Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The legal battle over the Akwa-Ibom North-East Senatorial seat has taken a dramatic twist following an application the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its senatorial candidate in the last National Assembly Bassey Etim asking the Court of Appeal to to set aside its judgment delivered in favour of Senator Albert Akpan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
In an application before the appellate court, the appellants argued that the judgement was delivered by a disbanded panel and therefore could not stand in law.
Specifically, both APC and Etim were urging the Akwa- Ibom division of the court to set aside its judgement as a nullity on the grounds that the panel of justices who determined the appeal was disbanded by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa eight clear days before it went ahead to deliver the judgement.
The court had in it’s judgement delivered on October 18, 2019, endorsed Senator Albert Akpan of the Peoples Democratic Party as the authentic winner of the Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District poll.
According to the applicants, the panel of justices who sat on the appeal were Justice M.A. Owoade, Justice Y.M. Nimpar and Justice M.L. Shuaibu.
However, only Justice M.L. Shuaibu sat on October 8 when the judgement was delivered.
Accordingly, the applicants are by their application, urging the court not only to set aside the judgment but also to fix a new date for the hearing of the appeal de novo.
The application already served on the PDP, its candidate in the senatorial election, Senator Akpan and INEC was filed by a Kaduna-based legal practitioner, Yunus Ustaz (SAN).
In a 6-point accompanying affidavit deposed to by a lawyer in the Chambers of Yunus Ustaz, on behalf of the APC and Bassey Etim, they explained that after the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal headed by Justice Jennifer Ijohor dismissed their petition which challenged the electoral victory of Senator Akpan of APC, they came before the Appeal Court to redress the alleged injustice suffered by them at the tribunal.
But before the panel constituted by the presiding justice of Calabar Division of the Court of Appeal to hear all the appeals emanating from Akwa Ibom State started sitting, the APC wrote a letter dated October 4, 2019, to the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Bulkachuwa, urging her to set up a special panel of neutral justices of the court that will “exclusively concentrate on our cases from Akwa Ibom State,” for the purpose of getting fair hearing and justice.
But on October 8, a panel of three justices of the regular Court of Appeal in Calabar sat to mention available pending appeals in the court’s docket including that of Bassey Etim against Senator Akpan contrary to the request by APC to the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA).
However, the panel could not make any meaningful progress on October 8 as parties were yet to exchange briefs.
The development made the regular Court of Appeal to adjourn till October 14.
However, before the adjourned date, the President of the Court of Appeal in a letter dated October 10 exercised her powers to disband the regular panel of three justices set up by the Calabar division of the Court of Appeal and constituted a new special panel of three justices comprising Hon Justice A. Jauro, Hon Justice S. T Hussein, and Hon Justice M. O Bolaji Yusuf.
Notwithstanding the constitution of the new panel, the old panel still sat on the case and delivered judgment, a development which led to the filing of the present application to set aside the judgment.
A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar on October 18, this year, had dismissed the appeal filed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, Hon Bassey Effiong Etim which challenged the electoral victory of Senator Obong Bassey Akpan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the last National Assembly election which held in the Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District.
That was after the panel held that the appeal maintained by APC and its candidate, Hon Bassey Etim against the election of Senator Akpan was unmeritorious.