The one question the judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which sacked Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, has raised is whether a person whose name was not on the ballot for an election, campaigned or voted for can be declared governor, Davidson Iriekpen asks
An interesting twist was last week added to the ongoing governorship crisis rocking Abia State, when the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) asked that its candidate in the 2015 general election, Mr. Alex Otti, be declared governor of the state instead of Mr. Uche Ogah.
The party in a statement by its state Chairman, Mr. Augustine Ehiemere, said it would only be fair that its candidate is declared the rightful governor “since there is no record anywhere to show that Ogah won the primary of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), let alone take part in all the stages of the last governorship election in the state.
Justice Okon Abang had on Monday, June 27, 2016, sacked Governor Okezie Ikpeazu from office. The court declared that he did not possess the requisite qualification to contest the election as governor because he failed to furnish the court with credible evidence of payment of taxes to the Abia State Government.
The judge, who predicated his judgment on section 24 (1) (f) of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act, said the governor did not qualify to contest the election ab initio and PDP was wrong to have presented him as a candidate in the first place. On these grounds, he consequently directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue a certificate of return to Ogah, who came second in the PDP governorship primary election.
Ikpeazu as the candidate of the PDP in the April 11, governorship election scored the highest number of votes and consequently declared the duly elected governor of Abia State by INEC, while Otti as the APGA candidate scored the second highest number of votes.
Sensing that the tussle could lead to the re-enactment of the Chibuike Amaechi and Celestine Omehia scenario in the state, APGA said the declaration oh Ogar as the governor by a Federal High Court in Abuja was strange and alien to the law.
In the famous Amaechi and Omehia case which till date has baffled political and legal pundits, Justice George Oguntade of the Supreme Court declared Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, whose name was not on the ballot for the election or campaigned let alone voted for as the duly elected Governor of Rivers State.
The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, held that the mandate belonged to the political party and having determined that he was the rightful candidate of the PDP that won the 2007 governorship elections in the state, it ordered that he be sworn in as governor.
That singular judgment led to the amendment of the nation’s Electoral Act and the inclusion of a sub-section, which holds that no individual shall be deemed to have won an election if he did not stand for election into that particular office in Nigeria.
In APGA’s argument, if Justice Abang was leveraging on the Supreme Court decision in Amaechi’s case, whereby Omehia was asked to surrender his mandate to Amaechi, as governor of Rivers State, he got it all wrong. To the party, the difference in the two cases is that Amaechi won the PDP governorship primary fair and square, unlike in this case, where Ogar came second, behind Ikpeazu.
Therefore, Ogar was not the choice of the party neither was he the person duly declared governor by INEC and so, cannot be the choice of the court, against the wish of Abia people.
According to it, “Our humble demand that the appellate court while upholding the Ikpeazu guilty verdict corrects this huge error by issuing the right order which is to declare the candidate that scored the highest lawful votes, the APGA candidate, Alex Otti the governor, as he did not only meet all the constitutional requirements and vote spread across the state, but even won more local governments than the sacked Ikpeazu. This is an incontrovertible fact.”
The statement also disclosed that “APGA and her candidate were excluded from the Aba North House of Assembly rerun after its House of Assembly candidate was removed for allegedly tendering a forged certificate. This was sequel to a petition filed against APGA by PDP after the 2015 House of Assembly election. We do not believe that PDP should gain from APGA’s failure and turn back to reap from its own failure in the same state because the law is not selective.
“As we hold firm to these demands, and expect justice in the end, we unequivocally condemn the recent atmosphere of chaos, insecurity, and uncertainty created in the state as a result of the recent judgment.”
APGA, in the statement, reiterated that it “received with mixed feelings of approval and disapproval, the judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which sacked Ikpeazu as governor of Abia State for tax related crime and declared Ogah as the governor.
“First, we commend the judiciary, and specifically Justice Abang for upholding the sanctity of our law, which frowns at such heinous crime that retards our economic development, and also for deepening our democratic institution which can only thrive and survive, when those who seek to preside over public offices are made to recognise and respect the demands of such offices by being responsible.
“Ordinarily, the judgment ought not to have come to any one as a surprise, first, going by the alarming and below standard falsification, distortion, contradiction, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies seen on the tax documents.
“And secondly, after the Supreme Court deservedly dismissed the no-case submission earlier brought by the accused and directed for the commencement of his trial, which has yielded the expected result, this is a commendable red card that serves as a warning to economic saboteurs, and a deterrent to other apostles of impunity.
“However, we humbly disagree with the consequential order by the court, which directed for the swearing in of Ogah as the governor. This order which we consider a huge error is not only unacceptable to APGA, but untenable in Nigeria’s 2010 Electoral Act as amended, which forbids any person that did not take part in all the stages of an election from being declared winner.
“Alternatively, the court should order a rerun election that would exclude the PDP and their candidate the way it has been done in some states including Kogi, where the elections of two out of the three APC Senators and some House of Representatives members were nullified by both High and Appeal courts because they were ab initio improperly nominated, thus they and their party, the APC were excluded in all the reruns.
“Finally, we demand that all gladiators take a cue from our candidate and the man millions of Abians unanimously believe won the governorship election, Dr. Alex Otti, whose peaceful mien in the face of senseless attacks and adherence to constitutionality before, during, and after the elections saved Abia from being plunged into anarchy, by being responsible and await the decision of the courts in the whole matter.”
Indeed, when the Supreme Court delivered judgment in the famous Amaechi-Omehia case, a cross section of Nigerians could not believe what they heard. The questions that readily came to mind were: why would a person who did not participate in an election be declared governor? Why was the entire process not cancelled and a fresh election ordered? What happens to other political parties and their candidates who participated in the election? These, of course, necessitated the amendment of the Electoral Act 2010. But with the judgment of Justice Abang, it seems there was no lesson learnt from that experience.
While Ikpeazu has rightly appealed the judgment of Justice Abang, Nigerians are waiting to hear what the appellate court would decide on the case. On the part of APGA, it is anxiously waiting to see what becomes of the thousands of votes given to its candidate in the election.
The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, held that the mandate belonged to the political party and having determined that he was the rightful candidate of the PDP that won the 2007 governorship elections in the state, it ordered that he be sworn in as governor…That singular judgment led to the amendment of the nation’s Electoral Act and the inclusion of a sub-section, which holds that no individual shall be deemed to have won an election if he did not stand for election into that particular office in Nigeria