Absence of petitioners, Counsels stalls Wednesday hearing

The cross examination of Senator Bassey Akpan was stalled on Wednesday following the absence of the petitioners and their Counsels at the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

Senator Bassey Akpan and the Young Progressives Party, YPP, and their Counsels at the Tribunal, the first and second Petitioners respectively, are challenging the declaration of Pastor Umo Eno of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as duly elected governor of Akwa Ibom State.

The Independent National Electoral Commissíon (INEC), Governor Umo Eno and the PDP, are joined as first, second and third Respondents in their joint Petition.

The Petitioners were supposed to close their case after the cross examination of Senator Akpan, the first petitioner (PW18) on Wednesday, June 21, 2023.

It could be recalled that Senator Akpan, the Governorship candidate of the YPP during the March 18, 2023 poll, who was listed as last Witness entered the Witness box at exactly 6:06pm on Tuesday, June 20.

It could also be recalled that PW18 was called to testify after other Witnesses, , a subpoenaed witness from the University of Uyo (UNIUYO), Mr. Daniel Akpan(PW16) and one Abuja based statistician, Adejumo Oluwasegun, (PW17) finished giving their evidence on same June 20.

And due to time factor the three-member Tribunal headed by Justice Adekunle Adeleye adjourned the matter till Wednesday June 21, 2023 for the cross examination of Senator Bassey Akpan

However, when their Petition marked EPT/AKW/ GOV/01/ 2023 was called by 9:17am on Wednesday, the Petitioners and their Counsels were absent at Tribunal.

Chairman of the Governorship Election Tribunal, Justice Adekunle Adeleye yesterday, informed Respondents Counsels that the petitioners petitioned the President of the Court of Appeal in the morning of June 21 to complain that the venue of the Tribunal was not safe for them and demanded for relocation of the Tribunal.

In their respective submissions, the Respondents and their Counsels expressed surprise over the development, noting that since the Tribunal started sitting on the governorship election matter it had been peaceful.

They however, unanimously agreed and requested that the Tribunal should adjourn the matter, and to issue hearing notices to the Petitioners and their Counsels before the next adjourned date.

In his argument the lead Counsel to the third Respondent, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) said, “I want to confirm that the proceedings that took place here yesterday was peaceful and there was no threat to life. Also my Lords, after the conclusion of yesterday proceedings we all passed through the same route.

“There is only one route leading to this Tribunal and we didn’t see any dead body on the Road. I observed that even the petitioners left before us. There is no threat to any life. I feel safe”

Also, the immediate past Attorney General of the State, Essien Udom (SAN) asserted: “This area happen to be the safest neighbourhood in Akwa Ibom State. There is Police barracks close to this Court , the Chief Judges residence is along this Road. So for anybody to even suggest that this venue is not safe, there is more to it”

They further pointed out that the presence of many supporters of the Petitioners in Court on Wednesday was proof as regards the safety of the venue as they would not have wanted to risk their lives by coming to Court.

One of them who identified himself as Dr Sunny Usoroh told the Tribunal that he was in Court on Wednesday as a friend of the court, and not as a member of the petitioners’ legal team, admitted that the proceedings of Tuesday was peaceful.

“Yesterday’s (Tuesday) proceedings was quite peaceful. But I am saying all the other here today Lawyers have been given opportunity to speak and they said they were not threatened.
I feel it is better we hear from them (petitioners) in case there is a genuine reason for their inability to come here today.

“The person who gave evidence yesterday from the University of Uyo said his life was threatened and he covered his face.That predisposes that there must have been something wrong. But I am not concluding any way”, Dr Sunny Usoroh said.

On his part, the Counsel to INEC (First Respondent) Offiong Offiong(SAN), requested the court to discountenance the claim of insecurity, saying, “I have not seen a copy of the petition. And I want it to be on record that I am very safe here.

I woke up this morning and I saw so many missed calls from my senior brother. He asked me if I was safe, that they heard that there was chaos in the tribunal and that several cars were set ablaze.

“I told him that they were merely unfounded rumours. Perhaps Bassey Akpan and his team also heard the same rumour and concluded that this place, venue of the Tribunal is not safe”

The three-member Tribunal after listening to the submissions of the Respondents Counsels granted their unanimous request by adjourning the matter till July 5, 2023 for the Petitioners to conclude their evidence before it.

The tribunal also directed that a hearing notice be served on the Petitioners and their lead counsel at their addresses in both Uyo and Abuja.

Meanwhile, fielding questions from newsmen within the court premises Paul Usoro (SAN) Lead Counsel to Governor Umo Eno, said “To be honest they have not shared with us their reason at all. We are as surprised as everybody that they didn’t turn up in Court today.