By Clifford Ndujihe
THE Abia polity is turbo-charged and awash with protests and counter-protests. No thanks to last week’s verdict of the Appeal Court, which set aside the the election tribunal’s judgement, quashed the election of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as governor and ordered the swearing-in of Dr Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in his place.
The decision caused of protests by some leading politicians and people, especially from the Ukwa/Ngwa axis of the state, who kicked against the ruling and threw their support behind Okezie.
The first protest was staged by Ukwa Ngwa men, led by former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara
and Chief Gershion Amuta, which grounded activities in Aba. Ukwa Ugwa women followed up, protesting in black attires as they marched on the streets of Aba in a re-enactment of the Aba Women Riot of 1929.
On Wednesday, there was a counter protest in Umuahia by people, who supported the APGA candidate, insisting that the appellate court was right and the decision must stand in the interest of the state.
Appeal Court has done justice to Abians, says Onuoha-Bourdex
A member of the APGA Board of Trustees and Abia North Senatorial Candidate for Abia North, Chief David Onuoha-Bourdex, reportedly said that the court spoke peace and justice to the hearts of Abia people.
Claiming that the people of Abia State rejected the PDP and many of its candidates because of acts of imposition, intimidation and impunity, adding that even when the masses expressed their preference for APGA, the PDP mercenaries employed, mutilation, inflation of votes and arson to twist the outcome.
“Even at the election petition tribunals the overbearing and negative influence of PDP was brought to bear on the proceedings and decisions. The party used its peerless pedigree in election rigging and political corruption to purchase judgement,” he alleged, insisting that at last the Court of Appeal had spoken the minds of Abia people.
Claiming that his Abia North mandate was stolen, Onuoha-Bourdex expressed regrets that the tribunal closed its eyes to the monumental evidence of inflation of votes and mutilation of results by PDP and its candidate, Mao Ohuabunwa, to deny him and APGA their well-earned victory.
While commending Dr Otti for waging what he described as a principled judicial battle against impunity and political brigandage, Onuoha-Bourdex saluted the five-man panel of Appeal Court judges, headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, for ruling that Otti scored 164, 444 valid votes to beat Ikpeazu of PDP, who it awarded 114, 444 votes.
Backing the cancellation of the elections held in Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Isiala Ngwa local councils because of alleged widespread manipulation perpetrated by the PDP, he said: “The Court of Appeal by its declaration of Dr. Otti as winner has wiped the tears on the faces of Abians, especially the young men that were killed for standing strong in the face of intimidation. The arson that took place and all under hand methods applied to justify the blood money given to PDP rigging mercenaries have come to nought. Abia has regained its political freedom.’’
Disenfranchisement of 300,000 Abians can’t stand – Ikpeazu, others
However, Governor Ikpeazu, the PDP and its faithful have pooh poohed the verdict, arguing that the worst the court could have done was to re-order a re-run in the three local councils as not doing so means disenchantment of over 300,000 eligible voters in the area including Ikpeazu, who won the councils.
One of the protesters said: ‘’The first question begging for an answer is; was there evidence on the basis of which the result in the three local governments were cancelled? The only reason the court gave is that there was over voting in the Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala Ngwa North areas.
‘’Over voting is a situation where the number of accredited voters is less than number of votes cast in the election. It is worthy at this juncture to stress that votes are cast at polling units and not at ward or LGA level.
‘’The court of appeal relied on the card reader accreditation only to arrive at its decision that total number of votes cast was more than the total number of accredited voters whereas Section 49 of the Electoral Act allows voters to be accredited without recourse to card reader. That was the reason for the introduction of incident forms by INEC where the card reader failed.
‘’There were evidence on record that so many people were accredited outside the card reader, owing to the failure of the card readers. This large population of voters were not taken into account in the computation by the court of appeal of the number of accredited voters. If they had been taken into account, the court would have found that there was no over voting.’’
In a statement on the issue, Mr Godwin Adindu, the chief press secretary to the Governor Ikpeazu, said there are fundamental flaws in the judgement, which if allowed to stand, would mean the denial of the rights of a large number of the electorates to choose their representatives. It wondered how the appellate court could allow the disenfranchising of three local governments, which constitute about 300,000 voters or one-third of Abia State electorates, including the state governor himself.
“How could they (the justices) have ordered INEC to swear-in Mr. Alex Otti immediately after their pronouncement when they know that there is still a window of 14 days within which the Governor has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court?,” Adindu asked.
He said that APGA was not ready for the 2015 governorship election as demonstrated by its inability to have candidates for the House of Assembly in the two state constituencies of Obingwa Local Government Area, where the PDP governorship candidates hails from. “So who could have mobilised or monitored votes for APGA in Obingwa?,” he asked.