TEXT OF A PRESS CONFERENCE ADDRESSED BY THE AKWA IBOM STATE CHAIRMAN OF APC, HON. INI OKOPIDO ON THE CONFLICT OF INTEREST OF JUSTICE JENNIFER MBALAMEN IJOHOR, CHAIRMAN PANEL 2, NATIONAL AND STATE HOUSES OF ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS PETITION TRIBUNAL AND THREATS TO THE LIVES OF APC WITNESSES
Thank you for coming to this Press Conference. We will always count on your support. We have an important and urgent matter of immense public interest to brief you this morning on recent developments in the Election Petition Tribunals here in Akwa Ibom State.
- HON. JUSTICE JENNIFER MBALAMEN IJOHOR 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. Indeed, we can say categorically that the Hon. Justice cannot discharge her duties as objectively as we would expect.
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 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. Gentlemen of the Press, you will recall that it was only last month that the President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa recused herself from presiding over the Presidential Election Petition Panel for the reason that her husband is an APC member. 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.
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 obv ious they’ll (sic) be a lot of pressure on them and a lot of work to be done” @BarrHenryIjohor.
Gentlemen, this piece of indiscretion must be taken for what it is: an informed interest in the activities of the Tribunals, particularly in Akwa Ibom State where a beloved mother is sitting as Chairman. The petitions Hon. Justice Jennifer Ijohor is called upon to preside over and adjudicate upon are essentially between our Party, the APC and the PDP. If these scenarios which we outlined above do not present a clear case of bias and conflict of interest, we wonder what does.
We therefore request the Hon. Justice Ijohor to do the right thing and recuse herself from the Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom
- THREATS TO LIVES OF OUR WITNESSES
Gentlemen of the Press, another very worrisome and dangerous development are the continued threats and intimidations of our witnesses at the Tribunals. Last month, APC witness, Mr. Tiebet Joshua reported to the Panel 1 of the National Assembly Tribunal that Engr. Chris Ekpenyong, who is the Respondent in the case at the Tribunal, had personally called him and threatened to kill him if he testified for Senator Godswill Akpabio, the Petitioner. And early this week, Dr. Ita Udosen, the Deputy Chairman of our Party in the State, received a phone call in which the caller threatened to trail and deal with him. This was in the day he appeared in the Witness Box for his Party and governorship candidate. Dr. Udosen had reported this threat to our Legal Team, who then reported it to the Tribunal. In addition, the Deputy Chairman has formally reported the matter to the security agencies.
Gentlemen, we believe that these threats are the tactics of the PDP and its members who are now embarrassed as the Tribunals are listening to, and seeing evidence of, the revelations of their ungodly practices during the elections.
We call on the Security agencies to track down these criminals and bring them to justice. As a Party, we will never be cowed or intimidated by unscrupulous politicians and their collaborators at INEC.
Hon. Ini Okopido
State Party Chairman
Saturday, 13th July 2019