his forwarding addresses and contact details?
If Mr. Okon was duly cleared to participate in the primaries, why was his name missing from the record of the result submitted to INEC?
If Mr. Okon was allowed to participate in the elections, why did he not garner a single vote, even from his ballot?