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APC, PDP Bicker Over Call For Resignation Of Election Tribunal Chairman

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The All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Akwa Ibom State on Saturday exchanged words over the former’s call for the resignation of the chairman of the National and State House of Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal in the state, Justice Jennifer Ijohor.

The APC had, in a press conference by the state chairman, Ini Okopido, expressed concerns of bias and conflict of interest on the part of Justice Ijohor in presiding over the tribunal in Akwa Ibom state since her husband Prof. Anthony Ijohor SAN, is one of the stalwarts of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in Benue state.

The APC statement read in part: “Akwa Ibom State Chapter of the APC has established that Hon. Justice Jennifer Mbalamen Ijohor, who is the Chairman of Panel 2, National and State House of Assembly Election Petition in Akwa Ibom State, has a strong family relationship with a PDP stalwart, and so, there is a clear conflict of interest in her work as the Chairman of the Tribunal.

“We know for a fact that the husband to Hon. Justice Jennifer Ijohor, Prof. Anthony Ijohor, SAN, is the Secretary to the Benue State Government (SSG) under a PDP governor.

“Prof Ijohor is a strong PDP stalwart in Benue State. Before he was appointed SSG, Prof Ijohor was an Adviser to the PDP Government of Governor Ortom. He holds very strong and critical views about the APC. It is not farfetched if these sentiments are shared between husband and wife.”

Okopido, who recalled that the President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa recused herself from presiding over the Presidential Election Petition Panel because her husband is an APC member, said that Justice Ijohor should also honourably resign to save her integrity.

According to him, “Since Hon. Justice Jennifer Ijohor’s husband is a PDP stalwart in their home state of Benue, and she has shown obvious bias against us, we are similarly calling on Justice Ijohor to resign from presiding over the Election Petition Tribunal in AKwa Ibom State.”

Stating the party’s other reasons for such call and instances of alleged bias exhibited by Justice Ijohor, Okopido said, “We have three major reasons to believe that Hon. Justice Jennifer Ijohor’s conflict of interest has become a burden for her, and so she has not been discharging her duties at the Tribunal objectively. One, the Petition number EPT/AKS/HR/08/2019 between Edidiong Efiong Idiong & APC (Petitioners) and Emmanuel Ukpong-Udo, PDP & INEC (Respondents) in respect of Ikono/Ini Federal House of Representatives was struck out on the strength of interlocutory injunction application. This was despite spirited arguments by Counsel to the Petitioners drawing the Panel’s attention to the relevant sections of the Law to persuade the Panel.

“Similarly, the Petition Number EPT/AKS/HR/03/2019 between Hon. Ekerete Ekpenyong & APC (Petitioners) and Hon. Michael Enyong, PDP & INEC (Respondents) for Uyo/Ibesikpo Asutan/Uruan/Nsit Atai Federal Constituency was denied the ammendments sought by the Petitioners at the pre hearing stage by the Hon. Justice Ijohor on the flimsy excuse that the name of the federal constituency was not written in full. Our lawyers’ spirited arguments to have that amended were turned down. Such amendments are being routinely granted by other Panels and indeed regular Courts. Of course, we have appealed these judgements.

“Another reason we believe that the Hon. Justice is biased against the APC and its candidates is rooted in the public statements and tweets of Henry Ijohor, who is the only son to the Hon. Justice. In his various statements and public communication, Henry has indicated more than a passing interest in the petitions filed at the various tribunals, particularly those in Akwa Ibom and Rivers State. In his tweet of 21st March, 2019, sent out at 8.24pm, Henry said: “The judges and lawyers handling Rivers and Akwa Ibom elections petitions have to be experienced. On the surface it’s obvious they’ll (sic) be a lot of pressure on them and a lot of work to be done” @BarrHenryIjohor.”

However, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, through its publicity secretary in Akwa Ibom state, Ini Ememobong, in a press statement tagged “APC’s Sustained Imposter syndrome”, said APC’s claims and fears were unfounded and baseless, noting that election petitions are of a special type and therefore not all the rules of civil procedure apply therein.

According to him, “In the cases mentioned by Mr. Okopido, the petitioners(APC and their candidates) failed or neglected to apply for Pre-trial forms which is in contravention of the provisions of the extant Electoral Act and the consequence is trite- the petition must be dismissed, same being incompetent.

“The law is specific that after the period allowed for filing of a petition, no amendment shall be made except to correct typographical errors. The amendments sought by the APC has the capacity to change the tone and character of their petition- this, the law clearly forbids.”

Ememobong said the APC should not allude the scenario of PCA, Bulkachuwa to that of Justice Ijohor because the two scenarios can be clearly distinguished as there was no evidence to prove that the husband of the chairman of the tribunal is a card carrying member of the PDP, stressing that his being appointed SSG in Benue state does not infer he is a PDP member.

“There is no legal requirement that stipulates membership of a political party as a basis for appointment, unlike the case of the PCA, whose husband’s election to the senate was sponsored by the respondent before him,” the PDP said.

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