There was anxiety yesterday in Abia State after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) issued Dr. Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah a certificate of return as governor-elect.
But Governor Okezie Ikpeazu told residents to stay calm and insisted that he remained the governor.
The INEC action followed Monday’s judgment by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, that following discrepancies in Ikepazu’s tax papers, he should not have run as a candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 election.
Ogah, who came second in the PDP primary, was declared the candidate.
Justice Abang ordered INEC to give the certificate of return to Ogah since the PDP won the election.
The certificate of return was presented to Ogah by INEC’s National Commissioner (South East), Amb. Lawrence Nwuruku.
In a statement, the INEC chairman’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, explained why the electoral agency issued the certificate.
The statement said: “ In compliance with the order given by Justice O.E. Abang of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Abuja Judicial Division on Monday June 27, 2016 the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Wednesday issued a Certificate of Return to Dr Sampson Uchechukwu Ogah, as the rightful winner of the 2015 Abia State gubernatorial election, conducted by INEC on April 11, 2015.
“According to a certified true copy of the judgment signed by the Court Registrar, Mr. Olawale M. Oladoyin (dated 27th June 2016) and served on INEC, Justice Abang specifically ordered: ‘Independent National Electoral Commission, the 3rdDefendant herein is hereby ordered forthwith to issue Certificate of Return to the Plaintiff, Dr Sampson Uchechukwu Ogah as Governor of Abia State, for the election held on 11th April, 2015 and restore all entitlements to him as the elected Governor of Abia State. Dr Okezie Ikpeasu is hereby ordered to vacate office as Governor of Abia State.
“To that extent and as a law-abiding institution, INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of the South East, Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, handed the Certificate of Return over to Dr Sampson Ogah on Wednesday.”
Nwuruku said in Abuja yesterday: “The court said with immediate effect, we should issue Ogah certificate of return, and that is what we have done. If a court tomorrow issues another order, we will obey the same.
“ By the grace of God I am the INEC commissioner in charge of South East. I will do the same thing if a court orders us to do so. If a court says we should issue the same certificate to another person.
“In this case, a court ordered us to issue certificate to the person who won the election, that is Uchechukwu Ogah. I was the person who issued a certificate of return to Governor Ikpeazu because he was declared winner.
“Now the court is saying otherwise. One thing is that we are not above the law and we cannot but obey the law of the land. After the court another person we obey is God. And my conscience is my God.
“If you were in the court that day and I will urge you, members of the media, to go and study the court’s decision very well. It was wonderful, it was direct.”
When asked if the commission was aware that Ikpeazu had filed an appeal, Nwuruku said the commission followed the judgment.
“Our own is to obey the judgment on the ground. If by tomorrow the court says ‘give it to another person’, then the INEC chairman will obey by signing another certificate.
“What we have just done is obeying the Nigerian constitution. If l fail, I will be jailed and I don’t want to be jailed,” he added.
Ogah arrived in Umuahia, the state capital, yesterday through the Sam Mbakwe Cargo Airport in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
He went into a meeting with Directorate of State Service (DSS) top officials at their office in the Abia State capital.
At about 7.55pm, Ogah and his entourage drove out of the DSS office in a long convoy. It was not clear where they were headed as he declined to speak to reporters.
The police stepped up security around the Abia Government House in Umuahia,
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the news, which filtered into the state around noon, caused anxiety among residents of Umuahia.
At the city centre, popularly called Isi-gate, some 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. Workers simply watched.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who was on his way to deliver an inaugural lecture at the Abia State University, Uturu when the news filtered in, cancelled the event and made a quick return to Aba.
Ikpeazu had operated from the Government House Liaison Office in Aba since he assumed office on May 29, 2015.
Many of Ogah’s supporters were seen at the Government House main-gate in anticipation of his inauguration.