The All Progressive Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom State has called for the resignation of the chairman of the election petition tribunal for the national and state assembly election in the state.
The APC chairman in Akwa Ibom, Ini Okopido, addressed a press conference on Saturday in Uyo. He said the chairman of the tribunal, Jennifer Ijohor, is the wife of the secretary to the Benue government – a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled government – and therefore “cannot discharge her duties as objectively as we would expect”.
He accused Mrs Ijohor of exhibiting bias against the party in some of the election petitions before her tribunal.
“We know for a fact that the husband to Hon. Justice Jennifer Mbalamen Ijohor, Prof. Tony A. Ijohor, SAN, is currently the Secretary to the Benue State Government under a PDP governor.
“Prof Ijohor, SAN is a strong PDP stalwart in Benue State.
“Before he was appointed SSG, Prof Tony A. Ijohor was an Adviser to the PDP Government of Governor Ortom in Benue State. He holds very strong and critical views against the APC. It is not farfetched if these sentiments are shared between husband and wife,” Mr Okopido told journalists.
Mr Okopido made reference to how the President of the Court of Appeal, Zainab Bulkachuwa, recused herself from presiding or being a member of the presidential election petition tribunal because of the election of her husband as a senator.
Justice Bulkachuwa’s action followed a petition from the PDP.
“We are similarly calling on Hon. Justice Ijohor to immediately resign from further presiding over the Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom State,” Mr Okopido said.
The chairman mentioned two specific cases in which he claimed Justice Ijohor showed bias against the party. The APC has appealed against her rulings in those cases, he said.
“The third reason we believe that the Hon. Justice is biased against the APC and its candidates is rooted in the public statements and tweets of Henry Ijohor, who is the only son to the Hon. Justice.
“In his various statements and public communication, Henry has indicated more than a passing interest in the petitions filed at the various tribunals, particularly those in Akwa Ibom and Rivers State.
“In his tweet of 21st March, 2019, sent out at 8.24pm, Henry said: “The judges and lawyers handling Rivers and Akwa Ibom elections petitions have to be experienced. On the surface it’s obvious they’ll (sic) be a lot of pressure on them and a lot of work to be done” @BarrHenryIjohor,” the APC said.
Continuing, the APC chairman, Mr Okopido, said, “This piece of indiscretion must be taken for what it is: an informed interest in the activities of the Tribunals, particularly in Akwa Ibom State where a beloved mother is sitting as Chairman.
“The petitions Hon. Justice Jennifer Ijohor is called upon to preside over and adjudicate upon are essentially between our Party, the APC and the PDP.
“If these scenarios which we outlined above do not present a clear case of bias and conflict of interest, we wonder what does. We have requested that she be removed from the Panel for the above reasons, and a new Chairman appointed.”
The APC also alleged that its witnesses at the tribunal have received threat messages from the PDP and its members.
“We call on the security agencies to track down these criminals and bring them to justice.
“As a party, we will never be cowed or intimidated by unscrupulous politicians and their collaborators at INEC,” he said.
The PDP in Akwa Ibom has responded to the development, saying the APC was only expressing “fears which were transparently lacking a strong foundation in both facts and law”.
Ini Ememobong, the PDP spokesperson in Akwa Ibom, who issued a statement on behalf of its party, said, “The APC is blaming the judge (who incidentally is not sitting alone) for their woes.
“The rational question will now be, how is the judge responsible for the omission by APC counsel to comply with the provisions of the law governing election petition? Should they ideally blame the judge, the law or their lawyers?
“The rulings of the three-man panel, like every other panel or court of like composition, can either be by unanimity or majority.
“The chairman’s vote is not a veto, it carries the same weight as that of the members and no more.
“Situations abound, where the two members have voted against the decision of the chairman and their decision became that of the panel, the recent judgment of the Osun state Governorship election tribunal can refresh our minds on this subject.
“So if the rulings of the tribunal is against the APC, it is not the position of the judge complained about, but either the unanimous decision or majority decision of the panel. The APC cannot seek to rely on the Bulkachuwa scenario in making its ill-intentioned application because the two scenarios can be clearly distinguished.
“My Lord the PCA, Bulkachuwa, posted ‘himself’ to the panel conscious of the existing political relationship between one of the parties (the Respondent) and his family.
“In this case, the tribunal Chairman was posted by the PCA here, without any contribution or influence by the judge. And recall that in the PCA’s case, personal relationships in addition to partisan ties between the parties were clearly brought to the fore. In the instant case, there is no proof of personal relationship between the parties before the tribunal and the chairman of the tribunal, except the inchoate allegation that her spouse is a member of the PDP.
“Even with that, there is no evidence to suggest that the husband of the chairman of the tribunal is a card-carrying member of the PDP. That he was appointed SSG in Benue does not infer and cannot be construed to mean, that he is a member of the PDP,” the PDP said.