In spite of the political and legal distractions that have strewn his path, the Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu has remained focused, writes Emmanuel Ugwu
If the embattled Abia State Governor, Dr. Ikpeazu had thought the Court of Appeal verdict that affirmed his mandate would end his travails, he was disappointed. The fight over his mandate is not over. His major challenger, Mr. Uche Ogah has taken the battle to the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal in Abuja upturned the controversial judgment of June 27, 2016 that declared him governor-elect.
Spokesman of the Ogah campaign organisation, Mr. Joshua Ogbonna, while confirming that the battleground has shifted to the apex court justified Ogah’s tenacity in fighting to displace Governor Ikpeazu. According to him, Ogah was merely fighting for justice. “There can never be progress in any society without justice,” he said.
He insisted that the oil tycoon cum politician has “genuine reason” to go the whole hog in the struggle with Ikpeazu, adding that those asking a person who has “something genuine to stop from going to court has something to hide”. Ogbonna, who is also a newspaper publisher, insisted that the court case “will deepen democracy in Abia”.
But that is a jarring noise as far as Ikpeazu’s camp sees it. Ogah’s obstinacy has been ruffling feathers. Not a few people in Abia feel that the joke is getting too far and he should have known when to press the stop button. Those expressing disgust at the political logjam feel that the legal tussle has constituted a huge distraction for the governor as he has been forced to keep watching his back instead focusing on the business of governance.
A former Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu, said the governorship tussle was nothing but a distraction. He was among the governorship aspirants that contested but lost the PDP ticket to Ikpeazu during the December, 2014 primary and has since moved on.
Wogu advised those still fighting “to stop the distraction” as the state was already feeling its debilitating effect. “If the governor is distracted, he cannot work,” the former minister said, adding: “My message to Abians is simple: support the governor; give him enough time, be patient with him for him to achieve his democratic blueprint”.
The distractions that have strewn the path of Ikpeazu since he moved into the Government House, Umuahia, emanated from different angles. He was first confronted with the post-election petition filed by Mr. Alex Otti, who was the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the 2015 general election.
It was a herculean battle as Otti was able to win at the Appeal Court in Owerri and was at the verge of pulling out the governor from the Government House before losing grip at the Supreme Court, which affirmed Ikpeazu’s election. It was after he emerged victorious from the Otti challenge, which was then regarded as the most frightening, that the post-election matter took prominence as yet another distraction.
It started with Mr. Friday Nwosu, who felt that there were anomalies in the tax papers submitted by Ikpeazu in his nomination paper. Nwosu, a legal practitioner, who was among the contestants for the governorship ticket, went to court thinking he could cash in on the tax issue and supplant the governor. Ogah, who was joined as a defendant in Nwosu’s suit saw a light at the end of the tunnel and decided to file his own suit over the Ikpeazu tax papers.
The suit by Ogah eventually took the shine off the one by Nwosu. Though it was the precursor of the pre-election suits against Ikpeazu, the case instituted by Nwosu was never considered as a major distraction or as threatening as the legal battles waged by Otti and Ogah, respectively. This is because Nwosu’s suit has not succeeded at any level in the course of his litigation.
Unlike Otti, who recorded victory at the appellate court and Ogah, who had won at the high court presided over by Justice Okon Abang and even went as far as being issued with a certificate of return by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nwosu has not tasted victory.
Whatever their convictions in waging relentless legal battle against Governor Ikpeazu, the litigants are not enjoying applause across board. There are those that strongly feel that the battle against Ikpeazu is tugging at the cord of peace and stability prevailing in God’s own state, given that the governor was a product of Abia Charter of Equity, which has revolved to the Ukwa/Ngwa part of Abia.
The charter, according to those that fashioned it, was intended to eliminate any fear of marginalisation by any of the component parts of Abia with the governorship seat rotating among the three senatorial zones. The prospect of the outcome of the legal tussle upsetting the applecart was enough to generate the palpable apprehension now gripping the state.
Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Chief Charles Ogbonna blamed “overzealousness and vaulting ambitions” of some politicians, who placed their personal interest above the interest of the state. “There is nothing wrong with being ambitious but when that ambition touches on peace, equity and justice of the state that ambition must be jettisoned,” he said.
The progression of the pre-election matter to the apex court may not have surprised political watchers of the Abia imbroglio given the body language of the disputants at the lower levels of the tussle. Expectedly, the loser at the appellate court has refused to accept the verdict as finality, thereby prolonging the dispersal of the cloud of uncertainty that has been hanging on Abia over a year now.
