Posted by Boniface Okoro, Umuahia | 2 July 2016 | 5,426 times
Abia State was engulfed by political tension and convulsion Thursday following the issuance of Certificate of Return to Dr. Uche Sampson Ogah as the governor-elect of the state, a development that took not a few persons by surprise.
Through the Social media, news filtered in Thursday morning that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had issued Ogah, one of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirants, with Certificate of Return as the governor of Abia State. With the certificate in his kitty, Ogah headed for Umuahia to be inaugurated as the new governor of Abia State. But his dream did not materialise.
Ogah was issued with the Certificate of Return based on an Abuja Federal High Court ruling that disqualified Governor Okezie Ikpeazu as the authentic governorship candidate of the PDP in the 2015 general elections.
Ogah, a business mogul with substantial interest in oil, was one of those who indicated interest to fly the party’s flag in the 2015 governorship election in Abia. During the primary election held in December 2014, Ogah came second. Dissatisfied by the outcome of the governorship primaries, and unknown to many, Ogah filed a case at the Abuja Federal High Court. Ogah accused the winner of the primaries and also the eventual winner of the Abia 2015 governorship election, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, of giving false information to INEC about his personal income tax in the papers he submitted to the commission with respect to the primaries.
The Court, presided over by Justice Okon Abang, agreed with accusations made by Ogah and, therefore, held that Ikpeazu was not qualified to stand for the 2014 PDP primaries. Consequently, he disqualified Ikpeazu and ordered that the governor should vacate his exalted office while INEC should immediately issue Certificate of Return to Ogah as the authentic candidate of the Abia PDP. The state Chief Judge was also directed to swear in Ogah as governor.
When the issuance of the Certificate to Ogah became known to Ikpeazu, he cancelled all his official engagements for the day. The governor, who was already in Abia State University, Uturu, to deliver the widely publicised maiden Eminent Persons Lecture series scheduled for Thursday, made a u-turn and rushed back to Umuahia.
From then, tension dotted the landscape, especially when it was rumoured that Ogah was almost in Umuahia for his “historic swearing-in.” However, the governor found his rhythm and reacted to the issuance of Certificate of Return to Ogah.
A terse statement which he personally endorsed, assuring Abians that he was still their governor, read: “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 dependency of a notice of appeal and motion for stay of the orders made by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
“Our laws are clear on this matter. No one may be issued with a certificate of return let alone be sworn in as governor, when there is a subsisting appeal and application for stay.
“I want to appeal to Abians to remain calm and law abiding in the face of this provocation, unless and until the appellate courts have conclusively resolve the appeal, the status remains, I am still the Governor of Abia State.”
Just as the public was digesting the statement, the governor also obtained an injunction from an Osisioma High Court which restrained INEC from issuing Ogah with the Certificate of Return; the Chief Judge of Abia State or any other judicial officer from the state from inaugurating Ogah as governor, pending the determination of the motion on notice.
The injunction issued in suit Number HOS/52/2016 and which has Ogah, INEC and the Chief Judge of Abia State as respondents, was granted by Justice C. H. Ahuchaogu.
While that was trending, the Secretary to the Abia State Government, Dr. Eme Okoro, and the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Comrade Bonnie Iwuoha, addressed newsmen on the Abia political debacle. They informed newsmen of the court injunction, stressing that its breach would be seen as a calculated attempt to set Abia on fire.
Okoro expressed surprise that after the governor had filed notice of appeal and for stay of execution of the Abuja Federal High Court order, INEC had gone ahead to issue Ogah with Certificate of Return, describing the development as an attempt at “turning the society with an illegal force.”
“We must follow the due process, so that our lives will remain. I don’t want a situation where people will come and stampede us into very funny decisions,” Okoro added.
Soon after he left, the Abia PDP executive, led by the Chairman, Chief Johnson Onuigbo, arrived also to brief newsmen on the unfolding political drama in the state. They expressed deep worry that what was taking place was a travesty of justice.
