The Abia State Government on Thursday night said it served the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, a notice of appeal and stay of execution filed by the governor of the state, Okezie Ikpeazu, against a judgement of the Federal High Court removing him from office.
In a statement, the government contradicted INEC’s claim that it recognized Mr. Ikpeazu’s challenger, Samson Ogah, as governor, because it was not served Mr. Ikpeazu’s notice of appeal.
Mr. Ikpeazu’s certificate of return was withdrawn on Thursday morning by INEC. The electoral body issued Mr. Ogah a certificate of return, and claimed Mr. Ikpeazu had not notified it of any appeal against Monday’s court ruling which ordered him to vacate office immediately after being found guilty of tax offence.
Mr. Ogah was Mr. Ikpeazu’s challenger in December 2014 Peoples Democratic Party’s governorship primary.
But Umeh Kalu, the state Attorney-General, in a statement said the notification documents were duly served on the electoral body at its headquarters in Abuja and were acknowledged.
“It’s unfortunate that INEC said that it was not served. But the truth is that they were served. I have a proof to that. Saleh N. Ibrahim, Senior Clerical Officer at the Legal Services Department of the Commission’s Headquarters, Abuja, who stamped the Notice of Appeal and Injunction with the Commission’s official stamp by 12.50pm on Wednesday, June 29, 2016.
“With the foregoing, it is now clear that the Commission had no reason or cause to proceed with their dangerous action of issuing a Certificate of Return to Dr. Uche Ogah when it was clearly in receipt of a Notice of Appeal and Stay of Execution expressly forbidding them from taking any further action on the Judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court pending the determination of the Appeal in the case.
“It is rather surprising that the Commission could lend itself to be used for an act capable of destabilizing a State in Nigeria with the attendant consequences for anarchy and breakdown of law and order.” Mr. Kalu said.
PREMIUM TIMES has obtained documents showing that the notice of appeal was delivered at INEC’s headquarters and signed by Saleh Ibrahim, a senior clerical officer, in the legal services department of the commission.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES late Thursday, INEC spokesman, Nick Dazang, said the governor erred by submitting the documents at the legal services department.
Mr. Dazang said all correspondents to INEC are usually channeled through the chairman’s office from where they get dispatched to their respective directorates or departments within the commission.
But an aide to Mr. Ikpeazu told PREMIUM TIMES the claims by INEC showed that the commission had a sinister motive in withdrawing his principal’s certificate.
“Legal services department is an arm of INEC within its headquarters in Abuja, so what is the issue here?” he asked. “Could INEC have decided to issue a certificate of return to Mr. Ogah without seeking the opinion of its legal services department?”
“This is just an incompetent attempt on the part of INEC to plunge Abia State into unnecessary crisis.”