By Manfred Ekpe, Esq.
The complaints of the REC are:
(a) That he was on ground to observe the governorship primary;
(b) That INEC office in Akwa Ibom State received notification for the primary from the state chapter of APC (referring to the Austin Ekanem’s led party executive) that the primary will hold in Sheer Grace Arena, Uyo.
(c) That the REC and the police commissioner were at Sheer Grace Arena on the date up to 10:30 pm and there was no primary conducted.
(d) That the Chairman of the Primary Election Committee, Tunde Ajibulu, sent from APC secretariat, Abuja told him on phone that because of the impasse were hoodlums blockaded the election materials, the primary had been postponed and that election materials were secured at DSS office, Uyo.
(e) That on those grounds therefore, there was no primaries.
Now let’s analyze the substance in the above report.
IS PARTY PRIMARY INVALID WITHOUT INEC INVOLVEMENT?
1. Section 82(2) of the Electoral Act 2022 makes it not mandatory for INEC to observe party primaries by using the term “may”. In law the term “may” does not command compulsion. This means the person under duty may choose to act on that statutory provision or not. However, when he chooses to act, he must do it within the confines of the law. Was the Akwa Ibom REC on ground to observe the primary in a manner allowed by law? The next paragraph answers this question.
2. WAS MIKE IGINI IN LAWFUL DUTY AT SHEER GRACE ARENA TO OBSERVE THE PRIMARY?
3. the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal had declared that Austin Ekanem is not APC Akwa Ibom State chairman but Stephen Ntukekpo, and INEC had been duly served with court order, and in fact has been dealing with Ntukekpo led executive since then.
INEC is one, and a creation of the constitution domiciled in Abuja but with offices in the states of the federation. Mike Igini is not INEC, neither is the Akwa Ibom State office of INEC a distinct body from INEC Head office, Abuja.
Therefore the REC’s dealings with Austin Ekanem as Akwa Ibom State chairman of APC against judicial pronouncements and the official position of INEC is a fatal and irredeemable error, and all such transactions are void ab initio and unenforceable under the law.
4. Therefore, the Sheer Grace Arena venue, fixed by the Austin Ekanem faction, is unseen by, and unknown to law. Whatever the REC did at that venue, including addressing the press thereat on the purported postponement of the primary goes to no moment in law. And same cannot invalidate the said primary. As a matter of fact, if the primary had been held at that venue by an illegal body, its outcome would be a nullity.
5. Austin Ekanem was not vested with any iota of power to have written to INEC or any person or authority on any matter giving notice, instruction, order, directive, guidance or in any other way whatsoever or however concerning APC governorship primary in Akwa Ibom State chapter or at all. Doing so was in fact contempt of court, and INEC was not duty bound to recognize or obey such notification as it is deemed not to have emanated from APC.
Therefore, the said report which emanated from the observation of a private business at Sheer Grace Arena, has no nexus to APC governorship primary. This above alone has demolished the entire report of Mike Igini, Esq.
Furthermore, as at 26/5/2022, there was no dispute over the Akwa Ibom chapter of APC leadership, the party having since withdrawn the suit filed by the defunct CECPC against Stephen Ntukekpo.
6. WAS THE GOVERNORSHIP PRIMARY HELD AT ALL?
If a political party holds its primaries on any day other than the day specified in it’s timetable and approved by INEC, such primary is a nullity, except new date had been fixed and INEC accordingly notified. In the case at hand, date for APC governorship primary was fixed for 26 May. The law does not specify time for the conduct of primaries but only date. Therefore, insinuation that the primary was done at night goes to no moment in law,except it was done after 12:00 mid night. That was not the case.
The REC’s report says that as at 10:30pm when he left Sheer Grace Arena, there was no conduct of primaries. However, the REC who was at the wrong venue could not have known what transpired at the right venue being the state party secretariat. This also made him incompetent to have issued a report on an exercise he did not observe. And incompetent to pass a verdict on same that it was not properly done.
The APC governorship primary for Akwa Ibom State was done on 26 May as scheduled. Whether it was at night of day time, is immaterial.
ALLEGED POSTPONEMENT OF THE PRIMARY.
7. The primary was never postponed in the eyes of the law. Postponement of party primaries must follow due procedure laid down by law. So purporting that the primary was postponed by phone call, was, in my view political gimmick. And such gimmick does no harm to the primary itself since INEC’s observation of the primary was not a mandatory duty under the law anyway. Besides Mr. Mike Igini the REC was at a wrong venue. He could not have known what was happening at the right venue.
CUSTODY OF ELECTION MATERIALS BY THE DSS UPON THE PURPORTED POSTPONMENT.
8. As I said above, there was no postponement of the APC governorship primary in Akwa Ibom State on 26 May 2022. Security agents are well trained on riot control and prevention. There was no way the election materials would be moved to Sheer Grace Arena or the APC state secretariats, there would be riot and destruction of the election materials not excluding loss of lives.
When the political hoodlums blockaded the truck carrying election materials and defied all entreaties for peace, the DSS apparently may have pulled a dummy to peacefully disperse the rowdy, angry and politically charged crowd to save the election materials, the truck, and even lives and property from destruction so that the primary could be done in peace.
Recall that some years ago, riot broke out in Uyo as a result of differences between the same political actors in this APC governorship primary in view, were public and private properties worth billions of Naira were destroyed including hundreds of government taxi cabs and tricycles meant to be distributed to the poor masses.
The DSS, from all indications only acted with professionalism to have doused tension. So the DSS Director in Akwa Ibom deserves national award for such cleverly contrived and proactive security measures for the primary election to go on in peace without ugly incident.
Therefore, I can comfortably conclude that the APC governorship primary for Akwa Ibom State is valid, and Obong Akan Udofia is the APC candidate that will stand general election, except INEC head office Abuja has any reason to say otherwise, which reason I cannot see. The matter is beyond Akwa Ibom State office of INEC. And all those rejoicing that APC has no candidate, I am sorry, are rejoicing in vain.