Opinion: Who is the legitimate governor of Abia state now?


by Ahanonu Kingsley

In 2007, the former governor of Rivers State and present minister of transportation, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, who by rightful majority, won the PDP’s gubernatorial primary held in that state, was denied the mandate- in what was seen as an ostensible weird affront to common psyche.

That decision to rip Amaechi of the party’s ticket was significantly seen as a unilateral decision. The then outgoing president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had observed from whatever reasons that the very emergence of the Rotimi Amaechi as the party’s flagbearer and the likelihood of his becoming the governor, eventually, would be a great undoing to the party. Amaechi’s candidature, in his words, “e get k-leg” and needed review.

The unstable nature of the later’s candidature led to the anointing of Celestine Omehia as the person to fly the flag of the party in the governorship election that was to come up later that year. As it would be, Omehia was given the necessary support and arsenal of a central ruling party; and he did run the campaigns glamorously.
As was expected, Amaechi heavily dissatisfied with the outplaying event saw it as an illegality that should be challenged. Consequently, he found in the law court his grievances to ventilate. From the relevant lower court of the land, Mr Rotimi traversed up to the Supreme Court seeking to be placated from the injustice he felt had been meted out to him. The case, as is the norm dragged on, in line with judicial modus operandi.

While the aggrieved committed strength and resources to seeking justice and a way out of his dilemma,the democratic process wheeled on unrestrained. Elections went as proposed; and eventually the People’s Democratic Party had the win in the Rivers governorship race. Ordinarily, the party’s candidate became the governor.
But who was the candidate?

Through purely an intra-party resolution however, Celestine Omehia, who by subsequent revelation of the law happened to be an interim candidate, was sworn in as the substantive governor on the 29th of May, 2007. But that was yet to settle the heat; as it may be, it incensed further the process of legal resolution.

When the climax of the judicial interpretation finally came from the highest court of the land, it was no longer in doubt who was the rightful candidate of the winning party; and by implication, the legitimate governor of the state of Rivers. The Supreme Court after studying the case before it observed how unjustly the plaintiff was denied his claim to the ticket and consequently the seat. It declared Mr Omehia as an usurper and immediately asked him to vacate the seat he occupied.

In obedience to the Supreme Court judgment, Rotimi Amaechi was sworn in forthwith as the substantive governor of his state. Mr Amaechi regained his mandate as the guber candidate of the winning party and by extension his office as governor on the 25th of October, 2007.

The judgment of the Supreme Court to award the benefit of governor to someone who never stood for popular poll was pilloried by a section of people that should know. But that decision stood its ground. For according to the lead judgment, ‘in the eye of the law, Amaechi, having validly been elected in the primaries in Rivers state and nominated as PDP’s governorship candidate is the candidate who contested the election.’

The above run down is an invitation to correlate the case of Amaechi with respect to the Rivers’governorship and the present scenario playing out in Abia state. The two might not holistically be similar; but they share a similarity in many ramifications. But, very essentially, the two seem to correlate in the aspect of giving force to the pronouncements of a competent court of law; of which I’ll focus on.
The Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, on Monday, 27th of June, 2016, after the drag-on inherent in court litigations, delivered judgment on the case bothering on the eligibility to contest an election brought before it by Dr Uche Ogah against the sitting governor of Abia state, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu.

In his ruling, Justice Okon Abang found Ikpeazu unfit to have contested the governorship seat due mainly to the presentation of questionable tax clearance certificate. Subsequently, an order was issued that Ogah who came second behind Ikpeazu in the PDP primary be “immediately given the certificate of return and sworn in”.

The ruling which came on 27th June, was honored by the second respondent, INEC to the effect that Ogah was issued with a certificate of return. This happened on the 30th of June–two days after the court order.

The Honorable Justice Akpan had in his judgment declared that Mr Ogah be issued with a certificate of return; which INEC had done. To what effect then is that decision and act by the court and INEC respectively? The possession of the certificate of return, what value does it pay to the bearer and what indication does it give?

Methinks the above suggest simple facts: that the value it places is that the bearer is legally the right owner of the seat whose certificate he so bears, subject to the consequent inauguration by a chief judge or any relevant person. And that the indication is for the person who so bears the value to be accorded the right of been inaugurated by the relevant body.
It is believed that by virtue of been given a certificate of return and in consistence with the court ruling, Uche Ogah ought to have been sworn in as the substantive governor of Abia state. It is ordinarily expected to be so, going by the Court’s injunction to the effect that it should be so.

If the earlier case of Amaechi mentioned above was effectively carried out with an urgency that suggested its immediacy, why is the case of Uche Ogah becoming a big deal? And in such case, who, as it stands now, is the rightful claimant to the seat of the governor of Abia state?

We must remember that the decision of the federal high court which have been enmeshed in imbroglio for the chief effect of scuttling its validity has not, for the moment suffered any outweighing defeat. At most, only courts of coordinate jurisdiction has tried to outdo it. But we ought to know, in that status, they have not effect; for only the decision of a superior court can so set it aside.
Hence, until such is done, the decision to have Dr Uche Ogah sworn in as governor subsists. Let the right thing be done; let the law prevail.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Ahanonu Kingsley writes from Owerri. ([email protected])

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