By Taiye Agbaje
A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to accept and publish Godswill Akpabio’s name as the candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) for the 2023 Akwa Ibom North/West Senatorial District election.
Delivering judgment, Justice Emeka Nwite, held that INEC’s refusal to accept and publish the name of Akpabio, former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, was in contradiction with the law, having received the name from the APC as its valid candidate.
Nwite, who said that the electoral umpire acted illegally, said the commission lacked power to have disqualified the 2nd plaintiff (Akpabio).
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that in the suit filed before Nwite marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1011/2022, the APC and Akpabio are 1st and 2nd plaintiffs respectively while INEC is the sole defendant.
Justice Nwite found that Akpabio was validly nominated as the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District candidate of the APC from the primary conducted by the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) on June 9, 2022.
The judge declared that INEC “is bound by the provisions of Section 29 (3) of the Electoral Act to publish only the personal particulars of the candidate of the first plaintiff for the Akwa Iborn North West Senatorial District elections in the person of the second plaintiff (Akpabio) as received from the first plaintiff.
The judge also declared that INEC cannot publish any other name or particulars of any other candidate as candidate of the APC for the senatorial district elections, “except as nominated, submitted and received from the first plaintiff (APC).”
Justice Nwite rejected INEC’s claimed that it declined to monitor the primary conducted by APC on June 9, which produced Akpabio as the party’s candidate, because it had monitored the one conducted on May 27.
The judge faulted INEC for electing to monitor the May 27 primary conducted by an illegal faction of the party led by Augustine Ekanem as against the June 9 primary conducted by the APC NWC, an organ of the party authorised by law to conduct such primaries.
Justice Nwite said: “I am of the view that the defendant (INEC) cannot choose and impose a candidate on a political party.
“The fact that INEC chose to monitor an illegal primary and produced a report, cannot give it legitimacy.
“INEC cannot unilaterally pronounced a primary conducted by a political party or a candidate submitted to it as invalid, without a valid court order,” the judge said.
He held that there is no law empowering INEC to refuse to accept and publish the name of a candidate sent to it by a political party without an order of court.
“The consequences of the defendant’s (INEC’s) failure to monitor the legal primary conducted on June 9 by the first plaintiff, cannot be visited on the plaintiffs.
“The defendant lacks the vires to usurp or assume the power of the court to disqualify a candidate,” he said.
The judge noted that it was not in doubt that there were two (2) primaries conducted by the APC for the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District; one by the NWC of the APC, and the other by Augustine Ekanem, an illegal factional chairman of the APC in the state.
He also said that INEC accepted correspondence from the said Augustine Ekanem an impostor and monitored an illegal primaries not conducted by the NWC of APC.
He further said that despite being invited and notified, INEC chose not to attend the validly conducted primary of the APC for the state’s senatorial district where Akpabio was elected and nominated, but decided to term the primary illegal.
Nwite then ordered INEC to publish the name and particulars of Akpabio as the candidate of the APC for the Akwa Iborn North West Senatorial District in the 2023 general elections as nominated and submitted to it by the party.
“I hereby declared that the defendant (INEC) publish the name of the 2nd plaintifff as the authentic candidate,” he ruled.
NAN reports that INEC had recently cautioned the APC against its choice of candidate for the Akwa Ibom North-west Senatorial seat.
The commission said the name of the ex-minister submitted by the party remained invalid until the party followed due process.
Udom Ekpoudom had emerged as the party’s candidate in the earlier primary supervised by INEC officials in the constituency.
However, the APC submitted the name of Akpabio in his place, having won the second primary conducted by the party.
INEC spokesperson, Festus Okoye, in an interview however, said that the commission rejected Akpabio’s name because he was not the validly nominated candidate for the senatorial district.