The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday admitted that it actually received a notice of appeal from Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State in respect of the judgement of a Federal High Court in Abuja ordering the electoral body to issue a certificate of return to Mr. Sampson Ogah as the next governor of the state.
The court had upheld Ogah’s claim that Ikpeazu submitted fraudulent tax documents when he filed papers to run for governorship ticket on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in December 2014.
The commission first said on Thursday that it decided to issue the certificate of return to Ogah because it received no notice of appeal from the governor who responded immediately that the Commission did indeed receive the notice and injunction.
The two documents were said to have been signed for by 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.
Clarifying INEC’s position on the issue yesterday, the commission’s spokesman Nick Dazang, said Ikpeazu’s failure to provide a stay-of-execution order left the commission with no choice than to issue the certificate of return to Mr. Ogah.
He said since Mr. Ikpeazu’s notice was not deemed sufficient, it had to, as a matter of policy, execute the judgment of the high court.
“I discovered that INEC received Mr. Ikpeazu’s notice. However, it did not contain a motion or order of stay of execution. In the circumstance, and in deference to the previous court order, INEC as a responsible regulatory (body) has no recourse than to issue Mr. Ogah the certificate of return,” online publication Premium Times quoted Dazang as saying.
He added: “By law, a certificate of return is supposed to be issued within one week. Also, the commission has decided as a matter of policy to obey all subsisting court orders. That means if the court were to issue a contradictory order, INEC has no option than to obey.”
Abia State Attorney-General, Umeh Kalu, said late on Thursday that the governor’s legal team included the notice of stay of execution order with the appeal notice delivered to INEC.
He said: ”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.
“It is now clear that the Commission had no reason or cause to proceed with their dangerous action of issuing a Certificate of Return to Dr. Uche Ogah when it was clearly in receipt of a Notice of Appeal and Stay of Execution expressly forbidding them from taking any further action on the Judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court pending the determination of the Appeal in the case.
“It is rather surprising that the Commission could lend itself to be used for an act capable of destabilizing a State in Nigeria with the attendant consequences for anarchy and breakdown of law and order.”
Ogah was Mr. Ikpeazu’s main challenger in the PDP governorship primaries conducted in December 2014.
He had approached the court to nullify Mr. Ikpeazu’s candidacy on the basis of the tax default.
Ikpeazu says he remains governor as he has gone on appeal. (The Nation)