Said Onuigbo: “We are here because our democracy is being threatened, it is being endangered by those who do not believe in the rule of law.”
He said that there was nothing wrong with an aggrieved person going to court. According to Onuigbo, if the litigant succeeds in his case, the law provides that the defendant who lost should be availed the window of appeal, a right, he said, Ikpeazu who was sacked should be allowed to exercise.
“Until he (Ikpeazu) exhausts the windows open to him, that order cannot be carried out. Fortunately the governor has appealed the judgment but unfortunately, we heard today that INEC had gone ahead to issue the Certificate of Return to Mr. Uche Ogah who claimed he came second in the primaries, when, in actual fact, he did not accept the outcome of that primaries and did not sign the results.
“He wrote a petition against that primaries. So, it is astonishing that somebody will benefit from a process he did not participate in,” Onuigbo argued. He said in a country where so many things happen, “it would not be out of place to say that that judgment was paid for,” adding: “When you listen to the views of legal luminaries, you will believe me that the judgment is a rape of democracy.”
He warned that the judiciary should beware of offering itself as willing tool for scuttling Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.
“We are here today to tell you that Abia is not safe. I don't want to believe the rumour we have heard that this place is going to be invaded tonight by military men and the rumour also says the Presidency is aware of this move and we said it is not true because we know that our President is disciplined and a man of high integrity, he cannot support such a move.”
“Let it be on record that we have informed the world that the state, as it is today, is tensed-up because democracy is about to be raped and we are saying no. As a party, the PDP will resist every move by anybody or group to undermine the peace in Abia state,” he vowed, adding that no attempt should be made to disobey the Osisioma High Court orders.
“The court order has been served on all the parties and yet we hear that they will ignore it and come by force to kill all of us in Abia. We are ready to die. If they ignore this, then they are calling for anarchy, they are calling for chaos and confusion in this state and we will give it back to them. That is the reason why we are here for the world to know what we are going through.”
On his own part, the State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Umeh Kalu, debunked claims by INEC that the commission was not served Ikpeazu’s Notice of Appeal or an injunction stopping it from issuing a Certificate of Return to Ogah.
Proof of service showed that the Commission received the two important document, as they were 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 12:50 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29, 2016.
“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. 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 12:50 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29, 2016.
“With the foregoing, 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 destabilising a state in Nigeria with the attendant consequences for anarchy and breakdown of law and order,” Kalu said.
While the PDP executive was expressing their anger in Government House, Ogah was making a “triumphant” entry into Umuahia with a very long motorcade. “He is coming straight to Government House where he will be sworn in,” became a popular refrain. Tension rose higher and not a few government officials and party chieftains were unsettled. At the Government House, some top appointees of government were seen packing their personal effects. Uncertainty was thick in the air and security at the Government House precincts were beefed up. People waited with baited breadth, expecting the unexpected to happen soon. But Ogah did not show up at Government House, after all.
Information later filtered that he was at the state office of the Department of State Service. It was speculated that security agents had gone in search of the Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, to bring her to perform Ogah’s inauguration. Later, the song changed and it was rumoured that Justice Uzokwe was nowhere to be seen and an alternative arrangement had been worked out, that people were on their way to Owerri to go and fetch the Chief Judge of Imo State to come and perform the all-important ceremony. Then, word came that Ogah was meeting with the secret police. Newsmen were not privy to what was discussed at the meeting which lasted well into the night. When it became obvious that nothing like inauguration of Ogah was going to take place that night, anxious newsmen who kept vigil at the seat of power began to disperse.
Outside the main entrance to the Government House, hordes of club-wielding youths had taken over the Akanu Ibiam road which links Government House with Aba Road by Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, molesting motorists and even pedestrians.
