Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio has chickened out of the impending Akwa Ibom North West senatorial rerun election.
The Minister announced his withdrawal from the senatorial race in a letter addressed to the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole.
INEC has not announced the rerun date in Essien Udim LGA, one of the 10 LGAs, making up the senatorial district. The rerun was ordered by the Court of Appeal in Calabar early November, with INEC given 90 days to hold it.
Akpabio’s letter withdrawing from the race was dated 2 December.
Akpabio said the decision to withdraw from the senatorial race was because he could not afford to jettison a critical national assignment given to him by President Muhammadu Buhari in pursuit of a rerun election.
He therefore asked the leadership of APC to inform the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of his decision to withdraw from the race in line with Sections 33 and 35 of the Electoral Act, 2010, and submit a replacement to run in his stead.
Akpabio also urged the national chairman of APC to ask the chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, to redeploy the State Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Mike Igini, to ensure that the senatorial rerun election is free and fair .
The Minister said in the letter: “I wish to recall that I was the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District Election held on the 23rd day of February, 2019.
“Upon the declaration of Christopher Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the purported winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), I challenged same at the National and State Houses of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
“The Tribunal in a split decision by a majority of two to one (Honourable Justice W. O. Akanbi and Honourable Justice 0. D. Etubu) dismissed our Petition, while in a dissenting judgment delivered by Honourable Justice Hahz S. Tahlr, the petition was adjudged proven and all the reliefs sought were granted.
“Being dissatisfied with the decision of the majority judgment and upon the erudite points of law and conclusion contained in the minority judgment, we appealed to the Court of Appeal, Calabar Judicial Division which in a unanimous decision delivered on the 9th day of November, 2019, allowed our appeal and set aside the Judgment of the Lower Tribunal.
“I have taken into consideration the critical national assignment bestowed on me by Mr. President which will be of immense importance to Nigerians and in particular the indigenes of the Niger Delta region and have resolved to remain as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to further discharge my contributions and services to our great fatherland.
“It is on the premise of the foregoing and particularly in line with the provisions of Section 35 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) that I want to formally and voluntarily withdraw my candidature as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the forthcoming Court ordered Re-run Election for the Akwa lbom North-West Senatorial District.
“It will be inappropriate in the circumstance and pursuant to Sections 33 and 35 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) for the party to immediately communicate this withdrawal to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and forward to her the name of another candidate of the party to replace me at the Court ordered Rerun Election for the Akwa lbom North-West Senatorial District.
“I want to seize this opportunity to thank our formidable party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), its leadership at the state and national levels for availing me the party platform and the immeasurable support I received throughout the period of the election and beyond.
“Mr. Chairman, may I advice that the National Working Committee of our party should reiterate our earlier plea to the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (lNEC) to redeploy Mr. Mike Igini (the Resident Electoral Commissioner) from Akwa lbom State, if a free and transparent re-run exercise is to be guaranteed.”
Political pundits however dismissed the reasons given by Akpabio for abandoning the rerun election, stating that the politician knew that it was impossible fo him to catch up with the vote lead already established by Senator Ekpeyong.
In the 23 February election, Ekpeyong polled 118 ,215 to Akpabio’s 83 ,158 votes. After the court of Appeal deducted the votes in Essien Udim LGA, where a rerun has been ordered, the state of the candidates was: Ekpeyong: 114, 973 votes, Akpabio has 76,917.
“38,000 plus votes is a huge advantage. There is no way Akpabio could cover that in Essien Udim”, said an observer of Akwa Ibom politics.