A Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday ordered the Governor of Abia State, Mr Okezie Ikpeazu, to vacate office with immediate effect for submitting false information to his political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), for the party’s governorship primary which took place in December 2014.
In the judgment, Justice Okon Abang ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue a Certificate of Return to the plaintiff, Mr Uche Ogah, who scored second highest number of votes during the primary.
INEC on Thursday, in compliance to the Court order, issued Ogah the Certificate of Return and he flew into Umuahia, the Abia state capital, hoping to be sworn in by the Chief Judge but, Okezie had obtained an injunction from Justice Chibuzo Ahuchaogu of Abia state High Court, restraining the Chief Judge, the President of the Court of Appeal and any other Judicial Officer from swearing in Ogah as governor.
The court order read amongst others; “Upon this motion ex-parte pursuant to section 143 (1) & (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and pending the determination of the motion on notice, after hearing O.O Nkume, counsel to the applicant.”
Since there is only one seat in Abia state Government House, it means there must be one governor at a time. Hence, the question of who governs the state is now a subject of law and politics. While Ogah relies on the instrument of law, Ikpeazu is using the apparatus of government at his disposal to frustrate him. For instance, Ikpeazu has declared today, Friday and next Monday as public holidays, saying it is in “honour of a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ojo Maduekwe, who died on Wednesday”.
Meanwhile, the federal government had already declared next Tuesday and Wednesday as public holidays to mark the Ed-il-Fitr, implying the judiciary in Abia state will remain close until Thursday, July 7, 2016, making it impossible for Ogah to immediately challenge the injunction stopping his swearing in.
This is a pre-election matter arising from the internal affairs of the PDP and his heard by a normal court of law, unlike election petition matters heard by the tribunal. By implication, the decision of the Federal High Court sacking Ikpeazu from office should have been obeyed instantly, even though, the latter goes on appeal.
However, the Abia state High Court’s order only restrained the Chief Judge or any Judiciary officer in the state from conducting the swearing in exercise pending the determination of Ikpeazu’s appeal. The order did not revalidate his Certificate of Return which the Federal High Court nullified; and INEC had issued Ogah with Certificate of Return, meaning there is a governor-on-seat (Ikpeazu) and a governor-elect-awaiting swearing in (Ogah).
I have heard arguments that the Federal High Court and the State High Court are both courts of coordinate jurisdiction (same status in law) as such; none can sit on appeal over the decision of the other. I leave that aspect for lawyers to debate upon.
The essence of this discourse is to espouse on whether Mr Okezie Ikpeazu can remain in office as governor without INEC Certificate of Return; and whether he can perform the statutory functions of a state governor without INEC Certificate of Return?
Finally, this is just an academic discourse and not in any way intended to infringe on the rights of the parties in the matter.
Isong is a public affairs commentator, writes in from Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.