The All Progressives Congress (APC) may not field a candidate for the January 25, 2020 senatorial rerun in Akwa Ibom State, ordered by the Court of Appeal.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said it would not allow the party to replace its candidate for the rerun, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who last week withdrew from the rerun in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom North-west senatorial district.
The Court of Appeal, while giving judgment in a petition by Akpabio challenging the declaration of Senator Chris Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as winner of the election in the senatorial district, had voided the PDP candidate’s election and ordered a rerun in the local government.
But Akpabio, in a letter last week to APC National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, had notified the party of his withdrawal from the rerun, due to his current ministerial duties, and urged the party to find a replacement and send the name to INEC for approval.
However, INEC while responding to THISDAY’s inquiry at the weekend, said the ruling party would not be allowed to replace the minister as the deadline for substitution of a candidate for any election had lapsed.
Also, Akpabio’s withdrawal drew jeers from the PDP, which attributed his retreat to fear of another defeat.
According to INEC, all the parties and candidates that filed valid nominations and contested the senatorial election during last general poll will be on the ballot for the rerun election in Essien Udim Local Government Area.
The INEC National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye, told THISDAY in an exclusive interview: “In the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2019 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission fixed November 17, 2019 as the last day for substitution and/or withdrawal of candidates by political parties in accordance with Section 35 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).
“The date and period for the nomination and substitution of candidates has elapsed and no political party can withdraw or substitute its candidate or nominate or introduce a new candidate in the re-run election.
“In other words, a new candidate cannot inherit the votes warehoused from the validated votes in the other local governments and cannot participate in the re-run election in the Essien Udim Local Government Area.
“The commission is not permitted to admit and will not allow or admit any other candidate other than the candidate that contested the election that was annulled by the court.”
The commission assured the people of Akwa Ibom North-west Senatorial District that the rerun election will hold in Essien Udim Local Government as scheduled and the votes from the local government area will be added to the harvested and validated votes of the other local governments to determine the winner of the election.
It advised all political parties and candidates to maintain the peace as the commission is determined to conduct a transparent, free and fair rerun election and conclude the electoral process in the senatorial district.
PDP Mocks Akpabio
Meanwhile, the PDP in the state has mocked Akpabio, saying he withdrew from the rerun to avoid another defeat.
The PDP described as a joke the former governor’s withdrawal from the rerun, saying that he and the APC must submit themselves for confirmatory defeat.
A statement by the state Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Iniobong Ememobong, said it was inappropriate for Akpabio to seek to be replaced by another candidate.
It said: “Senator Akpabio was a party before the court and the order of the court is that he should go back for a rerun in Essien Udim- that’s an order of the court and as a lawyer, he should obey that order and submit himself for confirmatory defeat.
“Some days ago, our party, like other members of the reading public, saw a letter infixed in the headed paper of Senator Godswill Akpabio attempting to convey the purported withdrawal of the senatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress candidate in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District.
“Due to the cunning and comical nature of the dramatis persona, we had to wait for a reasonable time to be sure that he will not make his habitual volte-face and claim that he didn’t write the letter or it was one of the skits in his newfound hobby of national comedy.”