By Abasiofiok Inyang
The 2023 National Assembly election in Akwa Ibom State has shifted to the tribunal with the commencement of pre-trial conference.
The pre-trial conference began last Thursday as the tribunal commence sitting at State Judiciary headquarters, Uyo.
Our reporter covering the sitting, reports that one of the most interesting cases listed was a case brought before it by a former National Assembly member and House of Representatives candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Eket Federal Constituency, Rt. Hon. Eseme Eyibo.
Eyiboh and the APC were represented by Barr Jumbo Udom, alongside Mfon Udeme Esq and Noami Udofia Esq.
The 1st Respondent and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Hon. Okpolupm Etteh, who was declared as winner of the said election, was represented by Barr Ekpenyong Ntekim alongside Israel Okon Esq, Unwana Okon Esq and others.
PDP, the 2nd Respondent in the case, was represented by Uwemedimo Nwoko SAN, alongside Utibe Nwoko, Enyinmfon Nwoko, Etimbuk Udofia and others.
The 3rd Respondent, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was represented by Daniel Nweke Esq, alongside Emmanuel Eze Esq.
Addressing the tribunal, the petitioners’ lead Counsel, Barr Jumbo Udom said all the relevant processes to enable the pre-trial progress have been filed before the tribunal and served on the respondents.
He added that answers to the petitioners’ reply have also been filed.
Our reporter covering the tribunal reports that one of the grounds of the petition is that the 1st Respondent (Okpolupm Ette) presented a forged certificate before Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC as he “has no basic WAEC to have gained admission for OND and HND programs, points to the fact that the 1st Respondent must have presented forged certificate to the institutions concerned to be offered admission for the said programs”.
The Petitioner added that “the purported OND Certificate of the 1st Respondent from an alleged ”School of Management and Technology, Aba, is a forged document as there is no such school on the list of the recognized polytechnic by the Board of Technical Education”.
He, also, pointed out that the 1st respondent filed his reply out of the 21 days mandatory timeframe allowed by law, and therefore such should be dismissed. Chairman of the panel, Hon. Justice Kudirat Jose, reserved ruling on the application till Friday, May 5, 2023, which is the next adjourned date.
Continuing, Udom announced that the prosecution would call 5 Witnesses and 2 subpoena.
Ntekim said the 1st Respondent will rely on one witness and two subpoenae, Nwoko SAN said the 2nd Respondent will call two witnesses while Nweke said INEC has no witness but will rely on one supoena.
All parties noted that the issue before the tribunal cannot be resolved without trial and gave the tribunal the go-ahead to proceed with the case.
Ntekim, Lead Counsel to Okpulupm Etteh, adjudged that the documents presented by the petitioners as evidence were mere computer generated documents which violate the Evidence Act.
Nwoko SAN, Lead Counsel to PDP, objected to the petitioners’ “evidence”, stressing that they are not Certified True Copies.
Nweke, Counsel to INEC also dismissed the authenticity of the documents.
The panel adjourned to 5th of May, 2023, for continuation of pre-trial.
Rt Hon Eseme Eyiboh is praying the tribunal that he be declared as winner of the election, insisting that the scores announced by INEC “did not represent the lawful votes or scores of the parties at the election.”
He said he scored the majority of lawful votes cast at the polling units and alleged that “the majority of his votes obtained from the units and the results as announced and pasted at the units were unlawfully excluded at the point of collation at the Local Government collation centers or mischievously reduced by the collation officers to the advantage of the 1 respondent.”
Eyibo is also alleging that Etteh “was not qualified to have contested the said House of Representatives election having presented forged certificates and certificates with inconsistent names to the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.”
His petition before the tribunal avers that he shall demonstrate through oral and documentary evidence prove that Etteh wasn’t qualified to have participated or contested in the election.
15 petitions are before the three-member panel headed by Justice Kudirat Jose of the Lagos State High Court. 2 petitions were filed in respect of the Senate elections, 7 in respect of the House of Representatives elections and 6 in respect of the State House of Assembly elections.