The Strength in Ikpeazu’s Character

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Although his prevailing political battle has not completely subsided, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State has shown both character and capacity in the management of affairs of state. Shola Oyeyipo writes

Between 2011 and 2015, former Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Idris Wada ranked as the most litigated state executive. He was faced with legal challenges from all fronts and many feared that it could affect his performance in office. Whether or not that assumption was true completely lies with posterity.

However, in the current experience, the Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, appears to have taken over this reputation from Wada. He is definitely waltzing through series of legal adversities and yet, he has been able to exemplify strength of character as a leader dedicated to emancipating the state from the pang of retrogression he picked up as inheritance from the inglorious past.

As is peculiar with politics in this clime, politicians seeking elective offices had better been prepared for series of challenges – from allegations of various sorts to litigations – since most other aspirants are always ready to go the extra mile to undo one another in the bid to clinch the ticket to office. So, as seen in Governor Ikpeazu’s case, his journey to the seat of power has been strewn with legal travails even before he won the election. The case by Dr. Uche Ogah in which Justice Okon Abang sacked him was a pre-election matter.

Ogah had presented some grounds on which he reckoned Ikpeazu was not qualified to pick the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket. But evaluating those grounds and considering his viability as the preferred candidate for the gubernatorial election, the party elected Ikpeazu as its standard bearer and he eventually won the election.

Nonetheless, while the issues raised by Ogah had become a legal tussle between two party men, Dr. Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance threw up a very strong legal challenge to Ikpeazu’s emergence as the governor of the state in a matter that went from the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to the Appeal Court and eventually the Supreme Court, where a seven-man panel of justices of the apex court headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, on Wednesday, February 3, 2016, voided the verdict of the Owerri division of the Court of Appeal that initially sacked Ikpeazu from office.

The five-member panel of the Court of Appeal headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, had also on December 31, sacked Mr. Ikpeazu as governor of Abia State on the grounds that the APGA candidate, Dr. Otti scored 164, 444 valid votes to defeat Mr. Ikpeazu, who scored 114, 444 votes. The court also declared Otti of APGA as the winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary elections in the state.

This was no doubt, a period of anxiety among the Abia people, who had begun to develop affinity with Ikpeazu as a governor committed to improving the state. But in delivering the lead judgment that upturned the Appeal Court judgment, Justice ‎Sulaiman Galadima, said there was merit in the appeal that was lodged by both Ikpeazu and PDP and therefore upheld the verdict of the tribunal.

Even where the governor seemed unruffled by the litigation, fact is that it was indeed a traumatic period for him, his party and teeming supporters, who were already optimistic that by his ability to hit the ground running, with some people-oriented policies already put in place, the future of the state is secure.

From the start, Ikpeazu had said his election was a call to service because the people of Ukwa and Ngwa, where he comes from, had been victims of marginalisation, degradation and frustration since Nigeria came into existence even though it is the most highly populated sub-ethnic group within the Igbo nation, whose people have never had the opportunity to lead the state as governor of Abia State of the old Aba divisional extraction.

His victory at the Supreme Court was therefore seen as a collective victory for his people, who had been relegated to the background for many years. Yet, Ikpeazu never proclaimed to be governor of Ukwa Ngwa people alone, but of Abia – God’s own state.

Done with the critically engaging courtroom battles, while the Ikpeazu-led administration was looking to move on with its agenda in the areas of security, infrastructure development of Aba and other neglected parts of the state, education, agriculture, holistic structural economic transformation of the state as well as improved power supply, then surfaced another judgment that definitely rattled the government.

Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, sacked him from office as governor for alleged falsification of tax papers. He not only ordered Ikpeazu to vacate office immediately for contesting the governorship primaries based on false information, he also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately issue a certificate of return to Ogah, which the body did.

But something enviable about Governor Ikpeazu is that in spite of his legal distractions, he has carried on with governance as though he was never perturbed. He has vehemently maintained that he still was the governor of the state and consequently approached the Court of Appeal, where he won his appeal against the Justice Abang June 27 ruling removing him from office.

Justice Philomena Ekpe, who read the judgment held that Justice Abang ought to have transferred the motion to it in line with time-honoured doctrine of stari decisis, noting that the Federal High Court judge erred in interpreting the provisions of order 4 (10) and (11) of the Court of Appeal rules, when he ruled that the said provisions were only applicable to an interlocutory ruling of lower court and when a final judgment in a suit had been delivered. She also held that Mr. Abang did not have jurisdictions to interpret the provisions of the Court of Appeal being the rules of a superior court.

Justice Ogunwumiju also said the judge “deliberately stood the law on its head” by justifying jurisdiction to entertain the motion when appeal had been filed.

