*Group raises concern over credibility of Tribunal Justices*
**PDP Governors linked*
**INEC REC, Tribunal Registrar indicted in Akwa Ibom*
A socio-political group, the South South Democratic Watch has raised concerns over the conduct of the Tribunal Justices in the South South States.
Speaking to our correspondent after its bi-monthly general meeting held in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, President of the group, High Chief Harry Sogbeyi frowned at what he described as “unholy romance between some Niger Delta governors and members of the election petitions tribunal in respective states in the region.”
According to Sogbeyi, the state governors who are members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) met on January 13, 2019, in Port Harcourt, where they allegedly formulated strategies aimed at manipulating the elections petition tribunal to their advantage.
He said the meeting had in attendance, Governor Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa) and Ben Ayade (Cross River).
“At the meeting which was held on the heels of President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspension of the now retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, the governors unanimously adopted the strategy of using judges from the Niger Delta region as agents to financially induce chairmen and members of the elections petition tribunal in respective states where elections took place.
“The Governors didn’t stop at telling the former CJN to shun the CCT invitation, they also said that ongoing prosecution is humiliating and unacceptable. They threatened fire and brimstone, vowing to avenge the prosecution of the former CJN”, Sogbeyi stated.
Speaking further, he alleged that the governors have so far received the assurances of judges to implement every trick in the book to compromise the tribunal panel.
“One of the strategies adopted and implemented is making the compromised tribunal panel members receive directive from the Resident Electoral Commissioners of respective states.
He called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and anti-graft agencies to wade in to the issue.
In Akwa Ibom State, the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) accused Governor Udom Emmanuel of bribing the Registrar of the Election Petition Tribunal, Mr. Abubakar Sadiq to block the party’s governorship candidate, Mr Iboro Otu from filling his petition.
The party alleged that Mr. Abubakar was recently spotted being escorted out of the government house with a ‘Ghana-must-go’ bag filled with money.
Deputy State Chairman of the party, Mr. Emmanuel Mfon said his party has reported the compromised act of the tribunal registrar to the President, Court of Appeal through a written Petition.
“We will not take it kindly with Mr. Abubakar, if our candidate is deprived of his fundamental right to seek justice from the court which is the last hope of a common man. It’s not the duty of the registry to reject any petition, it’s the duty of the court to decide after hearing, if a petition is incompetent or not.
“Mr Abubakar, for two weeks now, refused to steady in his office and even gave his assistant directive not to receive any petition without his instructions, even in my very presence on the Ist of April he was receiving petitions from others, but refused to receive our candidate’s petition since on the 30th of March”, he stated.
Earlier, Mr. Otu, in a news conference in Uyo, rejected the conduct and result of the governorship election, promising to take the protest to International Criminal Court.
He said the exercise was marred by irregularities including rigging, vote-buying and thuggery.
He said his party is in possession of evidence of electoral malpractice in the state.
Otu added that he will ensure that the attention of the international community is drawn to the issue through the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Weeks after he was declared winner of the governorship election, Governor Udom Emmanuel and his team refused to be served the court papers inviting them to respond to allegations of election rigging brought to the tribunal by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its governorship candidate, Obong Nsima Ekere.
After weeks of delay by the state government and complaints by the opposition APC, the Tribunal Chairman, Justice A. M. Yakubu, gave permission to APC to serve the governor and PDP through substituted means.
The court processes, our correspondent learnt, was pasted on the PDP secretariat in Uyo by the APC.
Also in Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom Northwest Senatorial District and his legal team have accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state of denying his legal team access to election materials.
Chairman of the Election Petitions Tribunal, Justice W.O Akanbi had on April 2 granted Senator Akpabio, the petitioner and applicant and his agents including forensic experts’ access to inspect and copy all electoral materials used in the Akwa Ibom Northeast senatorial election.
According to The Nation Newspaper, Counsel to Senator Akpabio, Mr. Patrick Umoh, said, “We learnt that on the instruction of Igini, Akwa Ibom INEC has consistently flouted the order and has refused the agents of Senator Akpabio and forensic experts access to the election material. INEC has been engaging in a hide-and-seek game.
“We also wish to inform you that we had earlier reported for the said inspection on Thursday, the 11th day of April, 2019, Friday, 12th April, 2019 and Monday, 15thApril, 2019 but our efforts to have access to the materials and inspect same did not yield any positive result.”
Head, Legal Department of INEC in Akwa Ibom, Mr. Mark Chukwu explained that the senator’s lawyers had met with the commission to allow them inspect and copy the materials which the commission quickly granted.
He, however, said the inspection would have taken place but for Motion on Notice obtained from court and issued to INEC by one of the parties in the election.
Similar perceived discrepancies are rife in Cross River State and Delta State.