A source said the thugs were imported from Aba but it was not possible to ascertain who they were working for. Though no casualty was recorded, the road became an instant “death zone.” Given the alarm raised by the PDP that a plan to invade the state has been uncovered, Abians who encountered the urchins quickly headed for their respective homes. Curiously, there were no presence of security operatives save for those stationed at areas of their posting along the roads. The day and night passed off without any event. “This coup has failed,” someone quipped Thursday night.
But tension and suspense was still thick in the air and many were expectant. Morning of Friday came and Umuahia was calm and there was no sign of Ogah. Embattle Governor Ikpeazu, however, broke his silence and urged for calm while assuring Abians that he would resolutely defend the mandate which they gave him freely in April last year.
The governor who appeared unruffled while addressing newsmen at Government Lodge, Umuahia, was emphatic that Ogah’s attempt to takeover Abia Government House was an “illegality that cannot stand,” adding that he has obtained a court order which restrains the state Chief Judge and any other legal officers from swearing in Ogah as governor.
“I want to inform the public, especially NdiAbia, that we are okay. We had a temporary setback which you people are well aware of, when somebody who did not run an election surreptitiously planned to ambush the mandate which Abia people freely gave us on the 11th and 25th of April last year,” Ikpeazu said during the briefing.
He said the speed applied by Ogah to execute the Abuja court order was baffling. “We are baffled by the urgency and the desperation to bounce into Government House,” he said, adding “even if it (Justice Okon Abang’s ruling) was a death sentence, I don’t think that I have to be executed without right of appeal and that right is undeniable, that right is fundamental. Denial of the right is denial of my fundamental right and I will resist it and I know that all well-meaning Nigerians will resist it.”
For him, what was happening in Abia was an indication that democracy was on trial.
“What is on trial is our democracy. It is not about me as a person but about the will of the people of Abia state,” Ikpeazu remarked and stressed that the issue of tax was difficult for Abians to comprehend.
“Why it is very difficult for Abia people to accept is that everybody knows very well that I have been working for government in this environment. I did not come from elsewhere and my last duty post which was ASEPA, Aba was such a job that everybody saw, even on the streets, while I was doing it. And so for somebody to come and say that I have problems with my tax, to Abia people, it is strange because they know where I was working and they know that government was paying me and the Board of Internal Revenue, whose duty it is to assess and levy tax, has come out with an affidavit to say, yes, these document were issued by us. So, if there are questions to be asked, the Board of Internal Revenue are the people to answer the question,” he submitted.
“To that extent,” he said, “I want to assure you that we are resolute in our determination to defend the mandate which was freely given to us by Abia people. There is no doubt about who is in charge and who is governor because you people witnessed the day we were sworn in. You people also witnessed when we took the Oath of Allegiance and no other person has taken that oath on behalf of the position of governor of Abia State. I want to assure you that this illegality will not stand.”
He used the opportunity to absolve the federal government of any culpability in the Abia drama, saying that President Muhammadu Buhari could not be involved because he was a man of integrity.
“I want to dissuade the rumour that is making rounds everywhere that some people are sponsoring this, I don’t think it is true because we understand the position of the government at the federal level against corruption and they cannot support somebody battling to wear the toga of immunity just because the person wants to run away from the certainty of justice.
“I don’t think that is the path the federal government would like to toe. It is antithetical to the belief and framework of the present administration,” he said.
While the governor was briefing newsmen, students in tertiary institutions of the Ukwa/Ngwa extraction, the governor’s kinsmen were mobilising for a meeting in Government House, just as a good number of youths believed to be of Ukwa/Ngwa milieu were seen outside the main gate of Government House. After all, it was late Chief Sam Mbakwe, Governor of Old Imo State, who posited that “that the rat does not munch the food of a vigilant man.”
For now, not much has been heard from the Ogah camp. May be, they are still working out their next line of action.
Though the tension that gripped Abia Thursday is ebbing, Abia is still pregnant. No one can, for certainty, predict what will happen next.
•Photo shows Ikpeazu and Ogah.
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