The wheel of justice may appear slow in movement but grinds steadily. The lesson is that despite barriers occasionally mounted against the cause and course of justice delivery, the truth will always prevail, regardless of the time it may take. This is the lot of Abia State. At the April governorship election in the state, the governor, Dr. Victor Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Dr. Alex Otti, the candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), were clearly the main combatants in the race.
Each had come into the contest with peculiar antecedent and pedigree that the electorate had judged on individual merit. Okezie limped into the contest flaunting his performance (or non-performance) during his days in Abia Environmental Sanitation Agency; His public perception was compounded by the fact that he is a pseudonym of His Godfather, T. A. Orji who was adjudged below average in his performance profile.
Otti had approached the contest from a pedigree of service delivery when he was Managing Director of Diamond Bank Plc; in addition to a comprehensive manifesto of fixing the state which he presented to the Abia electorate, Ikpeazu was pronounced winner, prompting Otti to approach Abia Governorship Elections Petitions Tribunal seeking justice. He is challenging the result of the election in five Local Government Areas of the state, including Umuahia North, Isiala Ngwa North, Ugwunagbo, Osisioma and Obingwa, where he alleged massive electoral fraud by PDP. He is urging the tribunal to nullify Ikpeazu’s declaration and declare him the rightful winner of the poll.
Thursday, September 17, 2015, the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri, Imo State capital, which had earlier dismissed an Appeal bought to it by Chief Wole Olanipekun on behalf of Ikpeazu further dismissed two separate but related appeals subsequently filed by the PDP against Dr. Alex Otti and APGA.
All the appeals had originated from a decision of the Abia State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, sitting in Umuahia, which had ruled that all the preliminary objections filed by Ikpeazu and his PDP be taken along with the hearing of the substantive petition. They had headed for the Court of Appeal, urging it to set aside that decision of the trial Tribunal and compel it to deliver ruling on the pending motions.
In dismissing the appeals, the Court said that they were premature and predicated on complaint against a ruling which the lower Tribunal had not yet delivered. The Court further stated that there was no infringement of the appellant’s right to fair hearing as the motions were rightly heard by the Tribunal before ruling was adjourned to come within the 180 days stipulated by the constitution. The Court of Appeal therefore insisted that the Appeal was lacking in merit and was a mere academic exercise.
Casual interpreters of developments in Abia tribunal may not attach much weight to the Appeal Court ruling. However, the Thursday pronouncement holds promise for justice for the entire people of Abia in the days ahead.
Lawyers for instance, argue that the import of the Appeal Court pronouncement is in giving effect to and affirming the sanctity of Paragraph 12 (5) of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act. The court, according to them, has confirmed that the trial Tribunal has powers to take all preliminary motions along with the substantive petition; the spirit and intendment of that paragraph being to suppress the mischief of delaying the election petition proceedings by ensuring that preliminary objections, whether on jurisdiction or not, raised in the course of the proceedings, did not derail the determination of the merit of a case by undue and unwarranted delays occasioned by preliminary objections.
INEC, curiously, has not helped matters, as it seems to be indulging a party in the petition. The Commission has thwarted several orders on it by the Tribunal to produce documents demanded by the petitioners. The documents demanded from INEC were supposed to be tendered by the petitioners in proof of their case.
By the Appeal Court ruling, there is no more hiding place.
Otti and his team, have tendered Unit by Unit Results (EC8A) and Ward Collation Results, (EC8Bs). He has also tendered Card Reader Report. Interestingly, Paragraph 2.8.3 of the INEC Electoral MANUAL which is also admitted in evidence at the Tribunal stipulates that: “Where the total votes cast at a Polling Unit exceed the number of registered voters in the Polling Unit, the result of the poll shall be rendered null and void Also, where the number of votes cast exceeds the number accredited, the result of the Polling Unit shall be rendered null and void”.
The Appeal Court ruling has been eliciting huge ululation from the Abia electorate who look forward, with hope, that justice will be done, after which real governance will commence in Abia.
All the parties in the suit have filed their final written addresses which are expected to be adopted by their counsel on October 14. Abians and indeed Nigerians are watching these beautiful moments.
- Uju Okpara wrote from Umuahia, Abia State (The Gaurdian)