The Akwa Ibom State High Court 2 sitting in Ikot Ekpene, has found Professor Peter Ogban guilty of the case of electoral fraud levelled against him by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
INEC had taken Ogban to court on a two-count charge of fraudulently tampering with the election results in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party during the 2019 General Election in Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District.
Ogban, who acted as the Collation/Returning Officer during the National Assembly elections, was standing trial for allegedly manipulating and falsifying the scores of election results in Oruk Anam and Etim Ekpo local government areas in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party.
Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, was the APC candidate in the election.
He was seeking a return to the Senate after he defected from the PDP.
The PDP’s candidate, Chris Ekpenyong, a former deputy governor in Akwa Ibom State, defeated Mr Akpabio in the election which was gripped by pockets of violence.
In his ruling, the Presiding Judge, Justice Augustine Odokwo, sentenced the accused to 36 months of correctional service and told to pay a fine of N100,000 for count 2 and 1 respectively, after the accused had pleaded for leniency.
Plea for leniency
The accused had pleaded for mercy on the premise that he has dependents including a 90-year-old mother to take care of, adding that he was a respectable member of his community and a very valuable and sought after lecturer in the Department of Soil Science, both in the Universities of Uyo and Calabar.
He said: “If I lose my source of income, it means all of my dependents I have mentioned will suffer, especially the condition of my aged mother.
“This is an eye-opener for anyone who participates in local, state or national activities to do so with dexterity and not take anything for granted to avoid an innocent person being embarrassed.
“I plead that you grant me 100 per cent mercy and allow me to go and continue with my responsibilities”.
Earlier, Counsel to the defendant, Anthony Ekpe, had prayed the court to pardon the accused, saying the act for which Ogban was found guilty had no effect on the said elections.
He argued that as a Professor of Soil Physics and Conservation, the accused was highly sought after in the academic world and should not be deprived of his freedom.
“It was just a blip in the entire election process and cannot be said to have been to the detriment of the party said to have suffered.
“It could just as well have been an oversight or a mistake.
“We plead with my Lord not to deprive the accused of his liberty and seek particularly for another form of punishment.
“We plead that the court temper justice with mercy,” he stated.
‘We will appeal’
But upon the judgment of the court, Ekpe said the accused will file for an appeal.
Also speaking, Counsel to INEC, Clement Onwenwunor, applauded the court for the novel ruling on the electoral fraud case, saying, “the court’s judgment is commendable”.
He said the law for which the accused was found guilty makes provision for an option of fine or 36 months in imprisonment without an option of fine, but pleaded with the court to be merciful to the accused.