Respite came the way of the Abia State gubernatorial logjam on Tuesday July 26, 2016, when the Justice Morenike Ogunwumiju-led five-man panel of the Appeal Court sitting in Abuja, ordered all parties involved in the power tussle to “remain as they were” before the case was brought to the court.
Though the Judge clarified that this order was not to be misconstrued as a stay of execution of the judgement pronounced by Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja High Court ordering Dr Uche Ogah, a contestant to the post to be immediately sworn in, it allows Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to remain in office (for the meantime) thus foreclosing a power vacuum in the state.
This governorship debacle remains a major litmus test for the judiciary and indeed the nation’s fledgling democracy. On Monday June 27, 2016, Justice Abang had sacked Ikpeazu as Abia Governor and given a consequential order to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue a fresh Certificate of Return to Ogah to be sworn-in as Governor.
Ogah came second in the December 8, 2014 Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primaries. He alleged that Ikpeazu forged the tax clearance certificate and failed to file same for 2011, 2012 and 2013. Ogah, through his team of lawyers further alleged that all the payments Ikpeazu made before the PDP 2014 primaries were done in one day, a Saturday. The court ruled in favour of the plaintiff and declared the defendant ineligible to contest the 2015 governorship election.
Intense legal and political fireworks have flown from both camps since the judgment was delivered. Two other court pronouncements came from Abia and Imo States after that of Abuja. The political space in Abia is suffused with tension as the contenders lay claim to the Governor’s seat.
The situation which Abia State finds itself would have been avoided if due diligence was observed in the build-up to the PDP governorship primaries in 2014. This logjam which brought governance to a standstill compounded situations in the state. Abia is among the 27 States which are unable to pay workers’ salaries.
Now that the Court of Appeal has waded into the issue, the parties to this dispute must refrain from further actions that could thwart the course of justice. They must be patient until all the legal processes are exhausted and a final decision made.
We call on the Attorney General of the Federation, President of the Court of Appeal and the Chief Justice of Nigeria to ensure that the case is given accelerated hearing.
We also urge the National Judicial Council (NJC) to take appropriate measures against judges who fail to take judicial notice of judgments and rulings of courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction.