Following the nullification of his election by the Court of Appeal, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State has filed a notice of appeal at the Supreme Court. And if for any reason he loses the case, he would have paved the way for the opposition All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to control the reins of power in the state, writes Leadership’s Mike Ubani.
The nullification of the election of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia state by the Appeal Court sitting in Owerri on New Year eve, has no doubt ruffled the feathers of the ruling People’s Democratic Party,PDP, in that state. While members of the victorious All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, and its governorship candidate Dr. Alex Otti, are currently clinking glasses, PDP supporters, especially those from Ukwa-Ngwa sub-ethnic group are in a combative mood.
Less than 24 hours following the appellate court declaration of Otti as winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary gubernatorial elections in the state, several thousands of protesters from the sub-ethnic nationality, literally swept into some major roads in Aba city and its environs in a peaceful protest against the December 31, 2015 Appeal Court judgment which nullified the election of Governor Ikpeazu.
Significantly, the Appeal Court cancelled the election conducted in three strategic local government areas in the state perceived to be the strongholds of Governor Ikpeazu. They are Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa, and Isiala Ngwa local government areas. Ikpeazu hails from Ohuru Umuekwesu in Ahiaba kingdom of Obangwa local government area.
Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, who read the lead judgment, held that there were “established cases of over voting and allocation of votes in favour of the PDP candidate in three local government areas of Isiala Ngwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Obingwa.
The court, therefore, cancelled the results of the elections in those three local government areas due to the established anomalies.
After subtracting the votes from the Isiala Ngwa, Obioma Ngwa, and Obingwa, the PDP candidate is left with a total vote of 114,444, while the APGA candidate has 164,332 votes and should be returned as the rightful winner of the election.
“Subsequently, the judgment of the tribunal which upheld the election of the PDP candidate is hereby set aside”, said Justice Omoleye”.
Expectedly, the Appeal Court judgment elicited groundswell of jubilation across the state, but mainly in old Bende division which includes Umuahia-Ibeku, Arochukwu, Ohafia, Abiriba, Item, Alayi, Uzuakoli, Isuochi, Ovim and Isuikwuato.
Otti’s familial home is Arochukwu, but with the passage of time, his ancestors allegedly relocated to Umuehim village in Isiala Ngwa South local government area. So, he is an Aro-Ngwa man. and therefore was well disposed to win votes from both Ukwa-Ngwa and Bende areas.
LADERSHIP recalls that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Returning Officer for Abia state, Prof. Benjamin Ozumba, had declared the Saturday April 11, 2015 governorship election inconclusive.
Addressing journalists in Umuahia, Prof. Ozumba who is the current vice chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, explained that the “total number of registered voters in areas where elections did not hold or were cancelled was higher than the margin of difference between votes garnered by the candidate of the PDP, Okezie Ikpeazu, and that of the APGA, Alex Otti”.
According to him, “the affected polling units are in some parts of Osisioma, Ugwunagbo, Aba North, Aba South, Isiala Ngwa South, Isiala Ngwa North, Umuahia North, Umuahia South, Ohafia, Arochukwu and Umunneochi local government areas”.
It will also be recalled that before the election was declared inconclusive, the result accepted by the electoral officers showed the PDP candidate had polled 248,549 votes while the APGA candidate garnered 165,406 making a difference of 83,143.
A total of 177,000 votes were cancelled in some polling units in the affected local government areas. Prof. Ozumba said “the figure is greater than 83,143 votes which is the margin between the votes scored by Ikpeazu and Otti.
Nevertheless, Ikpeazu maintained his lead during the supplementary election held on April 25, 2015, in those areas where the election of ‘April 11 election were cancelled. Announcing the final results, Prof. Ozumba said Ikpeazu scored 264,713 votes to beat Otti who scored 180,882 votes.
But dissatisfied with the outcome of the election, Otti approached the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Umuahia, to seek redress.
Specifically, Otti asked the tribunal to cancel the election results from Obingwa, Osisioma, and Isiala Ngwa North, and to declare him winner of the governorship election.
But the tribunal in its unanimous verdict delivered on December 1, 2015, affirmed Dr Ikpeazu as the duly elected governor of Abia State; a development which elicited tremendous joy in Governor Ikpeazu’s camp.
