The continued occupation of the Abia State Government House by Okezie Ikpeazu despite a federal high court overturning his election as governor has been described as illegal.
Festus Keyamo, a human rights lawyer, said in a statement Wednesday that Uche Ogah should be sworn in immediately as governor pending the appeal lodged by Mr. Ikpeazu.
“That is the only way to go to enthrone legality in Abia State. The heavens will not fall,” Mr. Keyamo said.
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, last month, annulled Mr. Ikpeazu’s election and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue a certificate of return to Mr. Ogah, who came second during the Peoples’ Democratic Party primaries in the state.
The court had found Mr. Ikpeazu guilty of tax-related offences and, as a result, was unqualified to have contested the 2015 gubernatorial election.
Mr. Keyamo said the court’s decision was based on the failure of Mr. Ikpeazu to pay his taxes as at when due, adding that the deposed governor had sworn to a false affidavit and supplied false information to INEC, and then rushed to pay his backlog of taxes afterwards.
“I have carefully listened to various arguments regarding the immediate issuance of a Certificate of Return to Dr. Sampson Uchechukwu Ogah by the Independent National Electoral Commission in strict compliance with the judgment of the Court,” said Mr. Keyamo.
“Contrary to opinions expressed in certain quarters there is no judicial decision or statutory provision preventing the Independent National Electoral Commission from complying immediately with the Orders of the Federal High Court.
“The provision of Section 143(1) of the Electoral Act, Part VIII that gives Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu (or any other office holder for that matter) 21 days within which to file an appeal against an adverse judgment (and to remain in office until the appeal is determined) applies only to post-election matters before election Tribunals or the Court of Appeal and not pre-election matters as in this case.
“In the circumstance, the Independent National Electoral Commission acted legally and correctly by instantly issuing a Certificate of Return to Dr. Sampson Uchechukwu Ogah.”
Mr. Keyamo said it would have been permissible for Mr. Ikpeazu to continue in office as governor pending the outcome of his appeal despite the judgment of the Federal High Court (and the nullification of his Certificate of Return) if Mr. Ogah had not been issued a Certificate of return instantly.
“But having been issued a Certificate of Return, it is constitutionally abnormal and legally paradoxical that a person with a validly issued Certificate of Return should not occupy that office immediately, and the person with an invalidated Certificate of Return continues to occupy that office,” he said.
“That is why the Interim Order restraining the Chief Judge of Abia State or any other Judicial Officer from swearing in Dr. Sampson Uchechukwu Ogah is a non-sequitor as the judgment of Abang J has already been complied with by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
“The scenario we have now is that of a person, without any document entitling him to that office, occupying the office of Governor of Abia State, whilst a person who has both a valid court judgment and a valid Certificate of Return is unable to assume office as Governor of the state.
“Let the world know today that Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu is operating illegally as Governor of Abia State and all his actions, orders and anything done in that capacity are null, void and of no effect.”
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