When gladiators face one another in a free for all, the followers will only watch with body movements, gestures and intermittent offer of tactics requisite for the combat.
Over the years, in fact in the 17 years Nigeria has borne the burden called uninterrupted democracy, it has been rare for an election to come and go without someone, somewhere crying foul against what was either done to him or what was not done to him. Without mincing words, this conflict of superiority dates back to the first republic through to the Second Republic, and today, it has become a routine, which happens even when there is no reason for it.
In 2007, a precedence was set in Rivers State when Celestine Omehia, having supposedly scaled the hurdle of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Primaries, eventually went ahead to win the Governorship Election. He was only privileged to run affairs for a few months before Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi instituted a court case against him, saying he was duly qualified to run for the primaries, and therefore ineligible. The Court heard case, and sacked Omehia, and instituted Amaechi, who never contested the election, and he rule for eight uninterrupted years.
Today, the scene is repeating itself in Abia State, prompting a constitutional crisis as well as personality intrigues between two party men; one, a serving governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, and the other, a governor hopeful, who did not make the primaries on December 8, 2014, Mr. Uche Ogah.
Ogah had taken Ikpeazu to the Abuja Federal High Court, claiming that the governor submitted faulty tax for the 2015 Governorship Elections which he won. In his ruling, the Court, presided over by Justice Okon Abang, declared Ikpeazu’s election as the Governor of Abia State null and void on the grounds that he allegedly submitted falsified tax returns to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the run up to the governorship election. The court, therefore, ruled that Ikpeazu was not fit to contest the 2015 governorship election on account of his faulty tax returns.
Consequently, Ogar was adjudged by the court as the rightful candidate of the PDP in the election, having come second behind the ousted governor. He consequently ordered the Chief Judge of the state to swear in Uche Ogah as the substantive Governor of Abia State while prevailing on INEC to issue Certificate of Return to Ogah. While the Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Uzoukwu, delayed in swearing in the emergency governor, INEC was not hesitant in issuing Certificate of Return to Ogah to compliment his judicial victory.
However, Ikpeazu, in a desperate move to save his position, immediately challenged the judgment of the Federal High Court by proceeding to the Court of Appeal, thus leaving the impression that he would remain in office until the judicial process challenging the validity of his candidacy had run its course.
Ikpeazu’s gamble paid off, as an Abia State High Court, presided over by C. H. Ahuchaogu, issued an order restraining Uche Ogah from being sworn in as the state governor. A copy of the order read: “It is hereby ordered: That an order of injunction is hereby made restraining the second defendant from issuing a certificate of return to the first defendant while the claimant remains in office in accordance with section 143 (1) and (2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and pending the determination of the motion on notice.”
“It is further ordered: That the third defendant or any other judge of the court or any judicial officer are hereby restrained from swearing in the first defendant while the claimant remains in office in accordance with section 143 (1) and (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 restricted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from issuing a certificate of return to Oga. The order reads: “an order of injunction 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.
Not satisfied with injunctions and counter injunctions, Ikpeazu followed up his scheme with the declaration of a two days public holiday, ostensibly to dissuade the Chief Judge of Abia State from swearing in Ogar. Though the Governor said that the public holiday was given to honour the departed former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ojo Maduekwe, political pundits agree that was far from the truth.
According to Ude Chilaka, a legal practioner in Aba: “This is a game of wits, and each of the parties is playing it close to his heart. The winner will be the person that has more aces up his sleeves. We should not be cowed with the so called holiday to honour Maduekwe. Even Maduekwe himself knows the holidays are not for him. The Governor is like someone clutching unto a straw, and he can do anything to survive. With the two days self imposed public holiday, in addition to the Eid-el Fitr, the Governor will have enough time to plan his strategy as well as keep the judge away from performing his duties.”
True to talk, the extended public holidays stalled a scheduled hearing of an application seeking to stay execution of judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja that sacked Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State from office. The trial Justice, Okon Abang had earlier, slated Thursday to also decide whether or not he has the powers to set aside the ex-parte order by a High Court in Abia State that stopped the Chief Judge of the state from swearing-in Ogah as governor.
The judge said he would also decide on the merit of an oral application by Ikpeazu’s lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, to annul the Certificate of Return the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, issued to Ogah. Besides, the court was equally billed to determine whether the provisions of Section 143(1) of the Electoral Act applied to the judgment that was delivered against Ikpeazu on June 27.
Justice Abang had at the last adjourned date, dismissed as lacking in merit, an application that sought to void the enrolled order of the said judgment. He maintained that all the orders contained in the judgment would subsist until they are set aside by the appellate court.
Olanipekun urged the court to take judicial notice that INEC issued Certificate of Return to Ogah on June 30, despite the fact that it was served with Ikpeazu’s notice of appeal and application for stay of execution at exactly 12:50am on June 28. He contended that INEC acted wrongly by going ahead to issue the Certificate to Ogah, two days after it was served with the appeal processes. Olanipekun told the court that his client has filed “a comprehensive and elaborate notice of appeal,” and is “desirous of speedy and expeditious determination of the matter.”