Chairman of the three-man tribunal, Justice Usman Bwala, who read the verdict, noted that the petitioner and his party “failed to prove their allegations beyond reasonable doubt and the 20 witnesses who testified for them were bundle of contradictions.”
Against the backdrop of the nullification of Governor Ikpeazu’s election by the Appeal Court sitting in Owerri, on December 31, 2015, the governor and his party have approached the Supreme Court, asking it to annul the verdict of the Court of Appeal that declared Alex Otti as the winner of the governorship election
In a notice of appeal filed January 4, 2016, at the Supreme Court, Ikpeazu asked the apex court to take a judicial notice of the fact that neither Otti nor his party, APGA called credible and cogent evidence in support of their petition challenging his victory.
Meanwhile, Ikpeazu has written a letter to the chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, asking him to respect the constitution and not to do anything that will tamper with his office as the governor of Abia state.
In the letter written on his behalf by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Ikpeazu said he remained the governor until he had exhausted his right of appeal.
He said he intended to challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal which nullified his election at the Supreme Court. He said he was dissatisfied with the judgment of the Court of Appeal and had instructed his lawyer to file an appeal against same to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the women wing of the PDP in Ukwa-Ngwa Monday protested the Appeal Court nullification of the election of Governor Ikpeazu. The women claimed they were
disenfranchised following the ruling of the appellate court, and therefore, urged the apex court to restore the embattled governor’s election.
Though the PDP has been in power in the state since 1999 – except the three years – 2007 – 2010 – that former Governor Theodore Orji functioned as governor on the platform of Progressive People’s Alliance, PPA – not a few say “Abia is PDP and PDP is Abia”.
They may be correct. In 1999, the governorship tussle was between former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, who contested the election on the platform of the PDP and Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, who ran on the banner of the then All People’s Party, which later transmuted to All Nigeria People’s Party, ANPP,
Though the electoral umpire declared the PDP candidate winner of the election, not a few claimed that the election was mindlessly rigged in favour of the PDP candidate.
As soon as Ogbulafor approached the tribunal to challenge the declaration of the PDP candidate as winner of the election, some elders and political stakeholders in Abia, who apparently knew what transpired during the election, “begged” Ogbulafor to withdraw his case at the tribunal.
One of the elders who participated in the series of discussions leading to Ogbulafor’s withdrawal of the case from the tribunal told LEADERSHIP that PDP never won the governorship election in the state in 1999.
Ogbulafor later decamped to PDP and was subsequently rewarded with the position of national secretary of the party.
Again in 2003, the APGA governorship candidate in the state, late Chief Onwuka Kalu, the renowned industrialist from Abiriba, gave the PDP candidate a big fight during that year’s election to the extent that many strongly believed that the APGA candidate was rigged out of the election.
“APGA is a mass movement in the South-East, particularly Abia state”, said the then national chairman of the party, Chief Chekwas Okorie.
Though many say Ikpeazu is eminently qualified to be governor of Abia state, his trouble with the electorate stemmed from his close relationship with Senator Theodore Orji, the immediate past governor of the state.
The immediate past governor, many said performed abysmally low in the eight years he superintended over Abia state despite the stupendous allocations he received from the federation account.
“All the roads in Aba and other cities in the state collapsed during the tenure of the immediate past former governor. The rate of youth unemployment increased during his tenure, and nothing worked at all despite the huge allocations that accrued to the state from the federation account and the multiple taxation that characterized his administration said Okechukwu Igwe, a resident of Aba.
In the days and weeks leading the the PDP governorship primaries in the state, most eligible voters vowed not to support any PDP governorship candidate overtly or covertly sponsored by the immediate past governor.
The consensus here was that whoever emerged governor on the platform of PDP, would be a replica of the immediate past governor in terms of lack of ideas and even willingness to develop the state.
“We voted massively for Dr. Alex Otti during the last governorship election in the state because we didn’t want former governor Orji’s stooge to succeed him. He will definitely behave like his political godfather”, said James Ukachukwu, an Aba-based cab driver.
However, Ikpeazu has proved those who never wanted him to be governor wrong. He has started rebuilding most of the dilapidated roads in Aba, using what he described as “cement technology”. And beyond that, his administration has come out with a blue-print for an integrated development of the state.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court will look at the decision of the Appeal Court based on law, instead of Ikpeazu’s performance in the last seven months he has been governor of Abia state.
Is APGA on the threshold of producing the governor of Abia state? Only time will tell.