The Trials of Frank Okon. (Culled TELL Weekly Magazine)

 

Can Frank Okon overcome the great obstacles on his way and actualise
his ambition of being the governor of Akwa Ibom State? Culled TELL
Weekly Magazine.

What happened at the federal High Court Two, Abuja, presided over by
Justice Abdul Kafarti, on Thursday, July 12, would for years remain
indelible in the memory of those who were privileged to be in court
that day, other Nigerians and the international community who later
got the news from the media. Weeks earlier, notification of judgement
in the 2011 Akwa Ibom State governorship tussle between Frank Okon, an
engineer, and Godwil Akpabio, a lawyer and governor of Akwa Ibom
State, were sent by the same court to the parties involved. And the
parties were in court to receive the much expected judgement.
However, after long wait, to most people?s amazement, Babatunde
Ashada, registrar of the court, came out and dismissed the court
without giving reason! It was later rumoured that the judge had
traveled out of the country that very day. Four days later, the
Federal High Court, proceeded on along annual vacation which will last
from July 16th to September 14th, 2012.
It is now hoped that Justice Kafarati who is now back in the country
will fix a new date for Judgement when the annual vacation is over.
In the meantime, some lawyers argued that the Judge could easily have
given the Judgement which had been written, to another Judge to read.
Again, they insist that he could also deliver Judgement during the
annual vacation if he so wishes as skeletal court services continue
during the period. However, some other lawyers alleged that the
Judge?s hands were tied and there was nothing he could do in the
circumstances. Those in this school of thought argue that the Judge
could even have been deliberated placed on an international Seminar
out of the country.
Okon, a former special assistant to the former Governor, Victor Attah,
was a People Democratic Party, PDP, and Governorship Aspirant in the
April, 2011 elections in the state. He went to court seeking the
nullification of the election of the April, 26 governorship election
on the ground that he was illegally excluded from the party primary
held on January 15, 2011, which returned Akpabio as the party standard
bearer. This, he argued before the court, breached his fundamental
human rights.
According to Okon, he was screened and cleared by the PDP to
participate in the party primary initially held on Janaury 9, 2011
which was later canceled by the party. However, ?I was schemed out by
the collusion between INEC, PDP and Akpabio from the subsequent re-run
fixed for January 15,? he said.
Put together, Okon in an amended originating summons of January 5,
2012, formulated 10 issues for determination by the court, supported
by the 65-paragraph affidavit he deposed to. Further more, he ask the
court to grant him nine reliefs. Some of these are:- a declaration
that the purported re-run primary of January 15, 2011, which produced
Akpabio as a Governorship candidate of PDP, did not comply with the
provisions of the 2010 Electoral Act as amended; that the purported
re-run was ordered by the National Working Committee, NWC, presided
over by 0kwesilieze Nwodo, then chairman of PDP after his tenure had
been terminated by an order of an Enugu high Court could not have
produced a valid candidate, making it unlawful, null, void and of no
effect; that the was discriminatory and prejudicial as he was not
issued any notice of re-run by the party, thereby violating his
constitutional rights; that the re-run did not comply with the 7 days
notice condition before it was conducted with the purported notice
issued on January 14 and the re-run conducted on the January 15!
According to PDP constitution, the NWC has no power to order a re-run;
such power resides with the NEC. But the party argued in court that it
was as a result of emergency, which Okon described as untenable ?as no
one is allowed to substitute or vary content of a document orally.?
Consequently, ?The conduct of January 15, 2011 re-run primary election
was gross violations of PDP Constitution, the PDP Electoral
Guidelines, the Electoral Acts as amended and the constitution of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria,? argued Okon.
Okon also raised the issue of Akpabio?s eligibility when he did not
have valid evidence that he paid his taxes in the three years
preceding the primary. According to the Article 14, Part IV of the PDP
Electoral Guideline, ?an aspirant to gubernatorial primary election
shall not be qualified to the nominated or to contest the primary
election, if he/she fails to produce his personal income tax
certificate as at when due for the last preceding three years or
evideince of exemption from payment of personal income tax?.
Accordingly, Okon averred that, ?The requirement of tax payment is
part of the party?s guidelines to be qualified for normination; once
an aspirant shows evidence of exemption from tax, he would have met
requirement for nomination and failure to so qualify is fatal?.
Against this background, Okon ask the court to declare him as the
valid winner of the PDP Governorship primary in Akwa Ibom State; or in
the alternative order a re-run of the party primary in the state.
When the court sat on May 3, 2012, the presentation of final briefs by
all interested parties on the originating application earlier fixed
for the day, was put off due to an application by Paul Usoro, a Senior
Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Akpabio?s counsel, raising a preliminary
objection to the Jurisdiction of the court over the case. He cited the
April 20, 2012 Supreme Court Judgement which dismissed the appeal by
Timipre Sylva, former Governor of Bayelsa State against his exclusion
as candidate in the recent Governorship primary in the state The
Supreme Court in the Bayelsa case held that the decision to sponsor a
candidate for election is the internal decision of the political
party, and not subject to being contested in court.
However, Lasun Sanusi, SAN, Okon?s counsel, argued that the two cases
are fundamentally different. For instance, ?Sylva was never cleared by
the party to stand for election? he argued. ?In the plaintiff?s case,
he was screened and cleared by the party to stand for that primaries
election, and therefore has the right to challenge conduct of that
primaries election. Again, his name was conspicuously displayed on
ballot paper for the January 9, 2011 election. So also was it on the
result sheet of that election.? The Judge reserved the ruling of the
preliminary objection to July 12 along with the final Judgement.
On its part, the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, which is the
first defendant, ask the court to dismiss the application the
commission for wrongful acceptance of a candidate for an election,
saying the relevant provisions of the Electoral Act have not granted
it any powers to reject a candidate for election that has been
forwarded to it by the relevant officials of the political party. The
commission pleaded that once that was done, only the court can decide
the legitimacy of choice according to relevant laws. ?As an umpire,
INEC is enjoined to be neutral; hence, it must presume that any name
forwarded to it by a political party is a name that emerged from a due
process,? submitted the commission. However, it pledged to ?Abide by
whatever decision or order the court deems fit to make in the
circumstance.?
On the other hand, Olusola Oke, SAN, counsel to the PDP, argued that
claims by Okon that he was excluded to contest the primary could not
be true as evidence showed that he was aware of the rescheduled
election of January 15, 2011, but choose to stay away for personal
reasons. The party further revealed that Nwodo?s signature was on the
documents because they were signed in advance!
However, Sanusi countered that there is nothing in the constitution
and regulation of the PDP to show that the party is authorized to
accept as valid its documents printed in advance for an election,
pointing out that if that is acceptable, then the party may publish
the result of the election before they are held.
This was the state of affairs when the date of judgement was set. In
Akwa Ibom State, the tension was palpable. There was visible fear at
the Hilltop Manson, seat of power. And suddenly, the judgement could
not be read. Meanwhile, Okon is on exile abroad. He has received
several death threats; his phone and internet accounts have been
hacked into to keep tabs on him. It?s a kind of David and Goliath duel
as he has little weapon to fight other than the grace of God. His
trail is the predicament of the average Nigerian who wants to exercise
his right to run for any elective position of his choice as guaranteed
by the Nigerian Constitution.
Knowing that a sitting Governor has a huge financial war chest and
immense connection nationwide, the underdog should have the right to,
at least contest, and lose honourably but not to be deliberately
excluded from contesting. The court is still the last hope of the
common man and Okon has left fate to God through the Court. -TELL
Magazine.

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