The Supreme Court on Friday confirmed Godswill Akpabio as the validly-elected governor of Akwa Ibom State in a unanimous decision that brought to a close a four-year legal tussle to unseat him.
Frank Okon, one of the Peoples Democratic Party governorship aspirants in April 26, 2011 election, had sued the Independent National Electoral Commission and the state chapter of the party, to compel them to nullify the outcome of the January 15, 2011 re-run primaries, which saw Mr. Akpabio emerge the party’s candidate.
In his application before the High Court in Abuja, Mr. Okon had, among other demands, asked for restitution of his fundamental right allegedly breached through the conduct of the primary by PDP, which, he said, “unfairly manipulated him out of the race to give Mr. Akpabio the advantage to emerge candidate of the party.
After the cancellation of the January 9, 2011 primary, Mr. Okon said he and his supporters were not given due notice of the schedule of the re-run primary election of January 15, 2011 in line with the provisions of the party guidelines, which stipulates at least seven days’ notice.
Mr. Okon had also contested the outcome of the primary and asked the court to quash Mr. Akpabio’s election, alleging that it was a product of “a corrupt and fraudulent process masterminded by the party’s hierarchy to derail his ambition.”
The final result sheet from the primary submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC by the PDP, he noted, bore the signature of an unauthorized official, the former National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, who he said never participated in the election and could not have been in a position to authenticate the outcome.
Mr. Okon had argued that by January 15, 2011 when the re-run primary held, Mr. Nwodo was no more in a legal position to preside over its conduct, as a court of competent jurisdiction sitting in Enugu had on January 12, 2011 ordered his removal from office.
However, Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Federal High Court, Abuja, ruled that since Mr. Okon claimed in his affidavit that he did not participate in the re-run primary, he could not have been the authentic candidate of the PDP.
Describing him as “a meddling interloper”, Justice Kafarati said Mr. Okon lacked the locus standi to challenge the outcome of the election before the court.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, Mr. Okon had proceeded to the Court of Appeal, which at the end of its deliberations, reversed the decision of the High Court in his favour.
The court had explained that Mr. Okon had locus standi to pursue his case, notwithstanding that he and his supporters did not participate in the primary.
Mr. Akpabio and the PDP filed an appeal before the Supreme Court.
In his judgment in the appeal on Friday, Justice John Fabiyi, who led six other Justices, said the case had main and cross appeals, with preliminary objections on both sides.
In the judgment delivered by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, the Justices in a unanimous decision said some of issues raised in the preliminary appeal to the main application, which bordered on grounds of appeal, were found to have been incompetent and were struck out.
However, the Justices said that since the majority decision of the Court of Appeal on the main appeal held that Mr. Okon had locus standi, it should have gone ahead to grant all his relieves, including that he was the authentic candidate.
They, however, noted that the issue of locus standi was mixed up both in the main appeal and in the cross appeal, pointing out that Mr. Okon’s pleadings were irreconcilable, since he had claimed in one breathe that he did not take part in the primary, only for him to say in another that he won the primary.
“How could you win the primary you did not take part in?” the Justices stated. “The main appeal was dismissed.”
According to them, the cross appeal had found that in line with Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act, governing participation in political parties’ primaries “a party that did not participate in a primary can never and has no right to complain about the conduct of the primary or win a primary.”
Consequently, the Justices in their judgment stated: ”The appellant had by his own affidavit said he did not participate and his supporters were not there at the primary. How can you complain about discrepancies, or that the primary was marred by irregularities, and things like that?
“So this court has reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal as regards the locus standi and restored the judgment of the High court, which is the correct decision that the appellant did not participate in the primary.]
“The conclusion is that the present governor (Godswill Akpabio) was the authentic candidate of the PDP for the gubernatorial election conducted in 2011. The appeal is dismissed and the cross appeal is allowed,” they said.