A witness called by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in the trial of a professor, could not continue his testimony on Thursday after the defence counsel rejected a new prosecution lawyer.
The trial, at a state High Court, Uyo, involves Ignatius Uduk, a university professor accused of election fraud. Mr Uduk’s lawyer opposed the appearance of a new lawyer who is leading the prosecution on behalf of INEC.
The new lawyer, Clement Onwuenwunor, took over from another lawyer, Kpoobari Sigalo, whom the judge, Justice Archibong Archibong, described as being “unstable” after he (Sigalo) made some blunders in court, including failing to file the witness statement.
Mr Uduk, a professor of Human Kinetics in the Department of Physical and Health Education, University of Uyo, is facing a three-count charge which includes unlawful generation of election results during the 2019 general elections in Akwa Ibom State and lying under oath.
Abasiodiong Ekpenyong, lawyer to the accused, said Mr Onwuenwunor, a Lagos-based private lawyer, did not have the authority of the attorney general of the federation to prosecute the case on behalf of INEC and therefore should not be allowed by the court.
Mr Ekpenyong told the court that a letter from an INEC administrative officer to Mr Onwuenwunor could not be accepted as a fiat.
In the Nigerian justice system, it is only the police, the attorney general of the federation or that of the state that have the power to prosecute criminal cases.
A fiat is a legal document which indicates that an attorney general, either at a federal or state level, has delegated some of his powers to a private individual to prosecute an offence.
Mr Onwuenwunor asked the court to discountenance the objection of the lawyer to the accused, arguing that the objection was not supported by any statutory provision.
Mr Onwuenwunor said the letter he provided was binding under Section 150 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010.
The section of the electoral act cited by the lawyer said, “Prosecution (of offences) under this Act shall be undertaken by legal officers of the Commission (INEC) or any legal practitioner appointed by it.”
Mr Onwuenwunor cited several other legal authorities to support his position.
The case was adjourned to April 1 to enable the professor’s lawyer to respond to the argument by the INEC lawyer.
Mr Uduk was an ad-hoc official of INEC and the returning officer for the Essien Udim State Constituency election.
In a hand-written report to INEC, Mr Uduk said he was “compelled” to declare election results not collated by him, but by undisclosed persons who handed them to him.
“However, in another deposition, this time in a typed written statement on oath, Prof Uduk, driven in a dark tinted vehicle to the Election Tribunal venue, surprisingly stood as a witness against the Commission, to defend the same election results he did not collate but were given to him by undisclosed persons,” INEC had said in a statement.
Mr Uduk, before now, had refused to appear before a panel set up by INEC to investigate the alleged election fraud. He even threatened, through his lawyer, to sue INEC if the election commission continued to “pester” him with an invite to appear before the panel.
Another professor, Peter Ogban, in the same university, was similarly arraigned for election fraud in November, for allegedly trying to help a former senator, Godswill Akpabio, win re-election.
Mr Akpabio, who is now the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, lost the election to the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Chris Ekpenyong, a former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State.
This is the first time ever that INEC will be prosecuting two professors for fraud.
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