The ding-dong affair and the judicial acrobatic display currently going on in Abia State have left the bewildered residents wondering how the state found itself in this political logjam. There is no doubt that the current confusion in the state is a continuation of the intrigues that surrounded the battle for the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party in the run-up to the 2015 governorship election. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and Dr. Sampson Ogah had emerged from the Abia PDP primaries as winner and first runner-up, respectively, out of the other aspirants. Ikpeazu was sworn-in as governor of the state but not convinced about his defeat in the party primary, Ogah headed to the court for a redress.
Spanner in the works
Fourteen months after Ikpeazu had been occupying the number one seat in the Abia Government House, Ogah moved and threw a spanner in the works. The banker and businessman decided to upstage the sitting governor through the courts.
His legal action is now identified as causing a major political hiccup in Abia, pushing the state to the edge of a dangerous precipice.
On June 27, 2016, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja delivered a judgment in a suit filed by Ogah and sacked Governor Ikpeazu from office. The court had ruled that Ikpeazu, a former university lecturer, not only evaded tax but also submitted forged tax receipts to his party for the primary election. Justice Okon Abang had held that having been so found wanting, Ikpeazu, ab initio, was not eligible for the poll and then nullified his election. Abang, however, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to issue the first runner-up in the PDP primary, Ogah, with the Certificate of Return as the governor- elect of Abia State.
But in a swift reaction to the court’s decision, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Enyinnaya Appolos, insisted in a statement that inspite of the verdict, his principal remained the governor of the state and would not vacate office as ordered by the court.
Appolos also urged the residents of the state not to panic as Ikpeazu was already studying the court judgment with a view to appealing against it.
Then the legal fireworks began with Ikpeazu’s counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), appealing against Justice Abang’s judgment, which he argued could not remove his client from office as the governor of Abia State.
Awomolo also contended that the trial judge violated his client’s right of fair hearing by embarking on a judicial investigation without giving him the opportunity to address the court on the issue.
As the legal conflagration was being sparked off, Governor Ikpeazu who was billed to deliver a public lecture at the Auditorium of the Abia State University, Uturu, was on his way to the venue of the event when the least expected news filtered in that INEC had issued Ogah with the COR.
Not only that, the governor was also told that Ogah was already airborne aboard a chartered flight from Abuja to the state capital, via the Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, Imo State, to be sworn-in and assume office.
Apparently panic-stricken, Governor Ikpeazu and his convoy immediately made a u-turn and returned to the Government House in Umuahia, the state capital.
The news of the development also spread immediately across the state like wild fire.
On arrival in Umuahia, the governor summoned his commissioners, aides and party leaders to the Government House where they were all holed up for hours behind closed-doors strategising on the next line of action.
Later in the evening, the Commissioner for information and Strategy, Bonnie Iwuoha, announced to newsmen that Ikpeazu had obtained an injunction from an Osisioma High Court presided over by Justice C. H. Ahuchaogu to restrain the state chief judge or any other judicial officer in the country from swearing Ogah into office as governor.
Amid the confusion over who, between Ikpeazu and Ogah, the de facto governor should be, a rumour began to spread that the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, had vanished into thin air in order not to be caught in the crossfire of the ensuing political battle.
Uzokwe had since denied the allegation, saying that she had always been in her office overseeing the running of the judicial arm of the state.
As if making attempt to stoke the tense situation in the state, later in the day, Ogah’s convoy drove into the state capital amid cheers from thousands of his supporters who joined his long motorcade at the boundary between Imo and Abia States.
But after the initial “show of force”, the former banker soon disappeared from public glare and even became incommunicado, despite rumours about the moves to secretly swear him in in Owerri, the Imo State capital. However, his three-storey campaign office located along Umuwaya Road has since become a beehive of activities with his jubilant and enthusiastic supporters trooping in and out of the building.
The fact however remains that since last Thursday, the state has not been the same again. Different groups have continued to voice their concern, feelings and opinions on the debacle.
While Ogah’s supporters have remained calm in their agitation for the validation of their leader’s judicial victory, Governor Ikpeazu’s camp has been more vocal in their protest against the verdict.
Operating under the aegis of different coalitions, they have even introduced ethnic dimension and colouration into the current political situation.
For the pro-Ikpeazu divide, the judgment came when the people of the state, regardless of their different political leanings, have lined up behind the governor to move the state forward.
It is also their opinion that the unsettling judgment came barely two days after the governor took the bull by the horn by flagging off the construction of the Brass/ Faulks Road and underwater channel in Aba, valued at N6.8billion.
They are equally bitter that the confusion arose at a time when the state had just been acknowledged by the national bureau of Statistics as being among the 15 solvent states in the country.
According to them, it is clear to every discerning mind that attaining such a status is not a consequence of huge revenue garnered either from the statutory Federation Account or the internally Generated Revenue, but a function of prudent management by the present administration in the state.
On the other hand, Ogah’s supporters contend that both the court order and their leader’s action are justified, following the down turn in the economy of the state.
They point at alleged decay of infrastructure and a backlog of pension and salary arrears owed by the state.
They are also accusing the governor of concentrating all his efforts on developing Aba and Abia South Senatorial District while neglecting other towns and districts.
Although Ikpeazu appears to have got some reprieve from the court, he and his camp still believe that the battle is far from being over yet. They are said to be making every effort to dig in and maintain their ground.
The National Coordinator, Supreme Council of Ukwa – Ngwa Youth, Kingsley Okadigbo, vowed that people of the state would protect the governor’s mandate.
“We are ready to defend the people’s mandate with the last drop of our blood,” Okadigbo said.
A politician from Ukwa West Local Government Area of the state, Uche Ekeke, however said, “the judgement in favour of Ogah reflects the mind of the people and must be accepted by all for peace to reign.”
On the other hand, feelers from Ogah’s camp indicate that he is not relenting in claiming his mandate now validated by the court judgment.
As it is now, analysts are of the view that the political situation in Abia will remain shrouded in uncertainty for sometime.
From Umunneochi to Obehia and from Arochukwu to Apunmiri Ubakala, apprehensive residents live in anxiety and fear.
The summary of it all is that with Governor Ikpeazu insisting that in spite of the court order nullifying his victory at the polls, he remained the state chief executive, having appealed the previous order, while at the same time Ogah is still holding firm to the COR issued to him by INEC, the state is bedevilled with a dangerous trend of having two governors at the same time.
While Ikpeazu is sitting tight on the governor’s seat, Ogah and his supporters have gone into the trenches to plot strategies on how to unseat him.
New combatant enters battle field
However, the legal battle field in the state may soon be widened to include another combatant, Dr. Alex Otti, the standard bearer of the All Progressives Grand Alliance in the 2015 governorship election. He is said to be seeking a revisit of his suit against the governor.
Otti lost the seat to Ikpeazu not at the polls but before the Supreme Court, which upturned an earlier judgment of the Court of Appeal favouring him.
But the political crisis in the state may also be worsened as, in a matter of a short time, an Owerri, Imo State, High Court is expected to deliver its judgment in a suit similar to that of Ogah but filed by another PDP aspirant who also contested in the party primary which produced Ikpeazu and the new governor-elect.