In all these travails, Governor Ikpeazu has stoically borne the anxiety he has been subjected to in the course of the lingering battle, assuring Abians that he would not yield to the distractions from his opponents. After receiving the “wonderful news” of his victory at the Appeal Court on August 18, Ikpeazu declared that “we’ve been re-invigorated to continue our service to Ndi Abia without let”.
In reality, however, the weight of uncertainty that hangs in the air is enough to unsettle even an incurable optimist. The Appeal Court victory which in his characteristic humility he dedicated to “the common people of Abia state that voted massively for us in 2015 general election” has not been fully savoured before he was drawn to another front, where the legal battle has shifted.
Even with the bold face that Governor Ikpeazu is putting to douse his inner tensions, observers point out that the long drawn legal tussle has taken a toll on governance. It is evident that Ikpeazu had on assumption of office hit the ground running. He pointedly approached the task of revamping the dilapidated infrastructure in the commercial city of Aba, which has drawn accolades even from his ardent critics.
The Enyimba situation has appreciably changed so much in the past one year that the highly critical residents of Aba that welcomed Ikpeazu’s administration with scepticism have begun to warm up to the governor in the hope of a new vista.
But now the rate of acceleration with which his administration took off has decreased considerably as the fight for survival takes the front burner. In fact, government business virtually grounded to a halt after the failed attempt by Ogah to be sworn-in as governor when he arrived from Abuja on June 30 armed with his certificate of return. Ikpeazu was believed to have been perturbed at the development to the extent that he allegedly hibernated inside Government House for over a week before stepping out.
During that period, solidarity visits became the order of the day as sundry groups fell over one another as they jostled to identify with the embattled governor and assure him of their support. The rallies and solidarity visits became almost a daily event, thereby constituting another distraction and prompting the governor to put a halt to the rallies on August 7.
The ban was announced in a statement by the chief press secretary to the governor, Mr. Enyinnaya Appolos, saying the governor was appreciative of “the massive and unprecedented outpouring of love and solidarity from all segments of Abia society” following “the attempted coup” against his government by “desperate power seekers”.
He explained that in putting a halt to the solidarity visits, the governor had “particularly taken note of the cost and risk” that those who participated in the solidarity visits take in coming to the state capital. The Abia chief executive however acknowledged the economic cost of the rallies in man hours and asked those still planning solidarity visits “to please return to their usual daily pursuits and end further solidarity visits associated with the last attempted coup”.
The parties in the duel believe that they have divine backing to win the governorship tussle. It is for this that the governorship battle is also being fought at the spiritual front. Ikpeazu insists that he has divine mandate and that accounts for his ability to have survived all the onslaughts by his opponents so far. On his part, Ogah has continued to insist that God had promised him the Abia governorship seat and there’s no stopping its fulfillment.
There is massive outpouring of prayers going on in both camps. The Abia Prayer Network is fervently praying for the governor to overcome his travails while Ogah is not short of prayer warriors seeking the face of God.
Early this month a group of pastors gathered at Umuahia under the aegis of Abia Ministers Prayer Network to pray and ask God “to sustain the victory” that Ogah recorded at the Abuja high court. What this means is that both parties are equally armed and in high hopes of emerging victorious. Having endured this long, all eyes are now fixed on the Supreme Court to finally decide the Abia governorship tussle.
If Ikpeazu eventually wins the final battle he would be freed from the haunting distractions and concentrate on governance. Observers believe that a loss constitutes a scary prospect for Ogah as his political future would have been battered due to his alleged obstinacy and attempt to upset the already balanced political equation in Abia.
The spokesman of Ogah’s campaign organisation vehemently disagrees, saying the governorship tussle would not in any way harm Ogah politically.
“It will rather brighten it,” Ogbonna said, adding that “Nigerians would come to see in him someone who has stood up and fought for justice”.
Nonetheless the governorship tussle may definitely affect the political landscape of Abia, whichever way it turns out.
Even with the bold face that Governor Ikpeazu is putting to douse his inner tensions, observers point out that the long drawn legal tussle has taken a toll on governance. It is evident that Ikpeazu had on assumption of office hit the ground running. He pointedly approached the task of revamping the dilapidated infrastructure in the commercial city of Aba, which has drawn accolades even from his ardent critics