The Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar, Cross River State has ordered a rerun election in Essien Udim Local Government Area (LGA) of Akwa Ibom State.
Essien Udim is one of the LGAs in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District of the state where Senator Godswill Akpabio of the All Progressives Congress (APC) lost to Senator Christopher Ekpenyong in the February 23 election.
Senator Akpabio, who is currently the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, had gone to the upper court to challenge the ruling of the National and State House of Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal in Uyo, which affirmed the victory of Senator Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In its judgement delivered on Saturday, the court declared as invalid, the declaration of Christopher Ekpenyong as the winner of the election and the senator representing Akwa Ibom North-West senatorial district.
It, therefore, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC to conduct a fresh election in Essien Udim Local Government Area of the state within 90 days.
The appellate court held that there was proof of irregularities and non-compliance with the Electoral Act in the conduct of the election within Essien Udim LGA and as such, no one should have been declared a winner.
It stressed that the right thing to do was to conduct a fresh election in the disputed area.
The court, however, noted that in Obot Akara LGA, also within the central district, the appellant could not prove the claim of over-voting or irregularities.
The judgement came barely two months after the Tribunal held that Ekpenyong was the duly elected senator representing Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District in the National Assembly.
The Tribunal had, in a majority judgement of two out of the three-man panel of justices, dismissed Senator Akpabio’s petition for “lacking merit”.
It held that the petitioner failed to prove that he won the said election, adding that he could not present convincing evidence of non-compliance with the Electoral Act, as raised in his petition.
The Tribunal, therefore, upheld as valid, the declaration of Senator Ekpenyong as the winner of the election.
Miyetti Allah Dares Akeredolu, Says ‘No One Can Send Us Out of Ondo Forests’
Bello Bodejo, the national president of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, says nobody can chase herdsmen away from the forest reserves in Ondo state.
On Monday, Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo, ordered herders to vacate the forest reserves over rising insecurity in the state.
Akeredolu had said “bad elements” have turned the forest reserves into hideouts for keeping victims of kidnapping, negotiating ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.
The governor’s directive sparked mixed reactions, with Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, saying Akeredolu cannot unilaterally oust thousands of herders “who have lived all their lives in the state”.
The Northern Elders Forum also asked the herders in the state to disregard Akeredolu’s order.
In an interview with The Sun Newspaper, Bodejo said the herders will not obey Akeredolu’s directive because he has no right to issue such orders, as the Fulanis have been in the area for over 250 years.
He said the herders do not need anybody’s permission to use a forest for grazing so far as it provides the nutrients needed by their cattle.
“The Ondo state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, doesn’t have any right to give such ultimatum to our people. People, including Fulani, voted for him to be the governor; so he should be the governor of everybody in the state,” he said.
“Fulani have been in the forests he is talking about even before he was born; they have been there for over 250 years. After staying there for a long time and their cow dung turns the place fertile, people would begin to come there to farm and to settle and from then, they begin to make claims that our cattle were destroying their farms.
“We are suing the governor and seeking injunction restraining him and others from carrying out his threat. But even at that, nobody, no power can send the herdsmen out of Ondo state.
“No herdsman will obey the governor. The herdsmen will not step an inch out of Ondo forests; they are going nowhere. We won’t obey the governor; it is only the constitution of Nigeria that we obey.
“All the lands in this country belong to the Fulani, but we don’t have any business to do with land if it doesn’t have areas for grazing. If the land doesn’t have cow food, we won’t have any business with it.
“What we consider are the areas that have cow food. If the place is good for grazing, we don’t need anybody’s permission to go there.
“Fulani can settle in any bush or forest they want the moment they have cows. Any person who thinks he owns any forest should be taken to psychiatric hospital. Nobody owns any forest; forests are for Nigerians.”
Bodejo said the governor just needed an excuse to drive out the Fulanis from the state since the criminals are not from the ethnic group.
He alleged that Akeredolu’s “ulterior motive” could be for his 2023 political ambition.
“People are using propaganda to spoil Fulani name, and desperate politicians are in the forefront,” he said.
“The Ondo state governor has a secret agenda for asking our people to leave his state, not the reasons he stated. It is possible that Akeredolu is fighting a political battle. It may be 2023 election, and that is why he is playing up this Fulani herdsmen issue.”
Zamfara Gov Accuses Traditional Rulers of Sabotaging Peace Efforts
The Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, has accused some unnamed traditional rulers of sabotaging his government’s peace efforts in the state.
The governor, at a meeting with the heads of security agencies in the state on Thursday, said the traditional rulers were not playing their expected roles in the fight against banditry.
He said this has led to the recent deterioration of insecurity in the state.
The meeting was also attended by religious clerics, traditional rulers and journalists at the Government House in Gusau.
Mr Matawalle said some traditional rulers were aiding the illegal activities of outlawed vigilante groups in their domains, which he said was provoking reprisal attacks by bandits.
The governor also condemned a statement by the chairman of the state’s traditional rulers’ council, the Emir of Anka, Attahiru Ahmad, in which he challenged the state government to allow citizens to bear arms for self defence, since the government had failed in protecting the citizens.
The governor said “it is discouraging to have a respected personality like the state chairman Council of Chiefs to grant an interview with journalists to challenge the efforts of the government and security operatives.”
Mr Matawalle said security is a collective responsibility and not that of the government alone.
He said if the residents and traditional leaders are not interested in his administration’s dialogue with the bandits, he would withdraw from it.
Ondo Monarchs Urge South West Governors to Cage Killer Herdsmen
The Ondo State Council of Obas, on Thursday, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to caution his aides who comment on security of the country.
The traditional rulers, who reacted over the comments made by some aides of the President on the order of Akeredolu ejecting the herdsmen from all the forest reserves in the state, said the move was not to chase out the Fulani in the state but to save it from the activities of the bandits.
This was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of meeting of the monarchs in Akure, which was read by a former Chairman of the council and the Olukare of Ikareland, Oba Akadiri Momoh.
The monarchs said, “We are calling on President Buhari to show to the world that he is a father of all irrespective of ethnic affiliation as well as cautioned his aides to exercise restraints on issues that border on insecurity in the country.”
The obas urged “the governors in the South-West region, the South-West caucus in the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly to use constitutional means to rein the rampaging criminals masquerading as herdsmen across the region.”
The state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Charles Titiloye, declared that the state had no plan to send anti-open grazing bill to the state House of Assembly at the moment.
He said what was on ground in the state currently was the order of the governor to be complied with within seven days.
Titiloye said, “I may not be able to reply whether the state is planning to send the anti-grazing bill or not because the governor has given an order and after the seven days ultimatum and there is no compliance, then we shall know what to do next.”
Reacting to the claim by the Northern Elders Forum that the herdsmen had freedom of movement, the commissioner explained that the governor’s order had not restrained anybody’s movement, but to flush out criminal elements among herdsmen in the state.
He said, “We are not restraining any movement. Forests have been turned to hideouts of criminals and in order to identify the real herdsmen and the criminal ones; that is why the order of the governor came.
“We know that after seven days, the criminal ones would not leave the forest reserves; and until then we shall know what step to take next.”