Confusion reigned supreme in Abia State yesterday, following the issuance of Certificate of Return to Mr. Samson Ogah by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as the elected governor of the state, in obedience to an Abuja Federal High Court order
With the certificate in his hands, Ogah headed straight to Umuahia, the state capital, to claim his mandate.
On arrival at Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, Imo State, en route Umuahia, Ogah said he is expected to be sworn in today as the new governor of the state.
He described the development as a “new dawn in Abia, a fresh air has come to the people.”
Ogah expressed joy at the judgment, saying that he was elated at the certificate being issued to him by INEC, adding that the verdict has brought joy to his people as “there is joy all over the land. I assure the people of Abia that this is the beginning of good things for them.”
But Governor Okezie Ikpeazu yesterday obtained an injunction from the state high court, stopping Ogah’s swearing in.
The order, given by Justice Chibuzo Ahuchaogu of Osisioma Ngwa High Court, stopped the state Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, President of the Customary Court of Appeal and any other judicial officer from swearing in Mr. Ogah as governor.
Both Messrs Okezie Ikpeazu and Ogah are members of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Justice Okon Abang of Abuja Federal High Court, had on Monday ordered INEC to issue Certificate of Return to Ogar when he delivered a judgment in a case he instituted against Governor Ikpeazu.
Ogah was a governorship aspirant on the platform of PDP, and had accused Ikpeazu of submitting false information in his Tax Clearance Certificate to the party during the governorship primaries in the state.
Abang, in his judgment, ordered INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to Ogah as the duly elected governor.
He said the court had relied on the Supreme Court decisions in the case of Obi vs INEC and Amaechi vs INEC to make the Consequential Order.
Consequently, INEC National Commissioner in charge of South East, Lawrence Nwuruku, issued the certificate to Ogah in Abuja.
Nwuruku said: “The court said with immediate effect, we should issue Ogah a Certificate of Return, and that is what we have done.
“If the court tomorrow issues another order, we will obey the same.
“By the grace of God, I am the INEC commissioner in charge of the South-East. I will do the same thing, if court orders us to issue the same certificate to another person.
“In this case, the court ordered us to issue a certificate to the person who won the election; that is Uchechukwu Ogah. I was the person who issued the Certificate of Return to Governor Ikpeazu because he was declared winner.
“Now, the court is saying otherwise. One thing is that we are not above the law and we cannot refuse to obey the law of the land.
“After the court, another person we obey is God. And my conscience is my God.
“If you were in the court that day and I will urge you, members of the media, to go and study the court decision very well. It was wonderful, it was direct.”
Addressing newsmen at Government House, Umuahia, Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Bonny Iwuoha said the state had filed and obtained an order restraining the swearing in of Ogah, adding that the process was to take immediate effect.
Also speaking, Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Dr Eme Okoro confirmed that the state had secured the court injunction, which restrained Mr. Ogah from being sworn in.
Governor Ikpeazu, who was billed to deliver a lecture on Social Cultural Diversity and Economic Development in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospect at Abia State University, Uturu was caught midway with the news that Ogah had been given certificate of return in Abuja.
He immediately made a U-turn with his convoy back to Umuahia.
Although, it was not clear as at the time of filling this report, whether the governor has vacated Government House, indication, however, revealed that special aides and other top government officials, including special advisers and special assistants have been packing out their belongings.
The development is eliciting divergent reactions from lawyers in the country.
While some condemned INEC for issuing the certificate to Ogah, others said Ikpeazu should vacate office immediately.
Former National Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Dele Adesina faulted INEC as he insisted that an appeal against the ruling by Justice Abang was pending.
He said: “As long as appeal has been filed against the judgment and there is stay of execution, it will be totally wrong and illegal for INEC to issue certificate of return to another person. It will be premature for INEC to execute the judgment, it is a wrong step at the right direction.”
Human rights lawyer, Fred Agbaje said: “INEC suppose to wait for the Court of Appeal to decide the fate of the man. The action of the commission is illegal and cannot stand the test of law.
“What the commission did was to donate power to the opponent of the governor. What if the Court of Appeal upturns the judgment? The action of the commission is unacceptable in law and it is illegal.”
Lagos lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa said: “It is well settled in our laws, up to the Supreme Court, that once an appeal has been filed against a judgment and the appellant has also filed an application to stay the execution of the said judgment, that judgment cannot be enforced, until the application for a stay of execution has been heard and determined.”
But a former Chairman of NBA, Ikeja Branch, Mr Onyekachi Ubani, said the Certificate of Return given to Mr Ogar is in order.
He said the incumbent governor, in the eye of the law was not qualified to run as governor in the 2015 poll.
“It is an invalid order, one which I will describe as a ‘black market order’ especially as it was granted after a court of competent jurisdiction had given an order that Dr Okezie Ikpeazu was not qualified to run for elections in the first place.
“Both the FCT High Court and the State High Court are courts of coordinate jurisdictions and one cannot set aside an order given by the other.
“The order given by Justice Okon Abang of the FCT High Court cannot be set aside by the Abia State High Court.
“In the absence of any other valid order other than the one granted on June 27 by the FCT High Court, Mr Uche Ogah, should be sworn in as the governor of Abia,” Ubani said.
Another lawyer and public affairs analyst, Mr. Wale Ogunade, said Ikpeazu should have resigned and apologise to the people for flouting the laws of the land in the election that brought him to power.
“The right and decent thing Dr Okezie Ikpeazu should do is to resign and apologise to the people of Abia for being ‘dishonest’.
“In the first instance, this matter does not require an appeal as it is a pre-election matter and since the issue of tax returns was a requirement during the preliminary stage of elections, the issue of appeal does not arise as all pre-election matters should be treated before elections.
“Nobody should be above the law, one cannot pay three years tax in a day and claim that the law has been followed when the requirement is that the tax payments should be made as at when due.
“He (Ikpeazu) also has no immunity because it is a pre-election matter which arose before he was elected governor; he just got this injunction as a ploy to buy time as governor,” he said.