The Akwa Ibom State chapters of the People's Democratic Party, PDP, and All Progressives Congress, APC, are in a fresh disagreement over the proceedings at the ongoing Election Petitions Tribunal, sitting in the state.
The APC, which is the only visible opposition political party in the state, had stoke up the anger of the PDP by calling for the resignation of Justice Jennifer Mbalamen Ijohor, the Chairman of Panel, two National and State House of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom for alleged bias against the APC and its candidates.
State Chairman of the APC, Mr. Ini Okopido had while addressing a press conference at its party Secretariat Uyo, last Saturday, said the reason his party believes that Justice Ijohor had not been discharging her duties at the Tribunal objectively followed recent developments at the tribunal, besides the fact that she is a wife to a PDP stalwart.
According to him, Justice Ijohor two had struck out the Petitions with number EPT/AKS/HR/08/2019 between Edidiong Efiong Idiong and APC (Petitioners) and Emmanuel Ukpong-Udo, PDP & INEC (Respondents) in respect of Ikono/Ini Federal constituency seat on the strength of interlocutory injunction application and had also denied an amendment sort by Ekerette Ekpenyong and APC (Petitioners) against Michael Enyong, PDP and INEC (Respondents) for Uyo/Ibesikpo Asutan/Uruan/Nsit Attai (Uyo) Federal Constituency during the pre-hearing stage.
Okopido, who added that the Petition of Ekerete Ekpenyong and APC had also been similarly dismissed by Justice Ijohor on the excuse that the name of the Federal constituency was not written in full, disclosed that the petitioners have, however, appealed the judgements.
Another reason given by Okopido on why Justice Ijohor should resign stems from the fact that her husband, Prof. Tony A. Ijohor, SAN, is currently the Secretary to the Benue State Government, SSG, under a PDP governor.
"It is not far-fetched if these sentiments are shared between husband and wife. You will recall that it was only last month that the President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa recused herself from presiding over the Presidential Election Petition Panel for the reason that her husband is an APC member.
"Since Hon. Justice Jennifer M. Ijohor's husband is a PDP stalwart and SSG in their home state of Benue, and she has shown obvious biases against APC, we are similarly calling on Justice Ijohor to immediately resign from further presiding over the Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom State."
PDP fires back
But the PDP, in a swift reaction, appeared not surprised over the APC's allegations. It said the recent rants were expected given the party's losses at the tribunal as raised by the state Chairman of the APC.
The PDP, in a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Mr. Ini Ememobong, same Saturday entitled: 'APC's Sustained Imposter syndrome', quickly pointed out that the issues raised by the APC were transparently lacking a strong foundation in both facts and law.
"For the avoidance of doubt, the state chairman of that broom confraternity ought to be aware that election petitions are sui generis (of a special type) and therefore not all the rules of civil procedure apply therein.
"There are different laws enacted for the adjudication of these matters before the tribunal, which must be followed stricto sensu and failure to do so, usually attracts consequences.
"Additionally, in the cases mentioned by Mr. Okopido, the petitioners failed or neglected to apply for Pre-trial forms, which is in contravention of the provisions of the extant Electoral Act and the consequence is trite- the petition must be dismissed, same being incompetent. The Supreme Court in Okereke v. Yar'Adua held that pre-trial is a condition precedent to the hearing of a petition and without it a petition is incompetent .
"On the issue of amendments sought for and denied by the three-member tribunal (not the Chairman of the Tribunal), the law is specific that after the period allowed for filing of a petition, no amendment shall be made except to correct typographical errors.
"The amendments sought by the APC has the capacity to change the tone and character of their petition, this, the law clearly forbids."
Continuing, the PDP averred that a careful observation of the issues raised by the APC state chairman showed that the APC was merely blaming the judge, who incidentally is not sitting alone, for their woes, noting that rulings of the three-man panel, like every other panel or court of like composition, could either be by unanimity or majority.
The party stressed the chairman's vote was not a veto but 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."
The PDP faulted the APC for seeking to rely on the Bulkachuwa scenario in making its application because the two scenarios could be clearly distinguished.
"My Lord the PCA, Bulkachuwa posted 'herself' 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.
"Membership of a political party is a process and documents exist in witness of same. The SSG could have been appointed on the basis of his expertise and nothing more.
"We want to advice the APC to be more circumspect in their rants and shouts, as it is becoming very glaring that the fear of the unfolding reality of the judicial confirmation of their woeful electoral loss is getting to them and they are terribly mortified.
"The consciousness that the entire country will laugh at their earlier loud mouthed boasts of delivering Akwa Ibom to the APC is gradually settling in. This panic reaction will only worsen their already battered public image."
Meanwhile some Akwa Ibom residents and analysts have reasoned that candidates of political parties challenging the outcome of the February and March elections held in the state were merely wasting time and resources.
Accordingly, they have not expressed surprise at the unfolding events at the tribunal which saw some of the state and national assembly petitions struck out or dismissed.
Notwithstanding, as events continue to unfold at the tribunal, majority of the people appear to wait for the final ruling on the petitions currently ongoing including the governorship.