Former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, Wednesday opened defense in the suit between him and the All a Progressive Congress (APC) candidate for the Akwa Ibom North West senatorial district, Chief Inibehe Okori.
Akpabio began his defence at the tribunal with the Chairman of the PDP Primaries for Akwa Ibom State, Olatunbosun Osuntokun, who noted that going by the documents the party sent to INEC which were accepted by the tribunal as exhibit B13 and B15, the PDP had no candidate for Akwa Ibom North West senatorial district as the documents before the tribunal shows that the ex-Governor was nominated by the party for Akwa Ibom North East senatorial district.
Osunkotun said though he was chairman of the 5- man panel that conducted the PDP National Assembly Primaries in Akwa Ibom State, he did not conduct the party’s primary for Akwa Ibom North East but physically conducted that of Akwa Ibom North West. He said he signed all the results and reports emanating from the Primaries as the Returning Officer.
He was asked by Assam Assam SAN, counsel to the petitioner to sign his signature five times on a plain sheet of paper. He did and the specimen signature was admitted by the tribunal and marked as exibit R2. Asked if he knew his party had sent to INEC the prescribed nomination Form of senatorial candidates, he said he was not aware of that.
Before now, he was asked by counsel to the 2nd Respondent, Adekunle Adesanya SAN, to mention the three senatorial districts in the state and the party’s candidate who won the Primaries for each constituency.
He replied that as chairman of the panel that conducted the Primaries, he knows for a fact that Akpabio was the PDP candidate for Akwa Ibom North West also known as Ikot Ekpene senatorial district, Chief Nelson Effiong was the candidate for Akwa Ibom North East also known as Eket senatorial district while Bassey Albert Akpan emerged as the PDP candidate for Akwa Ibom South senatorial district also called Uyo senatorial district. His response which proved he had no idea of the correct names of senatorial districts and their respective candidates by the PDP, rattled the respondents legal team. Adesanya SAN attempted to intervene but Assam Assam SAN, counsel to the petitioner told him to allow the judges record his previous answer first before interrupting. He said though the party made a mistake in the nomination form, INEC did not complain about the mistake.
Attempts by the 1st Respondent to tender some forms to make up for the error in Akpabio’s nomination was objected to by the petitioners counsel. Speaking on the matter, Solomon Umoh SAN, who led argument on the matter, said the law makes it impossible for the Respondents to attempt to tender any document at this stage of the trial.
Continuing, he said, "The law says the Petition shall be accompanied by copies of documents they hope to rely on at the hearing. The petitioner can list but the Respondents must front load. This is litigation not football. This document cannot be tendered by any of the respondents this time of the trial having not being front loaded." At this point, Adesanya, counsel to PDP pleaded with the tribunal to withdraw his application to tender the disputed documents having failed to apply for leave to tender the document. His application was allowed and the documents withdrawn
The Professor of Nuclear and Analytical Techniques told the tribunal that Akpabio was validly nominated by the PDP to contest the Akwa Ibom North West senatorial district election but that he made the error in the nomination Form, (Exibit B13 and B15). "I signed the forms but I signed both forms in error. PDP won the election with a very very wide margin. We conducted the Primaries, Akpabio won. Even though the error was done on the forms, INEC never complained they were misled by the error on the nomination Form", he submitted.
Assam Assam took him up, asking if Akpabio can sponsor himself without the party. He responded that he must be sponsored by the party. He was asked if the submission of candidates’ names to INEC in the prescribed forms was accompanied by a list of nominators from the constituency.
He was also asked which forms he signed on behalf of the PDP in respect to Akpabio’s senatorial nomination. He replied that he actually signed exhibit B13 and B15 (Form CF 002C) but that he signed them in error. Both forms bear Akpabio as PDP senatorial candidate for Akwa Ibom North East. He was asked when he, as National Secretary of the PDP submitted Akpabio’s nomination Form which he replied 18th December, 2014.
Asked if there is any other document on the ex-governors nomination that went to INEC but not signed by him, Oladipo said he is not aware as that falls within the purview of the party’s National Organizing Secretary. He also refused to answer when asked if Akpabio’s submitted to INEC, Form EC4B4 which makes it mandatory for a specific number of nominators who must be registered voters from the constituency, to sign the Form before the nomination can be deemed to be valid. His attempt to explain his position rather than answer the question was opposed to by Assam. The PDP National Secretary then said only the National Organizing Secretary of the PDP can answer the question. Counsel to the petitioner asked him if as PDP National Secretary he is aware of the process upon which a political party can substitute or change a candidate’s name and he answered in the affirmative.
Earlier, Chuwang Paul, a Special Assistant to the PDP National Legal Adviser and a counsel at the party’s legal directorate was at the tribunal to tender some documents subpoenaed by the tribunal. He said he was not appearing before the tribunal but only to tender the documents. The subpoena issued in court had no proof of acknowledgement of having being received after service.
Objecting, counsel to the petitioner, Chief Assam Assam SAN said the document can’t be admitted because aside the fact that there is no proof of service, the party’s representative had told the tribunal he is not appearing before the court. Also, never was it mentioned during the pre-trial that the PDP National Legal Adviser will be summoned to produce documents.
Responding, counsel to the 1st Respondent, Paul Usoro SAN, argued that it was wrong for the petitioners to object to the document being sought to be tendered as the tribunal issued, signed and served the subpoena. The law only allows parties to object to documents tendered by parties not those of the court. The tribunal then admitted the subpoena but rejected the documents sought to be tendered.
Before the commencement of the day’s proceedings, counsel to PDP, Adekunle Adesanya SAN tried to stall the commencement of the defence insisting that he had a motion on notice which he filed on August 12, 2015 and sought the leave of the tribunal to move the motion. He said his motion be heard before defense can proceed since the issues contained in his motion are fundamental. Counsel to other respondents aligned with his submission but counsel to the petitioner, Assam Assam objected. The tribunal ruled that since they are working behind time, the motion will be heard at a later date. At the end of testimony by the three witnesses, the matter was adjourned to September 10, 2015.