AKWA IBOM: INTRIGUES CLOUD EKET FEDERAL CONSTITUENCY SEAT

By NBF News
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BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, POLITICAL EDITOR
PERHAPS it was the scrutiny of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Or maybe the transparency mantra espoused by President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the last elections. Whatever, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in 2011 spared the country the multiple crises that arose in 2007 from the frivolous substitution of its candidates for elections.

However, in the case of Eket, Akwa Ibom Federal Constituency the party is inevitably deepening case law on the procedures in identifying the genuine candidate for an election.

The Rotimi Amaechi case in 2007 may have thrown up the issue, but the ongoing controversy over the genuine PDP candidate in the Eket Federal Constituency election in 2011 is taking it a significant step ahead.

At the centre of the dispute is Rep. Eseme Eyiboh the former House spokesman famed for his polished defences of the many peccadilloes of the Dimeji Bankole House.

Contending against Eyiboh perhaps in the frame of a David fighting against a Goliath in the person of Eyiboh, is Mr. Dan Abia who was presented by the PDP as its candidate in the National Assembly election as its candidate for Eket Federal Constituency comprising Eket, Esit Eket, Onna and Ibeno Local Government Areas in Akwa Ibom State.

Abia had emerged as the candidate in the PDP primaries conducted at Uyo the Akwa Ibom State capital. His victory was celebrated in the national dailies with many reporting it as a comeuppance for the Bankole House spokesman. However, the celebrations in the newspapers it subsequently emerged, largely ignored the realities on ground as buttressed by evidence presented to the courts over the pre-election procedures used in nominating Abia.

Hon. Enyina Ukana Enyina, a councilor representing Ward 1 in Ibeno local government council in an affidavit affirmed that Abia was not present at the venue of the primaries in Eket. Enyina who was present at the Eket stadium along with other statutory delegates in the affidavit further claimed that he and the majority of delegates present at the designated venue on the day of the primaries organized themselves to affirm Eyiboh who was the only contestant at the venue as the approved candidate of the party for Eket Federal Constituency.

Remarkably, the state party's grandees including state party officials organized what was alleged to be a rally in Uyo more than 100 kilometers from Eket where Abia was ratified.

However, Enyina and the majority of delegates supportive of what they claimed as Eyiboh's representation in the last House of Representatives pressed forward their case by forwarding the resolution at the primaries in Eket to the PDP national secretariat in Abuja.

In presenting their case they relied on the provisions of the Electoral Act and the PDP primaries guidelines stipulating that the primaries should be conducted at the headquarters of the federal constituency.

Section 87(1) (c) of the Electoral Act provides that 'In the case of nominations to the position of a Senatorial Candidate, House of Representatives and the State House of Assembly a political party shall, where intend to sponsor candidates:_

(i) Hold special congress in the senatorial district, federal constituency and the state assembly constituency, respectively with delegates voting for each of the aspirants in designated centre or centres on specified dates.

Section 28 (B) (i) of the PDP primaries guidelines also referred to by Eyiboh's supporters states thus: 'In the conduct of primaries for the Party's candidates for the House of Representatives, the primaries shall be held at the Federal Constituency Headquarters.'

The PDP national secretariat allegedly heeding pressures mounted by officials of the Akwa Ibom state secretariat allegedly forwarded Abia as the candidate for the constituency to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC instead of Eyiboh who was affirmed by the delegates at the designated venue of the primary.

The PDP's decision prompted a court action by Eyiboh who took INEC, PDP and Abia to court challenging the competence of the PDP to present Abia as the candidate. The case was filed before Jusitce A. Abdu_kafarati of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

While the case was ongoing both candidates apparently took to the campaign field claiming to be representing the PDP.

The PDP won the election as in all the federal constituencies in Akwa Ibom.

At the time of the election, Abia was still recognized as the PDP's genuine candidate in the election. However, five days before the inauguration of the new House of Representatives, Justice Abdu_Kafarati delivered judgment granting the relief sought by Eyiboh that he was the duly nominated candidate under the party's guidelines.

In his judgment Justice Abdu-Kafarati on July 1 said:

'It is not in dispute that the primary election that produced the 3rd defendant (Abia) as candidate of the 2nd defendant (PDP) for Eket Federal Constituency took place in Uyo. Uyo is the capital city of Akwa Ibom State and is not part of Eket Federal Constituency,' the Judge deposed.

Noting section 87(4) (c) (i) of the Electoral Act and Article 17.2(d) of the PDP constitution the Judge affirmed that it was mandatory for the congress to be held in the headquarters of the constituency.

'In the instant case the 2nd defendant (PDP) in violation of its own constitution and section 87 (4) (c) of the Electoral Act held the congress of 28th January, 2011 for the purpose of selecting its candidate for Eket Federal Constituency at Uyo instead of Eket.'

The Judge set aside the excuse given by the PDP that the congress was shifted to Uyo for convenience sake affirming that there was no security report or other averment to suggest a threat to peace.

Upon the affirmed breaches, the court ruled that Eyiboh was the substantive candidate of the PDP in the election.

The judgment was quickly frowned upon by the Akwa Ibom PDP which deposed that Abia was its candidate.

The State chairman of the party Uwem Ita Etok took strong exception to the declaration repeatedly affirming that Abia was the party's candidate distancing himself and the party machine from Eyiboh.

Etok's action was remarkable as the national secretariat which forwarded Abia was rather mute. There were suggestions that Abia was playing the card of some vested interests in the state PDP who are against the possible emergence of Eyiboh in the political permutations of who succeeds Governor Godswill Akpabio in 2015.

Given the alleged cordial relationship between Governor Akpabio and the parties in the dispute there were suggestions that the Governor may have to intervene to bring the simmering political dispute in his fiefdom under control. But so far the Governor has not publicly commented on the issue.

Meanwhile following the court judgment INEC upon the advise of its external legal advisers resolved to cancel the certificate of return earlier issued to Abia. The commission, however, failed to issue one to Eyiboh as the court judgment implied in its averment that he was the party's candidate for the election.

It was as such not surprising that Eket Federal Constituency was the only seat vacant when the House of Representatives was inaugurated last June.

In the interim, Abia appealed the judgment. Eyiboh's efforts to obtain a certificate of return to position him in the jostling for principal office in the new House remained in limbo.

But supporters of Eyiboh were to push his case using Section 75 (2) of the Electoral Act which removes the compulsion of a certificate of return in the face of a valid court judgment on the authenticity of a candidate.

The provision reads: 'Where the Commission refuses or neglects to issue a Certificate of Return, a certified true copy of the order of a court of competent jurisdiction shall, ipso facto, be sufficient for the purpose of swearing in a candidate declared as the winner by that court.

It was upon that declaration that the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Mr. Mohammed Sani Omolori swore Eyiboh in as a member of the House of Representatives on July 3, 2011.

That action was immediately flayed by Ekut and some stakeholders of the PDP who demanded the resignation of Speaker Aminu Tambuwal for allowing the inauguration.

Former Senator Etang Umoyo at a press conference declared the inauguration as illegal as he claimed that the Speaker breached judicial convention by allowing the inauguration while an appeal or a stay of execution had been lodged.

But observers posited that to the contrary that Omolori who is the immediate past Director of Legal Services of the National Assembly and Speaker Tambuwal himself a respected member of the body of benchers could not have acted in a way to impugn the judiciary.