Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
” When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice”.-Martin Luther King Jr (1929 – 1968).
I made concerted efforts to restrain myself from adopting the above headline to explain the drama going on in Abia State until in the course of putting this piece together a friend and comrade, Emeka Umuagbalasi called to to register his grievances over the Abia episode. He did not hesitate in joining other progressive forces in describing the crisis as ” an invitation to anarchy”. And the phrase aptly captures the current Abia situation.
In Umeagbalasi’s argument,” once a law is written in black and white, it defies argumentation”. The summary of his position is that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu remains the Governor of Abia State. The two conditions which Umeagbalasi posited that can strip the governor of this position is: If the apex court ( Supreme Court) says otherwise or he (Ikpeazu) decides not to exercise his right to appeal at the Appellate and Supreme Courts.
Umeagabalasi’s position came on the heels of a statement from the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice urging the parties in the Abia governorship crisis to await the decisions of the courts.
The statement debunked rumours that the AGF was behind the legal logjam over the Abia state governorship seat and wish to clarify that those canvassing this position have no basis to do so, especially that he gave directives to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue Certificate of Return to Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah declaring him Governor-Elect.
Part of the statement reads:” As far as the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation is concerned, the constitutional powers for the legal opinion of his office have not been invoked on this issue. So far, nobody has approached him to proffer any legal opinion to it. As a strong believer in the rule of law, it is his belief that the law should naturally take its cause”.
The Abia episode is part of the trial the current democratic dispensation has been subjected to since its inception in 1999. Several attempts have been calculated to truncate it by some undemocratic forces, and this has attracted some innuendos such as ” the theatre of absurdity”. Democratic institutions that have the constitutional mandate to protect democracy has abused such mandate. The democratic process has been seriously battered. Mandates vested on leaders have been brazenly truncated.
A sitting governor was abducted on the broad- day light by some undemocratic forces. In 2003, a team of police numbering about 200, led by the then Assistant- Inspector General Of Police, Zone 9, Raphael Ige, surrounded the office of a former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige, now a minister, abducted him and held him hostage at Choice Hotel, Awka for about five hours after which he regained his freedom.
Anambra State parliament, claiming Ngige had resigned, promptly ordered the Chief Judge to swear in Deputy Governor Okechukwu Ude, who immediately assumed the functions of the State governor. Though the police claimed Ngige was only taken into “protective custody,” he ( Ngige) reiterated that he was abducted.
Since December 31, 2015, there have been attempts by some undemocratic forces to tamper with the mandate of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.The Court of Appeal, sitting in Owerri and headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, in a highly controversial judgment had on December 31 last year removed Gov. Ikpeazu and declared Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance the winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary elections in the state.
The same judgment also disenfranchised over 300,000 voters from Obingwa, Osisioma and Ugwunagbo local government areas by nullifying elections held in these areas. Thank God the coup could not stand as the Supreme few months later upturned the judgment and reaffirmed the mandate of Ikpeazu which was earlier affirmed by the lower tribunal.The Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Ikpeazu of the PDP won the lawfully cast votes in the April 11, 2015 election.
Advancing its reasons for the judgment, the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed held that the Appellate Court usurped the power of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which is the only organ empowered to cancel polling results. The court also faults the Lower Court’s reliance on card reader for its judgment.
According to the Apex Court, the card reader machine has no statutory backing in Nigeria’s law and should not be used to determine a winner in any election .The panel also held that the allegation on voting was not proved as the petitioner failed to tender voter’s register to substantiate his claims.
As Abians thought that respite has come their way, another rude shock was unleashed recently when Justice Okon Efreti Abang of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court delivered, what is highly described as “a controversial judgment”which ordered that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu vacate office on account of allegedly giving false information in the form submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), nominating the governor as the party’s candidate in the April 11, 2015 governorship election.
Justice Abang failed to invite the issuing authorities, Abia State Board of Internal Revenue Services to give evidence in the course fo trial to declare whether the certificates were forged or not.
He also contravened section 141 of the Electoral Act 2014 ( as amended) which stipulates that somebody cannot be declared winner when he did not participate in all stages of the election by declaring the plaintiff, Dr. Sampson Uchechukwu Ogah, who no evidence was led participated in the 2015 Governorship Election in Abia State, winner.
The judge violated the right to fair hearing of Gov. Ikpeazu by embarking on judicial investigation without giving him (Ikpeazu) the opportunity to address the court on the issue.
Hardly had the people recovered from the shock of Justice Abang’s judgment, when the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC unleashed another shock by issuing a Certificate of Return to Uche Ogah in defiance of a Notice of Appeal and a Stay of Execution order which proves have indicated that the electoral body was duly served.
While commending those who have lent their voices in condemnation of these brazen and flagrant abuses of the democratic process in Abia, it is quite unfortunate that the democratic institutions which are expected to render efforts to strengthen our democracy and now willing tools in the hands of undemocratic forces in the quest to destabilise democracy. The activities of INEC in this Abia crisis have put a question mark on its impartiality in electoral issues.
The wide protests trailing these actions are strong signals that Abians are tired of the continuous attempts to tamper with the mandate of Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu and thereby abort the democratic process in the state.The people of Abia are noted for their peaceful disposition and misinterpreting this may translate to invitation to anarchy.
Ukegbu, a public policy analyst, writes from Umuahia, Abia State.