On Wednesday last week, after 72 hours of tension and delay, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) finally announced the candidate of the PDP, Chris Ekpenyong, as winner of the Akwa Ibom North West senate seat. That meant Godswill Akpabio, the influential former governor of the state was not going to get a second shot in the upper chamber of the national assembly.
Later that day, Akpabio was back in Abuja where he first attended the presentation of certificates of return to President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the International Conference Centre (ICC). When journalists confronted him about his loss, he said he did not and cannot fail.
“I won, I won, it is a temporary setback… For me I did not fail, I can’t fail… My mandate is solid and waiting for me. You know that I cannot fail election, I cannot fail. Do you expect me to fail? Won’t you love me to be your senator? I can’t fail,” he said, while signifying that he would challenge the defeat in court.
Everyone assumed he meant the election petition tribunal.
The meeting: That same evening at about 3.30pm, Akpabio pulled up at the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Justice at the Central Business District in Abuja, where he met with the controversial Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, a source told The Scoop. The meeting lasted for less than an hour, but the two men reportedly discussed Akpabio’s situation.
The ruling: Less than 48 hours after that surprise meeting, Justice Valentine Ashi of an FCT High Court, restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from issuing its Certificate of Return to Ekpenyong, who had already been declared winner of the election. The ruling followed an ex parte motion filed by Akpabio seeking an order granting him leave “to apply for a judicial review for the issuance of a writ of Mandamus, prohibition, injunction and other declarative reliefs sought against the respondent (INEC).”
Justice Ashi held that Akpabio’s case has merit and restrained INEC from issuing a certificate of return to Ekpenyong. He adjourned the case to March 8th for hearing of the substantive suit.
Why it matters: The normal process after a result has been announced by INEC is for aggrieved parties to take their cases to the tribunals set up by the Chief Justice. Going to court and getting an order like this is strange. When it comes after meeting a partisan Attorney-General, it raises further suspicion. All eyes should be on this one.