A ruling on the Abia State governorship tussle will wait till Friday July 8, 2016, when Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court will decide the motion for a stay of execution of the judgement that sacked Governor Okezie Ikpeazu from office.
This is due to the public holiday declared by the federal government on July 7, to mark the Eid-el-fitr celebration, the day the court had set aside to hear Ikpeazu’s motion for a stay of execution of the judgement which had ordered his rival, Dr Uche Ogah, to take the seat from him.
But because of the holiday, the hearing of the case will now come up on July 8.
Last Monday, Justice Okon Abang reserved ruling on the motion for stay of execution brought by the governor on the declarative judgment affirming Dr Ogah as the governor of Abia State.
Last week, Justice Abang, in a ruling, sacked Ikpeazu from office over falsification of his tax clearance certificate before he was cleared for the governorship election in the state last year.
The court further ordered Dr Ogah to be sworn in as the governor of the state.
Less than 24 hours after the governor was sacked by the court, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) issued the certificate of return to Ogah, in compliance with the court order.
Some senior advocates who spoke on the matter said INEC acted rashly.
According to them, the electoral body should have waited for the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, to have a final say on the matter before taking the action it took.
A senior advocate, Chief Godwin Obla, described INEC’s action as suspicious.
He said, “let me make this clear; what Ugah has as certificate of return is a mere piece of paper. INEC, as an institution, has a pattern of doing things. Even in a substantive election matter, if a party loses, he has a number of days to appeal the judgement.
During that period, you cannot waive his right to appeal. You must allow that period to pass before you can do anything. Since the man has appealed, what is the hurry in issuing certificate of return? The action of INEC is suspicious, unwarranted and unwise”.
Another senior advocate, Mr Mahmud Magaji, said the order of the High Court was not a final order.
He said, “Except the governor will not appeal the judgement, the judgement of the High Court sacking him cannot be said to be the final judgement. The Supreme Court has the final say in this matter.”
Another Abuja based legal practitioner, Ismaila Alasa, on his part, described INEC’s action as unfortunate.
“I think it is unfortunate that INEC goes ahead to issue a certificate of return to the winner of the court case. I am aware that there is an appeal and if there is an appeal, why the hurry in issuing a certificate of return. I am also aware that it is a pre-election matter. INEC should not have rushed to issue the certificate. It is not quite tidy for them to issue the certificate of return to Uche Ogah.
Since it is a pre-election matter, INEC should have allowed the governor to exhaust his right of appeal. INEC acted in haste by issuing that certificate and it is not tidy enough,” Alasa said.
At the sitting of the court on July 4, Justice Abang, who was scheduled to hear the motion in court, fixed hearing for July 7.
The judge said all issues relating to the grant of stay, as in the case of election petition, will on the said day be determined, whether it is applicable to a pre-election matter as in the instant case.
He urged parties in the matter to file and exchange necessary process before the adjourned date so as to facilitate early hearing of the motion.
Governor Ikpeazu had, in the motion, asked Justice Abang to put the judgement which removed him from office on hold pending the determination of his appeal filed against the judgement of the court at the Court of Appeal.
He told the court that the appeal had been entered at the appellate court and that necessary steps would be taken to facilitate its quick determination.
Abia elders back Ikpeazu, carpet INEC, Abang
Meanwhile,prominent political leaders, elder statesmen and traditional rulers from Abia State rose from a high level meeting in Abuja late Monday night and threw their full weight behind Ikpeazu in the unfortunate crisis surrounding his mandate.
The meeting which was hosted under the aegis of Concerned Abia Elders by former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, had in attendance the three senators representing Abia State in the National Assembly, members of the House of Representatives and other notable leaders from the state.
Reading the Communique at the end of the meeting, pioneer Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and a former governorship candidate in Abia State, Chief Onyema Ugochuku, the leaders faulted the said judgement as perverse and reckless.
They also criticised INEC for its decision to issue a Certificate of Return to Ogah.
“We have also noted the unseemly haste of INEC to issue the certificate just a few hours after Justice Abang’s order, and in spite of the fact that INEC had been duly served with a notice of appeal of the said order and the motion for a stay of execution,” the elders said.
Continuing, the leaders expressed worry at the impression created of a conspiracy involving INEC, to throw the state into confusion and anarchy.
Admonishing the federal government not to unwittingly open another flashpoint in yet another geopolitical zone of the country, the leaders condemned in very strong terms, the attempt to set Abia on fire and create a situation which can only exacerbate the problems which the country is currently contending with in the North East and Niger Delta.
According to Ugochukwu, spokesperson of the elders, the meeting noted with appreciation the intervention of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, SAN, who has urged the parties to exercise restraint, follow the rule of law and await the conclusion of proceedings from the appellate courts. The elders aligned themselves with the Attorney-General’s appeal for peace, imploring all parties in the matter to remain calm and await the conclusion of matters in the courts.
While commending the people of Abia for maintaining the peace in the face of recent provocations and urging them to remain calm, the meeting restated the faith of Nigerians in the judiciary and expressed optimism that at the end of the situation, justice will be done.
The Concerned Abia Elders paid tributes to the memories of two distinguished Abia leaders, Ambassador Ojo Maduekwe, former Minister of Transport and Foreign Affairs respectively, and Senator Onyekachi Okoroafor, a member of the third republic national assembly between 1992 and 1993.