Posted by Boniface Okoro, Umuahia | 3 February 2016 | 7,907 times
As you read this piece, every notable Abia politician is either in Abuja or on his or her way to the nation’s capital. Their mission? To witness the final arbitration on the governorship tussle in the state
Just as the politicians who have invaded Abuja have gone there with baited breadth, uncertain of where the pendulum of justice would swing, Abia itself is engulfed in anxiety and palpable tension.
Though no one has a clear idea of what will transpire at the apex court today, what many are certain of is that the matter between the state governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his challenger, Dr Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), is listed among the cases that the respected jurists of the Supreme Court would handle.
For about one week now, the social media has been awash with the rumour that the Supreme Court will decide on the case today. Some lawyers said that both parties would adopt their briefs through their counsel, thereafter the court will reserve judgement. Other lawyers, however, maintain that those who believe that today is judgment day may not be far from the truth. They explained that it is the tradition of the apex court to adopt briefs on a case and take another few hours to deliver its ruling on such matter. Nobody is pretty sure of the scenario that may eventually play out today. What both parties believe is that they are before a court of justice.
And it is the colour of this justice that has ignited passionate, and obviously parochial debates that have generated tension. Wherever two or more persons are gathered, the subject of their discussion, argument or debates centre on the much awaited verdict of the apex court in the land. Will Ikpeazu retain his mandate and reduce Otti’s ambition to rule God’s Own State to a pipe dream? Or will the unrelenting Otti finally unseat Ikpeazu and by so doing, shatter the dream of the Ukwa-Ngwa to pilot the affairs of the state?
The case is a drawn-out battle for the coveted seat of governor of Abia State. After the April 11, governorship poll and the supplementary election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) returned Ikpeazu as the duly elected governor.
But Otti cried foul and approached the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Umuahia, praying the Justice Usman Bwala-led three-member panel to declare him the winner of the poll. Otti claimed that he won majority of lawful votes if votes from the three local government areas of Isiala Ngwa North, Osisioma and Obingwa were subtracted from the total votes cast in the entire 17 local governments of Abia.
Otti and his APGA claimed that there was over-voting in the said three local governments where, he added, irregularities and violence charaterised the polling.
The tribunal, however, concurred with INEC that Ikpeazu was validly returned as the actual winner of the 2015 Abia governorship contest. It held that Otti failed to prove his allegation of over-voting in the three local governments, adding that he had abandoned his case by failing to appear before the panel to testify and prove his case. The tribunal told Otti that his reliefs were “ungrantable”, and dismissed his case for lack of merit.
Otti, not daunted, took his case to the Appeal Court, Owerri Division before a five-man panel headed by Justice Oyebisi Folayemi Omoleye, urging the court to set aside the ruling of the tribunal and declare him the winner of the Abia 2015 governorship contest. The five wise men said that Otti’s case has merit. They also held that the appellant (Otti) proved beyond reasonable doubt that there was over-voting in the three contentious local governments; yanked off votes recorded in them and held that Otti scored majority of the lawful votes cast, met the required spread and declared him winner of the exercise and ruled that INEC should withdraw the Certificate of Return hitherto issued to Ikpeazu and issue same to Otti.
The Appeal Court judgment, which has been the subject of several scrutiny, analysis and debates, set the stage for Supreme Court “final” battle to decide who, between Ikpeazu and Otti, should be governor of Abia State for the next four years. Ikpeazu, dazed by the verdict of the Court of Appeal, raced to the apex court, praying the seven jurists sitting over the appeal to set aside the appellate court’s ruling and allow him to retain his mandate. However, Otti who is seeking to even firm up his Appeal Court victory, also filed a cross appeal.
The outcome of the case would depend on the position of the Supreme Court on the Card Reader Report and whether results from the disputed three local governments should stand or remain cancelled.
Abia was at this same junction during the electoral journey of 2007. Then, Chief Theodore Orji had won the governorship poll on the platform of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA). His main challenger, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, candidate of the PDP, challenged the outcome of the polling at the tribunal, claiming that he actually won the exercise, not Orji.
In its ruling, the tribunal held that Orji actually won the majority of lawful votes cast in the election but was not qualified to stand for the election in the first place. It was the verdict of the tribunal that Orji did not resign properly from the civil service and that he also belonged to a secret cult. The tribunal therefore held that Orji having been disqualified, Ugochukwu who was the runner-up should be declared winner and it so did, and directed INEC to issue Certificate of Return to the PDP candidate.
The judgment shook Abia to its foundation and drove her to the precipice of violence. But Orji, in his reaction, urged Abians to be calm, saying that the tribunal’s verdict “was a minor error that will be corrected at the Appeal Court,” where all gubernatorial legal challenges ended then.
True to Orji’s prediction, the Appeal Court sitting in Port Harcourt tore the tribunal ruling into pieces, saying they predicated their judgment on pre-election matter. And Orji retained his seat. Ugochukwu and PDP lost. “What will emanate from the Supreme Court today?” is the billion naira question that has kept Abians on the edge and left them apprehensive too. Whatever be the case, whatever issues from the Supreme Court today, or in the near future, will represent the justice the parties are looking for because it is the final bus stop except the apex court in its wisdom decides to order a fresh ballot in the local government areas in contention, which happen to be Ikpeazu’s stronghold.
•Photo shows Ikpeazu and Otti.
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