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Abia as theatre of politics, litigations


Abia State
Abia State is in the news. In the ‘Gods own state’, it is like one day, one trouble. Since last year’s general elections, events in the state change like the chameleon. The state has literally become one huge marketplace for petitions and litigations.
But yesterday, the unfolding political drama in the state climaxed when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), issued a certificate of return to Uche Ogah, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who came second in the party’s primary election.
The electoral body thus gave him an instrument that effectivelly  makes him governor-elect, replacing Okezie Ikpeazu whose election was annulled on Monday, June 27. But who is the governor of Abia State today? For those who have been following events in the State’,  it is difficult to answer that question since INEC issued the certificate of return to Ogah.
At the time of writing this story, both Ogah and the embattled governor, Okezie Ikpeazu could be regarded as governors in their own rights. While Ogah has the current certificate of return of the PDP, he cannot take over the Abia Government House because he is yet to be sworn in.  But the confusion is also that Ikpeazu who became governor after he was sworn in does not have an authentic certificate of return. Confusion is the  word to describe the situation.
Justice Okon Abang of the federal High Court, Abuja had on Monday asked INEC to issue the Certificate of Return to Mr Ogah. He had ruled that on the account of fake tax returns during the primaries, Mr Ikpeazu, ab initio was never qualified to run in the PDP primaries as a governorship candidate. He consequently ordered the Chief Judge of the state to swear in Uche Ogah as the substantive governor of the state.
But as expected, the development elicited mixed reactions from the people of Abia. While the news came to many as a shock, others received it with joy and jubilation.
Ikpeazu clings to mandate
For the embattled governor and his supporters, it was one bad dream that would not be allowed to come to reality.
Ikpeazu advised Abians to remain calm and law abiding, stressing that he still remained their governor.
A release he signed reads: “I have received with concern, report of the purported issuance of Certificate of Return to Mr. Uche Ogah by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as governor of Abia State, despite the pendency of a notice of appeal and motion for stay of the execution of the orders made by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The governor did not stop at appealing to his subjects for calm. He refused to give up  and his efforts resulted in a High Court of Abia State stopping the Chief Judge of the state, President of the Customary Court of Appeal and any other judiciary officer, from swearing-in Mr. Uche Oga as governor.
He said: “The order made today in court by Justice Ahuchaogu reads: ‘Upon this motion ex-parte pursuant to section 143 (1) & (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and pending the determination of the motion on notice, after hearing O.O Nkume, counsel to the applicant.
“It is  ordered that an order of injunction is hereby made restraining the 2nd defendant (INEC) from issuing a certificate of return to the 1st defendant (Ogah) while the claimant (Ikpeazu) remains in office in accordance with  section 143 (1) & (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and pending the determination of the motion on notice.
Also, in a motion of ex-parte order, the court also restricted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from issuing a certificate of return to Ogah.
Governor Ikpeazu had on Wednesday filed an appeal against Monday’s judgment of a Federal High Court in Abuja which removed him from ‎office as governor.
In a notice of appeal filed by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), the governor raised five grounds of appeal upon which he asked the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment and orders of the High court.
The governor said that the Federal High Court lacked the power to order him to vacate the seat of Abia State Governor.
The governor said that the only power, authority and order exercisable by the Federal High Court was to disqualify the candidate from contesting the election based on section 31(6) of the Electoral Act 2010.
Ikpeazu also faulted the judge when he held that he did not pay his tax for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013, at when due, when he was a public officer whose tax deduction was under Pay As You Earn (PAYE) scheme where tax deductions were from the source of his monthly salary by the tax authorities who issued all the tax receipts and certificates.
He also noted that the Abia State Board of Internal Revenue Services that issued him with the tax certificates had not declared the certificates forged and that the trial court did not invite the issuing authorities to give evidence in the course of the trial.
He accused the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang of violating his right to fair hearing by embarking on judicial investigation without giving him (Ikpeazu) the opportunity to address the court on the issue.
Ikpeazu also rejected the decision of the High court declaring him unqualified to be nominated at the primary election conducted by his party because false information was supplied to INEC‎.
The PDP, his party also rejected the judgment and filed a separate appeal.
