By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Innocent Anaba, Anayo Okoli, Omezia Ajayi Abdulwahab Abdulah, Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu & Gbenga Oke
UMUAHIA — Constitutional chaos broke out in Abia State, yesterday, after the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, issued a certificate of return to Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, governorship claimant, Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah.
The commission said its action was on the basis of a court ruling, Monday, by an Abuja Federal High Court which removed Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu from office as governor of the state, allegedly for failing to fulfil requirements expected of a candidate for the governorship.
The INEC action immediately paralysed activities in the Ikpeazu-controlled Government House in Umuahia, setting anxiety among officials and other stakeholders.
A widely-publicised lecture to be delivered by Ikpeazu at the Abia State University, Uturu at 11.00 a.m., for which most of Ikpeazu’s cabinet had converged was unceremoniously aborted, following news of the development in Abuja.
Ikpeazu in a riposte, filed and obtained an injunction from an Abia High Court stopping the state chief judge, the president of the Customary Court of Appeal or any other judicial officer from swearing Ogah into office.
In a move interpreted by some as keeping Ogah at bay, the Ikpeazu administration declared today and Monday public holidays. The administration said the public holidays were to honour Chief Ojo Maduekwe, who died on Wednesday.
Such developments followed yesterday’s issuance of a certificate of return to Ogah who was runner-up in the PDP governorship primary won by Ikpeazu.
Two stakeholders in the PDP, Obasi Uba Ekagbara and Chukwuemeka Mba, had taken Ikpeazu to court, following his emergence as candidate, that he was not qualified to become governor on the grounds that his tax papers were deficient.
In his declaratory ruling on Monday, Justice Okon Abang who heard the case, agreed that Ikpeazu’s tax and income papers were defective, saying he was not qualified to be the candidate of the PDP and immediately ordered that the runner-up in the primary, Ogah, be sworn in as governor.
Ikpeazu had on Wednesday, filed his appeal against the judgment and had also declared that he would remain governor.
INEC issues certificate of return to Ogah
INEC in a surprising turn, however, issued a Certificate of Return to Ogah.
INEC National Commissioner in charge of the South-East, Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, said the commission only submitted itself to the lawful order of a court, adding that as a citizen, he could go to jail if he flouted a valid court order.
He said if another court upturned the decision, INEC would again submit itself to the bidding of the court.
“The situation is that we are simply obeying the court order. The court said with immediate effect, without wasting of time, we should issue him Certificate of Return and that is what we have done — to obey the court order.
“If the court tomorrow issues another order, we would obey the same. By the grace of God, I am the INEC Commissioner in charge of South-East. I’ll do the same thing if the court orders us to do so, if court says we should issue the same certificate to another person.
“In this case, court ordered us to issue a Certificate of Return to the person who won the election and that is Uche Ogah. I was the person who gave the Certificate of Return to Gov. Ikpeazu as he was declared winner.
“Now, the court has said otherwise. One thing we know is that we are not above the law and we cannot disobey the laws of the land. After the court, another person we obey in our land is God and my conscience is my God.
“Another thing that guides us is the court and we must obey its order with immediate effect. If you were in the court that day, and I urge you the media, to go and study the court ruling very well, it was wonderful; it was direct,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, INEC’s Director of Publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzi, had earlier stated that the decision followed an order by an Abuja Federal High Court directing INEC to immediately issue Certificate of Return to Mr. Ogah.
INEC lied, they were severed notice of appeal — Abia AG
Contrary to claims by INEC that they did not receive any Notice of Appeal from Governor Okezie Ikpeazu or an injunction stopping the commission from issuing a Certificate of Return to Dr. Uche Ugah, the Attorney General of Abia State, Mr. Umeh Kalu, said INEC lied in its claims.
A proof of service has shown that the commission did, indeed, receive the two important documents, which 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 12.50pm on Wednesday, June 29, 2016.
He said: “It’s unfortunate that INEC said it was not served. But the truth is that they were served. I have a proof to that effect. Saleh N. Ibrahim, Senior Clerical Officer at the Legal Services Department of the commission’s headquarters, Abuja, stamped the Notice of Appeal and Injunction with the commission’s official stamp by 12.50pm 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.
Abia Govt House paralyzed
Meanwhile, armed thugs had, last night, taken positions around the Government House and were quoted as asking Ogah to stay away.
Earlier, security had been reinforced around the Government House with journalists and visitors entering being thoroughly frisked.
As news of the development in Abuja reached Abia, activities at Government House, Umuahia, were paralysed. In a swift move, Ikpeazu filed a motion at an Abia High Court to stop the state chief judge, president of the Customary Court of Appeal and any other judicial officer from swearing-in Ogah as governor.
The order issued by Justice Chibuzo Ahuchaogu read: “Upon this motion ex-parte pursuant to Section 143 (1) & (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and pending the determination of the motion on notice, after hearing O.O Nkume, counsel to the applicant.
“It is ordered that an order of injunction is, hereby, made 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.
“It is further ordered that the 3rd defendant (Chief Judge of Abia State) or any other judge of the court or any judiciary officer is, hereby, restricted from swearing-in 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.
“It is also ordered that this order is, hereby, made to last for 10 days from today. The returnable date is fixed for the 8th day of July, 2016.
“Furthermore, the condition attached to this order is that the enrolled order must be served along with the motion on notice on respondents, else the order automatically lapses on 8th July, 2016.”
Ikpeazu also obtained an ex-parte order restricting INEC from issuing a certificate of return to Oga.
The order read: “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.
“An order of injunction restraining the 3rd defendant (Chief Judge of Abia State) or any other judge of the court, or any judiciary officer from swearing in 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.”
I’m still governor — Ikpeazu
Ikpeazu, meanwhile, insisted, yesterday, that he remained governor. Ikpeazu in a statement said: “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 the pendency of a notice of appeal and motion for stay of execution 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 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 resolved the appeal, the status quo remains: I am still the Governor of Abia State.”
Meanwhile, Ogah was at press time said to be ensconced in the office of the Department of State Services, DSS, in Umuahia while the Chief Judge was nowhere to be seen.