Justice Agatha Okeke in her judgment ordered that a fresh election should be conducted within 14 days.
The campaign council of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Akwa Ibom State chapter has rejected the court ruling which nullified the election of Obong Akan Udofia as its governorship candidate in the state for the 2023 general elections.
The Federal High Court sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state capital on Monday disqualified Udofia as the APC’s governorship candidate in the state, saying Udofia has never been a member of the APC.
Justice Agatha Okeke in her judgment ordered that a fresh election should be conducted within 14 days from the day of the judgment and further barred Udofia from participating in the rerun.
Udofia’s nullification followed a suit filed by the former Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta Affairs, Ita Enang challenging the candidacy of Udofia.
Enang in the suit had alleged that Udofia was not an APC member at the time the party conducted its primary election on May 26. Enang noted that Udofia contested the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primary held on May 25 before coming to contest the APC primary on May 26.
Reacting to the court ruling, the APC Campaign Council in the state described the judgment as a travesty of justice and denial of Udofia’s fundamental rights to association as provided by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In a statement signed by the Director-General of Akan Udofia Campaign Council, Don Etim, the party argued that against the position of the court that Udofia was not its member when he participated in the party’s primary election, there is a preponderance of evidence showing that Udofia duly resigned his membership of PDP in the state.
According to Etim, Udofia’s resignation was formally conveyed to the PDP via a letter dated May 1, 2022, and addressed to the Ward Executive Chairman of Mbiaso Ward 1 Nsit Ibom and the Chairman of Akwa Ibom state chapter of PDP respectively.
Etim further stated that consequently, Udofia did not take part, participate or in any manner howsoever, participate in the PDP governorship primary election held on May 25 in the state, insisting that Udofia is a card-carrying member of the APC as he has his full name and particulars duly registered in the Party’s Ward Register for Mbiaso Ward 1, Nsit Ibom LGA of Akwa Ibom State.
Etim said that on May 12, 2022, the APC National Working Committee (NWC) granted Udofia’s application for a waiver to contest the party’s governorship primary election in the state in accordance with Article 31(3) (ii) of the APC Constitution (as Amended 2002).
“Subsequently, Akan Udofia was duly screened and cleared to contest the Akwa Ibom Governorship Primaries by the Screening Committee of the APC. A clear indication that he had met the statutory requirement of the Party for participation in its Primaries.
“The governorship primaries of our great party, APC, indeed held on Thursday, May 26, 2022, at the State Secretariat of our party in Ekpo Obot Street, Uyo. The exercise was validly conducted by the APC Governorship Primary Election Committee for Akwa Ibom State led by Omoba Tunde Ajibulu as Chairman with Ms Evelyn Okere as Secretary.
“Obong Akan Udofia emerged the clear winner of that primary election. It is therefore shocking for anyone to claim that he is not a member of APC,” Etim stated.
He, therefore, described the judgment as a “gross violation and infringement of the constitutional right to freedom of Association afforded Akan Udofia under S. 40 of the 1999 Constitution by denying him the rights and privileges available to him as a member of a Political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).”
He pointed out that the registration of members of the APC is a continuous exercise by the provisions of Article 9.4(i) of the APC Constitution which enjoins the party to compile and maintain a membership register at the ward level.
“In this case, Akan Udofia’s name is duly registered as a member of the party in Mbiaso Ward 1, Nsit Ibom LGA of Akwa Ibom State. This accords him all rights and privileges afforded all members under Article 9.3 (i) which states that members of the party shall have the right to vote and be voted for in any elective position.
“Section 77(2) of the Electoral Act provides that every registered political party shall maintain a register of its members in both hard and soft copy. This means that the register which the Electoral Act mandates the political parties to maintain is a continuum or a continuous Register.
“Respect for fundamental human rights is a key feature of any democracy. This judgment violates the fundamental right of Obong Akanimo Udofia to associate with the All Progressives Congress (APC) which is his political party of choice. He is entitled to the full rights and benefits of his association with the party which includes his right to contest the governorship primaries of the party.
“In summary, we have set out the above facts with clarity in order to disabuse the minds of the members of the public, especially the good people of Akwa Ibom State, who could be tempted to believe that our candidate is not qualified to contest the elections,” he added.
Etim maintained that Udofia is duly qualified to contest the primaries as a bona fide member of the APC and his emergence as the governorship candidate of the party brought joy to the vast majority of Akwa Ibom people who have long yearned for people-oriented leadership and good governance.
“Expectedly, the forces of tyranny that have held the state down are not happy, hence the grand conspiracy to get him off the ballot and ensure that there is no viable alternative to their bid to impose a vastly unpopular candidate.
“We have great confidence in our judiciary and will take immediate steps to appeal this judgment and recover the mandate freely conferred on him by the members of our great party.”