Thursday’s issuance of a Certificate of Return to Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah by the Independent National Electoral Commission in Abuja has complicated the dispute over the governorship seat of Abia State.
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had, on Monday, ordered the removal of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and ordered INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to Ogah, who was the first runner-up in the state governorship primary of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Justice Abang had ordered the removal of Ikpeazu after finding him guilty of not presenting relevant tax certificates along with his forms submitted to INEC.
He held that Ikpeazu, who emerged as the candidate of the PDP in the state for the 2015 governorship election on the strength of the primary, was not qualified to be the candidate of the PDP.
INEC Commissioner in charge of the South-East, Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, presented the Certificate of Return to Ogah in Abuja in accordance with the judgment of the court.
Nwuruku told journalists that the court directed the commission to issue the certificate with immediate effect.
He said, “The situation is we are simply obeying the court order. The court said with immediate effect, we should issue him 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.
“In this case, the court ordered us to issue certificate to the person who won the election, that is Uchechukwu Ogah. I was the person that issued the same Certificate of Return to Governor Ikpeazu because he was declared the winner.
“One thing is that we are not above the law and we cannot disobey the law of the land.”
A few hours after Ogah collected his Certificate of Return in Abuja, an Abia State High Court in Osisioma stopped the Chief Judge of the state or any other judge in the state from inaugurating Ogah as directed by Justice Abang on Monday.
The presiding judge in the court, Justice C. H. Ahuchaogu, equally made a belated order stopping INEC from issuing a Certificate of Return to Ogah as the winner of the 2015 governorship election in the state.
In a suit, HOS 52/2016, by Ikpeazu, Justice Ahuchaogu ordered “that the third Defendant (state CJ) or any other judge of the court or any judicial officer are hereby restrained from swearing in the first Defendant (Ogah) while the claimant remains in office in accordance with Section 143(1) and (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and pending the determination of the motion on notice.”
The issuance of the Certificate of Return to Ogah and the pronouncement of the Abia State High Court have created confusion on who is the valid governor of the state.
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Bonnie Iwuoha, on Thursday, announced that the government had declared Friday (today) and Monday next week as work-free days in memory of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, who died on Wednesday.
He said the gesture was in recognition of the immense contribution of the deceased, who hailed from the state, to the development of the state and Nigeria in general.
Similarly, the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Eme Okoro, expressed surprise at the sudden death of Maduekwe, who he said worked tirelessly for the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria.
But the Peoples Democratic Party in the state described the order of the Federal High Court in Abuja as a threat to democracy in the country.
Addressing newsmen at Government House on Thursday, the state chairman of the party, Chief Johnson Onuigbo, said the party would resist any attempt by any person or group to undermine the peace in the state.