The party‎ said that the trial court erred in law when it held that it had jurisdiction to hear the suit which was on whether section 24 (f) of the 1999 constitution was complied with.
Reacting to the development, President, Abia Renaissance Movement, Godwin Adindu said the report that INEC headquarters in Abuja has given a certificate of return to Mr. Uche Ogah and purporting to swear him in as the executive governor is a serious violation of legal procedures and invitation of anarchy to Abia.
In a statement, he said: “This is unimaginable given that my governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, has formally filed a notice of appeal and a stay of execution.
Nigeria is not a jungle. We are not in an animal kingdom. Let all the extraneous forces bent on causing mayhem and turning Abia into another Syria think twice.
Governor Okezie is a peace-loving man and an ardent believer and respecter of the rule of law”.
Before the latest case Ikpeazu had faced a long legal battle from Alex Otti, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate in the 2015 election. The APGA candidate had dragged Ikpeazu to the Abia State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal in Umuahia, urging it to annul his election. He alleged that the election was marred by irregularities and substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act and urged the tribunal to declare him (Otti) winner on account of the lawful votes cast during the election. However, Otti’s prayer was not granted, as the tribunal upheld Ikpeazu’s election.
Not done, Otti dragged Ikpeazu to the Court of Appeal, and got some reprieve when the Court, sitting in Owerri, on December 31, 2015, nullified Ikpeazu’s election and declared Otti the winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary elections in the state. Delivering judgment, the five-member panel, headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, said the APGA candidate scored 164, 444 valid votes to defeat Ikpeazu who scored 114, 444 votes.
But at the Supreme Court, which is the final stop of governorship election petitions, Ikpeazu was declared validly elected, while Otti’s case was dismissed. The court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal, which nullified Ikpeazu’s election, and ruled that he (Ikpeazu) won the lawfully cast votes in the April 11, 2015 election.
Jubilation in Abia
In Abia on Monday and yesterday, there were jubilations on the streets and many strategic locations of the state, particularly in Umuahia, the state capital. Among his teeming supporters, it was a dream come true after a long legal battle. The Governor- elect, Ogah said that it is a dawn of new beginning and a fresh breath of air for the entire people of the state.
The new Abia state helmsman stated this yesterday at the Sam Mbakwe International Airport Owerri, on his arrival from Abuja enroute  Umuahia.
He said:,” the entire people of Abia state have been celebrating because it a dawn of new beginning and a breath of fresh air and that is why you see celebrations by the people of the state here at the Airport because they know it is going to be a new and better deal for all Abians.
Many of those who were rejoicing according to reports believe that the process which produced Ikpeazu was flawed. In the estimation of people in this school of thought, the embattled governor was imposed on the people of the state by his predecessor, Senator T.A orji and it was good that the court threw him out.
On the part of the INEC, it advanced reasons for its decision to issue the Certificate of Return to Ogah who came second at the PDP governorship primaries in Abia State. INEC National Commissioner in charge of the South East, Amb. Lawrence Nwuruku said the commission only kowtowed to the lawful order of a court. Nwuruku added that as a citizen, he could go to jail if he flouts a valid court order. He said if the court tomorrow orders a reversal of the action, INEC would not hesitate to do its bidding.
“The situation is that we are simply obeying the court order. The court said with immediate effect without wasting of time, we should issue him Certificate of Return and that is what we have done – to obey the court order. “If the court tomorrow issues another order, we would obey the same. By the grace of God, I am the INEC Commissioner in charge of South East. I’ll do the same thing if the court orders us to do so if court says we should issue the same certificate to another person.
“In this case, court ordered us to issue a Certificate of Return to the person who won the election and that is Uche Ogah.”
“I was the person who gave the Certificate of Return to Gov. Ikpeazu as he was declared winner. Now, the court has said otherwise. “One thing we know is that we are not above the law and we cannot disobey the laws of the land. After the court, another person we obey in our land is God and my conscience is my God. Another thing that guides us is the court and we must obey its order with immediate effect”.
Speaking in the same vein, INEC’s Director of Publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzi, had earlier stated that the decision followed an order by an Abuja Federal High Court directing INEC to immediately issue Certificate of Return to Mr. Ogah - THE SUN

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