Abia Legal Tussle: Who Wears the Crown

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The 2015 governorship election in Nigeria has come and gone. But in Abia State the battle has shifted to the Supreme Court where four leading candidates of the two dominant parties in the state, the PDP and APGA, are still slugging it out. Matters deemed settled have found their way back to the Supreme Court. At the last count, four different appeals are before the Supreme Court for adjudication.

The tussle between Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and Dr Uche Sampson Ogah had made the most deafening of noises. This matter gave birth to an offspring few weeks ago. Dr Ogah is challenging Ikpeazu’s eligibility to contest the primaries, alleging that he did not pay his taxes for years 2011, 2012 and 2013 as at when due, alleging that his taxes for the three years were paid on the same day. On the strength of the issues raised, Ikpeazu was subsequently sacked from office as Governor of the state last year by a Federal High Court, Abuja for alleged falsification of tax papers.

Delivering the judgement then, Justice Okon Abang 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.
Ogah in his suit had contended that based on Article 14(a) of Part IV of PDP Electoral Guidelines for Primary Elections and Section 87(4) (B) of the Electoral Act, 2010, the Abia governor was not qualified to contest the December 8, 2014 governorship primary poll in the state, because he presented a fake tax clearance certificate in his nomination form.

In his suit, another PDP governorship aspirant, Mr Friday Nwosu, also challenged the nomination of Ikpeazu as PDP governorship candidate on a slightly different ground, he prayed the Court to declare him the duly nominated candidate of the PDP even though he came third in the primaries. Ironically, he also joined Ogah in the case, saying he left the venue of the primaries and did not sign the result. His petition has suffered several legal hiccups, obstacles and gymnastics.

On his part Governor Ikpeazu has proved to be a cat with nine lives. He survived Dr Alex Otti’s onslaught at the election tribunal up to the Supreme Court. He heaved a momentary sigh of relief when the Court of Appeal ruled in his favour by upturning Justice Okon Abang’s sack order. The same Supreme Court had readmitted Otti in the ongoing Appeal at the Supreme Court between Ogah and Ikpeazu. Similarly, Ikpeazu had parried Barrister Friday Nwosu’s hydra-headed petitions, with some at the Appeal and the Supreme Courts simultaneously.

One suit that has the ability to alter all equations and calculations is that of Chief Reagan Ufomba of the All Progressives Grand Alliance against the Independent National Electoral Commission – INEC and Dr Alex Otti also of APGA. This petition has been terminally concluded and judgement reserved by the Supreme Court. In his petition, Chief Reagan Ufomba had contended that he was the validly nominated candidate of the party but rejected by INEC. He further alleged that Chief Victor Umeh who nominated Dr Alex Otti lacked constitutional powers to do so at the time as Umeh himself was also a candidate of the party for the senate, and restrained from parading himself as the chairman of the party by various courts of competent jurisdiction.

He claims, the deputy national chairman, South, who constitutionally should act where the chairman cannot so act conducted the primaries which he won, but the name of Dr Alex Otti who did not win was submitted. Both the trial and the court of appeal curiously declined jurisdiction in the matter. But interestingly INEC who had remained elusive all through the proceedings had joined the proceedings at the Supreme Court and seem to have returned the petition of Chief Ufomba to life-support with their submission on jurisdiction. The supreme court decision allowing Otti’s application for joinder adds filip.

Who then wears the crown? Going by the calibre of litigants, and their prayers, it might be difficult for this write-up to crown a king. Barrister Friday Nwosu is a Barrister at law, and a former police officer. The merits or otherwise of his petition cannot be lost on him being a ‘learned gentleman’ as lawyers are called. If he successfully proves a case of forgery against Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, the concern is who takes the benefit? Nwosu who came a distant third or Dr Ogah who came second? In the event both men succeed in proving a case of forgery and false information against Ikpeazu, disqualifying Ikpeazu may amount to disqualification of the PDP and a colossal loss to all the candidates who contested the election under the PDP.

This is APGA’s gain. Dr Alex Otti may inherit the benefits if Ufomba’s appeal fails. But Dr Otti’s nomination is under serious threat by Chief Reagan Ufomba another candidate of the party laying claim to the ticket of the APGA party. If Ufomba succeeds, Otti fails. The success of Chief Ufomba may also be a blessing to Dr Samson Ogah of the PDP. What Chief Ufomba does with his victory at the Supreme Court is yet to been seen. People say he may have a joker, being an experienced politician and a shrewd businessman.

Dr Samson Ogah has tasted both victory and failure. His victory at the Supreme Court automatically makes him the governor. But he has to prove the Appeal Court Justices wrong. His biggest challenge may be in proving that Dr Okezie Ikpeazu actually gave false information or consented to it, being a civil servant. On his part, Dr Ikpeazu have everybody to contend with, being the occupant of the seat. He is no stranger to both Ogah and Otti. He had also trounced Nwosu once at the trial court. His victory at the Supreme Court consolidates his governorship position in Umuahia and brings all petitions to an end.
Ogbonna wrote from Abuja