A candidate on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom State, Eseme Eyiboh, has raised concern over the attitude of the state’s resident electoral commissioner (REC), Mike Iginni, who he says, does not reflect the impartiality expected of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Eyiboh is seeking to represent Eket/Onna/Esit Eket/Ibeno constituency in the house of representatives.
Eyiboh told journalists in Lagos on Friday that it was unhealthy for an individual to be more powerful than the institutions they represent.
He, therefore, called on the INEC to remove individuals from institutions and ensure that its officials’ actions do not affect the agency negatively.
Igini had, submitted a report to INEC to the effect that the APC does not have a governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom State going by the primaries the electoral body officials monitored in the state.
The development came amid a leadership crisis, which had produced two sets of executives — one led by Stephen Ntukekpo and the other by Augustine Ekanem.
The Ntukekpo-led executives are said to be loyal to Godswill Akpabio, former minister of Niger Delta affairs, while that of Ekanem had been reportedly backed by John Akpanudoedehe, a former secretary of the APC caretaker committee.
However, a federal high court in Abuja, in March 2022, sacked the Ekanem-led officials, and described their election as a result of “illegality”.
The presiding judge at the Abuja Federal High Court, Taiwo Taiwo, had also directed INEC to recognise the Ntukekpo-led executives describing them as the duly-elected officials of the party in Akwa Ibom.
In the report, Igini had said a governorship primary was scheduled to hold at the Sheergrace Arena in Uyo, but the exercise did not hold, adding that he was later informed that another primary organised by the Ntukepo-led executives was held at a different venue.
He, however, said the primary was not recognised.
But Eyiboh said it was wrong for Iginni to have supervised the primary of a faction of the party that is not recognised by law.
According to him, the electoral commissioner acted ultra vires adding that his action was in contempt of the court since a court had passed a judgement on the case.
He also insisted that there was a governorship candidate in the state as Akpabio was duly elected as the party’s candidate in the state.
Recall that Akpabio had contested the APC presidential ticket but later stepped down for Bola Tinubu. He later clinched the senatorial ticket of the party for Akwa Ibom north-west at a primary organised by the APC on June 9.
This followed the withdrawal of Ekperikpe Ekpo, who had won an earlier primary that was later cancelled by the party.
However, the Akwa Ibom REC had insisted that INEC officials did not monitor any primary aside from the one conducted on May 27, which was won by Udom Ekpoudom, a former deputy inspector-general of police (DIG).
INEC has since published the names of candidates elected during the primary organised by the Ntukekpo-led executives. However, Akpabio’s name was not listed as a candidate for the 2023 elections, despite the submission of its name to the electoral body by the party for Akwa Ibom north-west.
Eyiboh wondered why a political party should be punished for INEC’s negligence. According to him, INEC was duly informed of the primary that produced Akpabio. He said, “It is INEC’s responsibility to engage its administrative process to monitor the party primary. Can a political party be punished for INEC negligence?
“Twenty-one days’ notice is the statutory requirement for all political parties to inform INEC of its party primaries. And all the parties, including APC, notified INEC of the conduct of its primaries across the country, including Akwa Ibom. So, the state chairman of the party, who is Ntukekpo, wrote to INEC informing INEC of the venue, date of the conduct of the governorship, senate, house of reps and state house of assembly primaries in full compliance with the electoral act,” he said.
“It is the responsibility of INEC as an institution to engage its administrative procedures once the notice is given. It must not necessarily be the resident electoral commissioner. But the law stipulates that the political party must give 21 days’ statutory notice.
“So, the question is this. Did the political party issue this 21 days’ notice? Did they notify INEC of the venue, time, and date? The answer is yes. Whose responsibility is it to send monitors to go to that place? It is INEC’s responsibility. And when INEC refuses to send its personnel to go to that place, can a political party be punished for INEC’s absence? The answer is no.”
He wondered why the state electoral commissioner in the state has refused to accept the court verdict or recognise the party executives.
He said that it was necessary for INEC to ensure its officials are impartial to ensure the credibility of the commission, adding that the improvement in the electoral process is not enough.
Meanwhile, in a letter dated June 21, 2022, addressed by INEC to the APC, the electoral body, in complying with the judgment of a federal high court, recognises Ntukekpo as the chairman of the party in Akwa Ibom.
“The Commission wishes to formally draw your attention to the subsisting judgement/order of the Federal High Court, Abuja (Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1635/2021) which recognized Hon. Obong Stephen Leo Ntukekpo as Chairman of the APC in Akwa Ibom,” the letter, signed by Rose Oriarah-Anthony, reads.
“This is to note that the commission is complying with the content of the judgement.”