The intrigue continued as Ogah, who was represented by five SANs led by Dr. Alex Iziyon, urged the court to refuse Ikpeazu’s prayer for stay of execution of the judgment. Ogah told the court that Ikpeazu went and obtained a restraining order from another high court at Osisioma in Abia State that prevented him from being sworn-in. He stressed that Ikpeazu got the restraining order from the high court in Abia when his motion for stay of execution was already pending before the court in Abuja. Ogah accused Ikpeazu of resorting to “self help.”
Responding, Olanipekun said it was Ogah and INEC that “deliberately and calculatedly resorted to self-help in order to frustrate both the motion for stay of execution and the pending appeal.” He relied on Order 4, Rule 1(2) of the Judgment Enforcement Rules to argue that there should have been a timeline for enforcement of the June 27 verdict that removed his client. Olanipekun insisted that INEC “illegally tampered with the rest of the case” by issuing Certificate of Return to Ogah despite the pending appeal against the judgment.
On its part, INEC lawyer, Mr. Alhassan Umar told the court that the commission had already issued Certificate of Return to Ogah as it was ordered to do, before it was served with Ikpeazu’s motion for stay. Umar said though the Certificate was signed on June 28, it was however handed to Ogah two days later. In his ruling, Justice Abang refused to set aside the order containing the judgment against Ikpeazu, even as he adjourned hearing on the motion for stay of execution.
Meantime, hundreds of prominent persons from across Abia State, having been throwing their supports either behind Governor Okezie Ikpeazu or Dr. Uche Ogah, thereby setting a crisis among Abia people.
One of such groups comprising political stakeholders, traditional prime ministers, titled chiefs, community leaders and village heads of all autonomous communities in Abia State, urged Abia people to remain calm as they expressed confidence that Ogah would be sworn-in as the Governor of the State. They dismissed the position of some stakeholders in the State who met in Abuja, saying that the people were not genuine Abia elders.
Leader of the group and traditional prime minister of Ibeku Kingdom, Chief Uche Akwukwaegbu in a communiqué read at the end of the traditional ruler’s meeting in Umuahia backed Ogah as governor of the state.
But the plethora of court suits notwithstanding, another arose from Chief Friday Nwosu, seeking to unseat Ikpeazu for allegedly presenting forged tax certificate to his party. Nwosu, who was a governorship aspirant on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the December 8, 2014 party primary, had approached the court requesting to be declared as governor on the grounds that Ikpeazu was not qualified to represent PDP during 2015 election. The court dismissed his suit.
Delivering judgment on the suit instituted by Nwosu, Justice Allagoa said the plaintiff through his counsel failed to justify his claim that the tax certificate submitted by Ikpeazu was forged. Justice Allagoa noted that aside looking at documents in litigation, proving a forged matter requires adequate clarification and additional proof by experts before a forgery claim can be established by law.
On the claim that Ikpeazu was not properly taxed in the year 2011, the court noted that it was not the position of Ikpeazu, but that of the tax officials to determine how he should be taxed. The court maintained that since the issuing authority (Abia State Board of Internal Revenue) was not joined in the suit nor an expert engaged to ascertain the authenticity of the document it would be unlawful for the court to rule in favour of the plaintiff. On the third relief sought seeking to dismiss the claim to the governorship position by Dr. Uche Ogah, the court ruled in favour of the plaintiff, noting “Ogah is not eligible to enjoy the outcome of the PDP primary because he rejected the result of the primary judge.”
Justice Allagoa had earlier favoured Nwosu on two other grounds; that the originating summons filed was properly filed and that the Federal High Court has jurisdiction to hear the pre-election suit. Reacting to the judgment which lasted more than two hours, Dr Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), Jude Nnodum and Theo Nkire, who represented the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), PDP and Ikpeazu respectively, said the judgment was a landmark one.
Nkire specifically commended the judge for his industry in reviewing all issues raised by parties and at the end gave a sound judgment that would be hard to fault elsewhere. Mr. Francis Unyimadu, the plaintiff’s counsel also thanked the court for the judgment, and added that his client would critically look at the judgment and know what next to do.
Supporters of Ikpeazu, who attended the court in their party uniforms went into jubilation after the judgment. Meanwhile, Ikpeazu while responding to the judgment yesterday, “described it as victory of light over darkness, good over evil and for judiciary and called on his brothers in Abia North and South to sheath their sword and join him to develop the state.”
Ikpeazu also expressed joy that the judge said he remains the governor of the state having declared that his tax papers were genuine and that he was qualified to contest in the 2015 election. He also said the attempt made against his mandate was against the law, saying that the god of justice had spoken for him.
Ikpeazu’s joy was however shortlived as another Federal Hgh Court sitting in Owerri, ruled that Ikpeazu’s ouster still stand, meaning that the Chief Judge of Abia State should go ahead to swear in Mr. Uchechukwu Ogah.
While Abia citizens await the outcome of the battle of wits as well as intrigues, only fate can tell who takes the mantle of leadership control the affairs from the Government House, Umuahia.