By Promise Uzoma Okoro
Soon after his emergence as the Governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) in Abia State on the 8th Day of December 2014,one will be right right to say that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has not been allowed to enjoy the sweetness of the number one seat in the State.
After a lengthy legal tussle from Alex Otti, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate in the 2015 elections. After Ikpeazu was declared winner of the April 11 and 25th Supplementary election, Otti dragged Ikpeazu to the Abia State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Umuahia, urging it to annul his election, alleging that the election was marred by irregularities and substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act. He then urged the tribunal to declare him (Otti) the winner on account of the lawful votes cast during the election. But Otti’s prayer was not granted, as the tribunal upheld Ikpeazu’s election instead.
Not done, Otti dragged Ikpeazu to the Court of Appeal, and seemed to get some reprieve when the Court, sitting in Owerri, had 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 the validly elected governor of the state, 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.
“From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” Ikpeazu why reacting to his victory at the Supreme Court had said.
But not many Abians knew of two Pre-Election Suits Instituted by the President of Masters Energy Oil and Gas Dr Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah and Barr Friday Nwosu.
Uche Ogah in his suit asked the court to disqualify Ikpeazu over allegation of forging his Tax clearance receipts, the Tax Clearance Certificate in Form IT 70, reference No. SPA/HQ/2437 with serial number 095827 and dated 04/07/2014, which was submitted by Ikpeazu to both INEC and the PDP, showing payment of his Income Tax for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013, that it were forged.The suit did not challenge Ikpeazu’s victory at the PDP primaries held on December 8th 2014 at Umuahia Township Stadium while
Barr Friday Nwosu whose suit was inconcomitant with Ogah’s suit but a slight difference,Nwosu prayed the court to Disqualify Ikpeazu over allegation of forging his Tax Clearance receipt,then “An order setting aside the nomination of Uche Ogah by PDP as its gubernatorial candidate in Abia State for the 2015 general election. According to Nwosu, that in accordance with the constitution PDP, Uche Ogah who is from Abia North senatorial zone, cannot be nominated or fielded as the gubernatorial candidate PDP for the Abia State gubernatorial election 2015 on the grounds of zoning and rotation policy of PDP as provided for in chapter 1, section 7(3)(c) and. Chapter 3. Part 1, section 10(1)(a) of PDP constitution as amended and dated 26th day of March, 2012 and PDP having zoned the 2015 governorship slot to Abia South Senatorial Zone where the Ikpeazu comes from.”
Normally this suits ought to had been decided before the election,but due to legal technicalities and delays, elections were held and winners announced why the suits were pending in Court.
However, Justice Abang in a judgement delivered on June 27 2016, sacked Governor Ikpeazu from office over alleged tax infractions, directing the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue fresh Certificate of Return to Mr. Sampson Ogah who came second in the gubernatorial primary the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, conducted in Abia State on December 8, 2014
Justice Abang said he was satisfied that Ikpeazu perjured by giving false information in the Form CF001 and documents accompanying it, which he submitted to both PDP and the INEC to participate in the governorship contest he eventually won.
However, a five-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, in a unanimous decision on August 18 2016, lampooned Justice Abang, who they said delivered judgement that was bereft of justice.
“His Lordship committed a grave violence against one of the pillars of justice,” Justice Morenike Ogunwumiju who delivered the lead verdict said.
She said Justice Abang failed to uphold the legal maxim of ‘Audi alteram partem,’ which is a legal maxim that means ‘hear the other side,’ as first enacted in the Magna Carta, 1215.
It is a principle of fair-hearing; that both parties shall respond to the evidence against them, which is considered a principle of fundamental justice or equity.
In the summation of the appellate court, Justice Abang “stood the law on its head,” as well as adopt a “hostile proceeding” against Ikpeazu and the PDP, by not granting them fair hearing.
The Court Of Appeal held that allegation of forgery and tax evasion levelled against Ikpeazu by Ogah, being “very contentious” in nature, ought to have been determined through Writ of Summons instead of Originating Summons.
Both Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and Dr Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah are now awaiting a final decision of the Supreme Court in the case,which may eventually come on the 11th of January(Tomorrow) 2017.
The Battle for the Soul of Abia State gathered momentum following events that took place few weeks ago at the Abia State House Of Assembly,where Rt Hon Martins Azubuike was Impeached as the Speaker of the Assembly over allegation of high handedness to members.
But the development in the Assembly increased fears that Certain Forces in the State were calculating incase the Worst happens at the Supreme Court.
The Impeachment, Election of New Speaker, Resignation of the Newly elected Speaker and the emergence of a Third Speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly increased suspicion among Political pundits over what fate awaits the state at the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had on Friday, December 9, 2016 ruled on a similar case relating to Uche Ogahs case when it affirmed Ben Ayade of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the governor of Cross River State.
Professor Ayade was facing a challenge by Joe Agi of the PDP who sought the sack of Ayade based on alleged false age declaration. Agi had asked the apex court to declare the governor’s emergence as the PDP flagbearer as null and void.
The Supreme Court ruled that Joe Agi, a senior advocate of Nigeria, was unable to prove his allegation against the governor.
Like in the case of Dr Alex Otti,a Precedent was set by the Supreme Court when it upheld the Election of Malam Abdulazeez Yari as the Governor of Zamfara State on January 8 2016 particularly as it deals with Over -Voting which was the major Claim of Dr Alex Otti in his Petition against Governor Okezie Ikpeazu .
The Tension is High,the Decision of the Supreme Court tomorrow will send a strong message ahead of the 2019 Governorship Tussle in Abia State.
Promise Uzoma Okoro,a Blogger wrote From Umuahia