Confusion, tension and uncertainty took the centre stage in Abia, yesterday, as both Okezie Ikpeazu and Uche Ogah laid claim to the governorship of the acclaimed God’s own state. At press time, uneasy calm reigned supreme in the state.
The stalemate followed the issuance of certificate of return to Ogah by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja following the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja which nullified the election of Ikpeazu last Monday.
However, an Abia State High Court presided over by Justice Chibuzo Ahuchago also stopped INEC from issuing certificate of return to Ogah as well as barred him from being sworn in by any judicial officers including the chief judge, the president of the Customary Court either from in or outside the state.
Ogah is optimistic he would be sworn in today.
Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, INEC Commissioner in charge of South East said he was issued the certificate of return in compliance with the court order.
“The court said with immediate effect, we should issue him (Ogah) certificate of return, and that is what we have done. If court tomorrow issues another court order, we will obey the same. By the grace of God, I am the INEC commission in charge of South East. I will do the same thing if court says we should issue the same certificate to another person.
“In this case, court ordered us to issue certificate to the person who won the election that is Uchechukwu Ogah. I was the person who gave certificate of return to Governor Ikpeazu because he was declared winner. Now the court is saying otherwise. One thing is that, we are not above the law and we cannot disobey the law of the land. After the court, another person we obey is God. And my conscience is my God. If you were in the court that day and I will urge you, members of the media to go and study court decision very well. It was wonderful, it was direct.”
While Ogah arrived the state from Abuja to a heroic reception yesterday, Ikpeazu said he remained the governor irrespective of whatever order was issued by the Federal High Court and the consequential actions of INEC, pending the full exhaustion of all judicial avenues of seeking redress.
According to him, “Abia State is a peaceful State consisting of law-abiding citizens but their patience should not be stretched and their civility taken for granted. The citizens of Abia State will resist any attempt to subvert their will which they freely expressed at the polls and which was affirmed by the Supreme Court.”
But addressing the crowd that received him as he arrived the Sam Mbakwe International Airport Owerri, Ogah promised that his government would be fair to all and not be for a particular local government or section of the state.
Ogah who was flanked by his wife, some Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) chieftains and supporters who defied the downpour to receive him added: “I have been issued the certificate of return by the National Chairman of INEC as the lawfully and duly elected governor of the state in the 2015 governorship polls in Abia State. I want to assure the people of the state that this is a new dawn of better future for all. It’s a dawn of fresh air.”
Ikpeazu insisted that INEC acted in error, as he said he served the electoral umpire a notice of appeal.
“Our laws are clear on this matter. No one may be issued with a certificate of return let alone be sworn in as governor, when there is a subsisting appeal and application for stay. Unless and until the appellant courts have conclusively resolved the appeal, the status remains, I am still the governor of Abia State,” Ikpeazu declared.
Also reacting, spokesperson for the Ahmed Makarfi caretaker committee, Dayo Adeyeye said INEC’s action was hasty as he noted that Ikpeazu has filed a notice of appeal against the judgment that removed him from office.
“It is an abuse of process, it isn’t done. It is unconstitutional. They should have waited for the process to be exhausted up to the Supreme Court. This is a clear abuse of court process, since the court that gave the judgment that removed Ikpeazu from office is a court of first instance. This is a clear threat to democracy,” he said.
The Attorney General of Abia State, Mr. Umeh Kalu, also faulted INEC saying the Commission was duly served the Notice of Appeal and Injunction of appeal.
“It’s unfortunate that INEC said that it was not served. But the truth is that they were served. I have a proof to that. Saleh N. Ibrahim, Senior Clerical Officer at the Legal Services Department of the Commission’s Headquarters, Abuja, who stamped the Notice of Appeal and Injunction with the Commission’s official stamp by 12.50pm on Wednesday, June 29, 2016.
INEC had in April 2015 declared Ikpeazu, winner of the governorship election having polled 264,713 to defeat the candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, Alex Otti, who polled 180,882 votes. The result was declared after a supplementary election.
But he was sacked on Monday by the Federal High Court in Abuja for alleged falsification of tax receipts. (Daily Sun)