AYODELE ADESANMI examines the issue over the rightful candidate of the Akwa-Ibom North East Senatorial district following a protracted legal battle between incumbent Senator Bassey Albert Akpan and Chief Bassey Etim.
On December 7, 2014, members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa-Ibom North East Senatorial District filed out to participate in the primaries to elect the senatorial candidate for the March 2015 election. The contestants included Honourable Bassey Etim and Senator Albert Bassey Akpan, incumbent Chairman, Senate Committee on Gas Resources.
Though one of the two, Senator Akpan, smiled home on the day and was on June 9, 2015 sworn-in as Senator representing the district, the dust raised as a result of the primary election is yet to die down. In fact, the battle now is fierce as Etim moves to wrest the senatorial seat from his compatriot.
Bassey Etim, a former House of Representatives member, was dissatisfied at the outcome of the primaries, as he alleged several irregularities and insisted that he won the valid votes. To address the injustice, Etim headed for the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja and filed a case with suit number FHC/UY/CS/1081/2015 by way of an originating summon. The case was later transferred to the Uyo division because the court held that the cause of action arose in Akwa lbom.
Following the hearing of the case within an eight month duration, the trial judge, Justice F.O Riman, held that, “l have examined and compared exhibit 8(result) of the plaintiff (Bassey Etim) and exhibit 19(result of the third defendant, Albert Akpan) exhibit 8 was signed by Michael George as the electoral officer, with party membership card number of 2976821 and Daniel Ekanem as the returning officer with party membership number 3872375. Exhibit 8 shows number of accredited delegates to be 375 and the plaintiff membership number 4574227 and INEC voters card number 90B5BO71B7296. In exhibit 19 of the third defendant (the results) the returning officer signed it on 8/12/2014 (two days after the primary was held).
The electoral officer signed it on 7/12/2014, where the primary was held. The party membership card numbers of the electoral officer and the returning officer were not indicated, as well as the party membership card number of the third defendant and his INEC voter’s card number. I find that if the total number of votes scored by the seven aspirants is summed up, it will show that the total number of delegates was 374 and not 375 as stated in exhibit 19, as there was no vote voided. I find also that exhibit 19 does not contain the party membership card numbers of both electoral and returning officers. I find that exhibit 19 is falsified. This renders it not credible but questionable.”
The court consequently ordered Akpan to vacate forthwith the seat for Etim to be sworn-in. The court also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue a fresh Certificate of Return to Etim, thereby nullifying the one issued Akpan earlier. The court also ordered that Etim be sworn-in as Senator immediately and that Akpan be made to refund all monies paid to him by the National Assembly within 90 days.
Expectedly, Akpan immediately appealed the case at the Court of Appeal Calabar Division with Appeal No CA/C/87/2017. He also applied for a stay of the execution of the judgment. That notwithstanding, political observers believe that with the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction, Bassey Etim would have reclaimed his seat fully and be sworn in as a senator. Thus far, efforts at ensuring he reclaims his seat have been futile even when he has been issued the certificate of return by INEC.
Armed with the Certificate of Return, Etim has since become a regular face in the Assembly complex for some time now. In one of his numerous visits to the National Assembly, he told newsmen that every effort to take his seat at the senate has been frustrated by the senate leadership which he said, has sympathy for his opponent, Senator Akpan.
He said that the refusal to swear him in was a gross violation of the court process, adding that the certificate of return duly issued to him by INEC has since made the continued stay of Akpan in the Senate an illegality.
According to him, “This is the right time for the Senate, as an institution governed by law, to do the needful by ensuring that a man who has valid Certificate of Return assume duty because as it is now, my people don’t have a representation at the Senate. That is why l have to address the nation that the needful should be done by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“There is a precedent in the Senate. Like the case of Kogi East, which is also a pre-election matter, a judgement was given and the affected Senator was sworn-in immediately. He is already enjoying the fruit of the judgement
Etim further said: “I believe that the Senate is guided by the rule of law and definitely, they would do the needful because it is not right to disobey the ruling of the court. It is even better for the Senate to show example by obeying the judgement of the court because the legislature makes the law, as the maker of the law, they must obey it.”
Etim’s case shares direct similarity with that of Senator Isaac Alfa and Atai Aidoko of Kogi East Senatorial District. In that case, Atai Aidoko secured the judgement of the court against lsaac Alfa. It was equally a pre-election matter. Though Alfa had rushed to the Supreme Court to challenge the verdict of the Court of Appeal on the matter and also filed a notice of Appeal and motion of stay of execution, INEC went ahead to issue Aidoko a Certificate of Return as directed by the court. The Senate immediately swore Aidoko in.
However, the incumbent Senator Bassey Akpan believes that it would be wrong to compare his own case with that of the Aidoko. His Senior Legislative Aide, I. S. Utuk, in a press statement to address the issue on behalf of his boss, said, “The case of Kogi East Senatorial District is quite distinguishable from the case at hand and cannot serve as a precedence in this case”, he said, adding that, “Senator Bassey has exercised his constitutional right of appeal and remains as the Senator representing the people of Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District.”
Senate President, Bukola Saraki also denied insinuations that he was blocking the swearing-in of Etim. He explained that he had no interest in the senatorial seat adding: “I want the people of Akwa Ibom, which Senator Akpan represents, to have a representation. I don’t gain anything in it.”
According to Saraki “There are always two sides to a story. I have referred it to the legal department to give me a clear advice on this and once they advise me, I follow their recommendations”.
However, the Human Right Lawyers and Civil Society Alliance have rejected the submissions of the Senate President. A coordinator of the Civil Society Alliance, Mr Frank Tietie, said that the position of the Senate President was bad enough for highest law making body in the country.
Tietie said in a press briefing: “We are appalled by the fact that the Senate leadership is not only disobeying the court order but encouraging double standard in the red chamber which supposed to carry the integrity of our democratic hope. In order to discourage this show of brazen insult on the nation’s highest office of people representation, we call on the Senate leadership to obey the court order and swear-in Senator-Elect Bassey Etim.”
So, who owns the Akwa-Ibom North Senatorial seat? The Senate leadership and the entire Senate have questions to answer and time is also of essence. The 8th Senate has just completed its second session and it is imperative the rightful holder of the seat is inaugurated as soon as possible.