Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, has said having taken higher national responsibilities as minister, he cannot be a candidate in the Akwa Ibom South West Senatorial rerun ordered by the Court of Appeal, Calabar, to be conducted only in Essien Udim local government area.
Regardless, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Akwa Ibom State has insisted that it was too late for Akpabio to withdraw from the race.
Akpabio’s Chief Press Secretary, Anietie Ekong, in a statement, said the minister has declared his support for a former member of the House of Representatives, Ekperikpe Ekpo, who All Progressives Congress (APC) picked as his replacement, having emerged as the runner up in the primary and urged his 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“Having withdrawn from the contest to face higher national responsibilities, we caution political jobbers to desist forthwith from their planned smear campaigns against Akpabio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,” he said in the statement.
The minister reiterated his fear and that of his party, alleging that the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mike Igini, would not be fair in the rerun.
“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,” he said.
Meanwhile, Igini while speaking on a radio station in Uyo last Saturday, said APC can neither withdraw nor substitute Akpabio in the January 25 senatorial rerun.
Igini insisted that Akpabio’s name is going to be on the ballot since the time given for the substitution of candidates elapsed since October last year.