A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognise the former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, as an All Progressives Congress Senatorial candidate.
The court ordered the electoral umpire to recognise and publish Akpabio’s name as the APC senatorial candidate for Akwa Ibom North/West senatorial district in the 2023 national assembly election.
In a judgment on Thursday, September 15, with suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1011/2022, Justice Emeka Nwite held that INEC acted illegally by refusing to accept and publish Akpabio’s name after it was sent by the APC.
The INEC had earlier denied recognising Akpabio and Senate President, Ahmad Lawan as APC senatorial candidates.
It will be recalled that Lawan and Akpabio contested the APC presidential primaries. However, after losing, both of them were listed as senatorial candidates by the APC, but INEC refused to recognise them.
But in his ruling on Thursday, the judge ruled that Akpabio was validly nominated as the Akwa Ibom North/West Senatorial District candidate of the APC from the primary conducted by the party on June 9, 2022.
The Judge said 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 election in the person of the second plaintiff (Akpabio) as received from the first plaintiff.”
He also declared that INEC cannot publish any other name or particulars of any other candidate as candidate of the APC for the Akwa lbom North/West Senatorial District election, “except as nominated, submitted and received from the first plaintiff (APC).
Justice Nwite, therefore, 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.
The APC and Akpabio, who are the first and second plaintiffs, were represented by a team of lawyers including Chief Umeh Kalu (SAN), Valentine Offia, Imo Akpan and Adekunle Kosoko while INEC, the sole defendant, was represented by Alhassan Umar (SAN).
Justice Nwite rejected INEC’s claim 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 monitoring the May 27 primary, conducted by an illegal faction of the party, led by Augustine Ekanem as against the June 9 primary authorized and 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 produce a report, cannot give it legitimacy.
“INEC cannot unilaterally pronounce 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) failure to monitor the legal primary conducted on June 9 by the first plaintiff (APC), cannot be visited on the plaintiffs”.
Continuing, Justice Nwite said “The defendant lacks the vires to usurp or assume the power of the court to disqualify a candidate”.
The judge noted that it was not in doubt that there were two primaries conducted by the APC for the Akwa Ibom North/West Senatorial District. One was conducted by the NWC of the APC, while the other was conducted by Augustine Ekanem, a factional chairman of the APC in Akwa Ibom State.
The judge equally said the INEC chose to monitor an illegal primary not conducted by the NWC of APC.
The judge further noted that despite being invited and notified, INEC chose not to attend the validly conducted primary of the APC for the Akwa Ibom North/West Senatorial District, where Akpabio was elected and nominated, but decided to term the primary illegal.
Justice Nwite held that INEC’s claim that it had monitored the May 27 primary, which is an illegal primary and could therefore not monitor the one conducted by the APC’s NWC on June 9, was not tenable and unlawful because it is only the NWC of a political party that can conduct valid primaries.