Abia State descended into confusion on Thursday following the insistence of Sampson Ogah that he should be sworn in as governor of the state to replace the incumbent, Okezie Ikpeazu, who was sacked by the Federal High Court on Monday.
Mr. Ogah had left Abuja for Umuahia Thursday after he was issued a Certificate of Return by the Independent National Electoral Commission for his swearing in, expected to be performed by the Chief Judge of the state.
But as he was travelling to Abia, Mr. Okezie obtained an injunction from the High Court of Abia State stopping the Chief Judge of the State, the President of the Customary Court of Appeal and any other judicial officer from swearing in Mr. Ogah as governor.
Both Messrs Okezie Ikpeazu and Ogah are members of the Peoples Democratic Party.
The order made by Justice Chibuzo Ahuchaogu of the Abia High Court said among other things, “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.”
Apart from the court order, Mr. Ikpeazu also declared Friday and Monday as public holidays in “honour of a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ojo Maduekwe, who died on Wednesday”.
The federal government has already declared Tuesday and Wednesday public holidays to mark the Ed-il-Fitr.
The implication is that the judiciary in Abia State will not open for business until Thursday, July 7, making it impossible for Mr. Ogah to immediately challenge the injunction granted Mr. Ikpeazu.
But Mr. Ogah insisted he would be sworn in despite the Abia High Court order and the public holidays.
Peter Kalu, a media aide to Mr. Ogah, told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview Thursday that his principal was already on his way to Umuahia, the Abia State capital, for the swearing-in ceremony.
“We don’t believe there is an injunction like that,” Mr. Kalu said.
“The injunction is baseless and against the rules of judiciary. Is the injunction saying that the Certificate of Return issued to Uche Ogah is not legal?
“Is it saying that Abia should not have a governor because the Certificate of Return nullifies that issued to Ikpeazu?
“We have a directive by the Chief Justice of Nigeria that he should be sworn in immediately. So that injunction to the best of our knowledge does not exist and where it exists, is null and void because it has already been overtaken by events.”
Later in a statement, Monday Ubani, the special adviser on media to Mr. Ogah, said the court injunction could not invalidate the Certificate of Return as it came from a subordinate court to the Federal High Court that ordered his (Ogah) swearing in.
Mr. Ubani said the State High Court, which granted the injunction, lacked the locus to do so adding that only an Appeal court could grant such injunction.
He also said the appeal filed by Mr. Ikpeazu before the Court of Appeal could not be considered a stay of execution of the judgment of Justice Okon Abang.
Mr Ubani urged the Chief Judge of Abia State and all concerned to respect the ruling and allow Mr. Ogah to immediately take over the reins of leadership so as to move the state forward.
The Independent National Electoral Commission had on Thursday given Mr. Ogah a Certificate of Return following the nullification of Mr. Ikpeazu’s election.
Governor Ikpeazu was on his way to deliver an inaugural lecture at the Abia State University, Uturu, when news of the development filtered into the state.
He immediately cancelled the appointment and made a quick return to Aba.
Mr. Ikpeazu has operated from the Government House Liaison Office in Aba since he assumed office on May 29, 2015.
Hundreds of Mr. Ogah’s supporters moved to the Sam Mbakwe Cargo Airport, Owerri, to receive him.
Many other supporters were seen at the Government House main gate in anticipation of his inauguration.
The development sparked anxiety among residents of the state.
In Umuahia, traders, tricycle riders and passersby expressed happiness over the development.
However, the situation was different at the Government House, where political office holders were seen moving hurriedly out of their offices, while workers discussed the development in groups.
To forestall a breakdown of law and order, the police immediately stepped up security around the Government House and in other parts of the city.
The Federal High Court had on Monday ruled that the governor was guilty of tax evasion and was therefore unqualified to have contested the 2015 governorship election in the state.
It ordered INEC to issue a certificate of return to Mr. Ogah, also a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, who contested the governorship ticket with Mr. Ikpeazu.
It ordered the governor to vacate office immediately.
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