The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, has continued to battle the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over his withdrawal and replacement of candidate for All Progressives Congress (APC) in the rerun senatorial election in Akwa Ibom State scheduled for Saturday this week.
However, INEC insists that the time for replacement of candidate has elapsed, noting that it is too late for Akpabio to withdraw from the election.
Akpabio had recommended his replacement with Ekperikpe Ekpo, identified as a former member of the House of Representatives in the National Assembly, who was said to be the runner up in the APC primary election in the Akwa Ibom South West Senatorial District.
The Court of Appeal, Calabar, Cross River State, had nullified the election result in Essien Udim Local Government Area and ordered a rerun.
Akpabio, however, is withdrawing from the rerun election since he is holding a ministerial appointment in the federal cabinet. But INEC insists that the time allowed by law for replacement of candidates has since elapsed, arguing that Apkabio’s name must be on the ballot paper.
Chief Press Secretary to Akpabio, Anietie Ekong, had in a statement, maintained that the minister has declared his support for a former member of the House of Representatives, Ekperikpe Ekpo, who the APC picked as his replacement, having emerged as the runner up in the primary election, telling Akpabio supporters and the people of Essien Udim to vote for Ekpo.
“APC had, through the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, and the, then, acting National Secretary, Victor Giadom, in compliance with the requirement for 45 days notice to be given for the substitution of candidates, written to INEC chairman to submit Ekpo’s name as Akpabio’s replacement in the election. This was acknowledged by INEC.
“Having withdrawn from the contest to face higher national responsibilities, we caution political jobbers to desist forthwith from their planned smear campaigns against Akpabio and unnecessarily heating up the polity.
“Akpabio will have no choice than to invoke the full weight of the law against anyone who engages in any plot to smear his name through sponsored, fabricated petitions. A word is enough for the wise,” the CPS declared.
Akpabio further expressed his fear. “We have no faith in Igini. Igini is a compromised official and avowed enemy of APC. We are distraught and doubtful of a change of posture and, therefore, cautious to go into a fresh election while Igini remains the REC. Only a foolish survivor would ask the same hired assassin to extract the bullet from his body,” the statement further read.
Igini, was said to have on a radio station in Uyo last Saturday, maintained that APC can neither withdraw nor substitute Akpabio in the January 25 senatorial rerun. He had insisted that Akpabio’s name is going to be on the ballot as the time given for the substitution of candidates elapsed since October 2019.
Accordingly, it is clear INEC did not approve APC’s request for candidate substitution in the Saturday rerun election.