While Governor Ikpeazu and those in his inner circles were as usual, optimistic that as in previous cases, the ongoing case would fizzle out, the governor has constantly said “I will not succumb to the antics of the opposition to distract me”. And not only that, he has also indoctrinated his aides to work without distraction because “the main reason we were elected is to meet the needs and aspirations of our people and we should not let the people down because of the distractions”.

As at today, going from Nneato in Umunneochi LGA, Abia North senatorial district to Ibeme in Obingwa LGA, Abia South, which is practically covering the length and breadth of the state, the current administration boasts of projects that are deliberately targeted at improving the lot of the people.

Some of the projects the governor prides in include the Imo Dimkpa Bridge, Nneato; the Obolo-Eziama-Osisinkita road also in Nneato and an erosion site at Isuochi Model Secondary School, Isuochi, all in Umunneochi LGA. At Ohafia LGA, there is the ongoing Abiriba Ring road and the Okon-Aku Bridge at Okon-Aku Ohafia. At Arochukwu LGA, the Ndi-Oji, Ndi-Okereke-Ozu-Abam Road and the Bende-Idima Abam Road, which are both alternative roads to Arochukwu being constructed to avoid the perennially impassable Ohafia-Arochukwu federal road.

In Abia South senatorial district, he had inaugurated the Ibeme Electricity Project in what was the first time electricity would get to the community. At old Umuahia-Aba road popularly known as Ururuka road, the failed portions of the road had been reconstructed and there have been series of constructions works at Ukaegbu and Umuola roads, Kamalu road, Udeagbala road, ENUC road, Oomne Drive and Aba-Owerri road.

In Abia Central senatorial district, Ikpeazu had commenced the Umuojima road in Osisioma LGA, inaugurated the Awom-Ukwu, Umusokoro Ikwuano Electricity Project and the electricity project from Ohiya in Umuahia South LGA to Ntigha in Isialangwa North LGA.

The summary of all on-going projects in Abia State some of which had been completed include road projects like Ukaegbu, Umuocham, Mcc/Umuojima, Udeagbala, Ehere, Faulks by Samek, Umuola, Kamalu, Oomne, Umule, Ururuka, Ntigha-Mbawsi to Ururuka (Phase 2), Old Express, Echefu , Enuc, 6no Roads (Jubilee, Ehi, Ube, Hospital, Adazi, Azikiwe from Asa to East), Owerri road, Mosque and the Aba-Owerri Road.

In Umuahia, Agbama Housing Estate Ring road, 5 roads at Low-cost Housing Estate, asphalt overlay of Kaduna Street, Abam Street, Awolowo Road, Niger Road, Umuwaya Road, 3 roads at Ogurube Layout (ICC road, JAAC road, Ring road) and Dozie way (IBB layout). In the Abia North, the projects are Abiriba ring road, Bende-Idima-Abam road, Eke-Eziama-Obuzo-Ngodo road, Imo Ndimkpa Bridge, Nneato, and Okon-Aku Bridge, Ohafia.

Aside these, the government had rejuvenated the Umuahia Regional Water works, comprehensive drainage and storm-water channel desilting, the Education for Employment (E4E), which seeks to reactivate Technical and Vocational Educational Training (TVET), reactivation of street lights in major cities in Abia State and a directive that every new road being constructed in Abia State must come with street lights and several other projects and policies directly programmed to improve the living standard of the people.

Also, worthy of mention is the bill he recently sent to the Abia State House of Assembly for the setting up of an Abia State Investment Promotion Agency and the appointment of a Special Adviser on Public Private Partnership and Investment Promotion (PPP/IP), whose is to set up a one-stop investment centre (OSIC) in Abia State to facilitate easy processes on investment inflow into Abia State as a way to open up the state for investment, employ more people and end poverty.

With the Office of Aba Urban Renewal set up to transform Aba from its currently neglected condition to a city that will boast of basic modern amenities, Ikpeazu is generally said to have been restoring sanity to the city and as part of the administration’s effort to empower youths through agriculture, the 40 youths selected from across the state have been sent to the Songhai Farm in Porto-Novo, Benin Republic for comprehensive training in agricultural value chain.

All these and his cordial working relationship with the people have continued to be his unique selling point in the face of the intimidating legal battles. Nothing is however dear to Ikpeazu than the opportunity to realize his dream of a new Abia.

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In the current experience, the Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, appears to have taken over this reputation from Wada. He is definitely waltzing through series of legal adversities and yet, he has been able to exemplify strength of character as a leader dedicated to emancipating the state from the pang of retrogression he picked up as inheritance from the inglorious past