CORRECTED: Case against Akpabio's election suffers setback as judge travels abroad on judgment day

CORRECTION: This story has been updated. Our initial post referred to Mr. Kafarati as a Supreme Court judge, and failed to indicate clearly that the case is a pre-election matter, which is not affected by the statutory 180 days period within which election petitions must be concluded. The errors are regretted, and we are taking measures to minimise the occurrence of such errors on our platform. We sincerely apologise for the inconveniences the errors might have caused our readers. — EDITOR

Frank Okon’s petition against the election of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio suffered a big blow on Thursday, as a Federal High Court Judge, Abdul Kafarati, who was billed to deliver the judgment, suddenly travelled out of the country in circumstances observers say might prove fatal for the case.

After hearing the final briefs by all interested parties in May 3, 2012, Mr. Kafarati had adjourned judgment  till July 12, 2012 to bring to an end the case brought before him by Mr. Okon, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in the April 2011 elections in Akwa Ibom state.

Mr. Okon was seeking the court’s nullification of the election on the grounds that his exclusion from the January 15, 2011 party primaries, which returned Mr. Akpabio as the PDP flag bearer, breached his fundamental human rights. 

Apart from his alleged exclusion, Mr. Okon also contested the governor’s election on grounds that the PDP committed fraud on the result sheet submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by forging the signature of its former National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, on the election result sheet despite having been removed by a court in Enugu more than 72 hours before the primaries. 

Tension had been palpable in Akwa Ibom in the build-up to judgment day, particularly in Mr. Akpabio’s political camp. His associates and allies are still savouring the victory the state received in last Tuesday’s epic Supreme Court’s ruling over the ownership of the disputed 76 oil wells with Cross River.

On Thursday, scores of supporters across both political camps, who thronged the Federal High Court in Abuja for judgment, went home disappointed when they found that Mr. Kafarati had travelled out of the country for a workshop.

“His Lordship travelled abroad with the CJ (Chief Justice of the Federal High Court) for a workshop, so we are not going to sit”, the court clerk announced to anxious supporters in the court room, about 30 miuntes after the court was supposed to have commenced sitting. 

“Delivering judgment is the power of the Justice alone to decide. So, as soon as he comes and takes a decision on a new date, he would communicate with the parties accordingly. Thank you,” the court clerk concluded.

A whiff of what eventually played out was noticed on the cause list for the day’s cases pasted on one of the notice boards at the court. It bore an inscription in red ink against the the case – “No sitting. The Judge travelled outside the country”.

But fears are being expressed in Mr. Okon’s camp that Mr. Kafarati’s absence might prove fatal to their chances of receiving fair judgment because the courts are to commence their annual legal vacation on Monday, July 16, 2012, and are not expected to return earlier than the last week of September.

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