Isidore Isotonu Achor
It did not come as a surprise to discerning objective observers that the Appeal Court declared the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr Alex Otti, as winner of the Abia State Governorship election. As they say, the hand can never cover the sun. And as they even further say, pregnancy cannot be covered forever. It was obvious in the run-up of the election that the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had an uphill task carting home the diadem in the gubernatorial polls. The PDP candidate was seen as a handpicked sidekick of the departing incumbent Governor Theodore Orji. Abia people did not want a coronation, as in a king handing over to his son, to wit, the prince. The people of Abia State turned out in their numbers to vote, but the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced PDP’s Dr. Ikpeazu as the winner. Dr. Otti, as a very responsible democrat, did not take the laws into his hands by resorting to violence. He duly challenged the announced result at the electoral tribunal which turned down his challenge. He then went further afield by taking his case to the Appeal Court.
The Appeal Court, sitting in Owerri, the capital of Imo State, in its landmark ruling on December 31, 2015 ordered INEC to immediately return Dr. Otti, as the rightful winner of the April election, having won majority of the lawful votes cast during the polls. In its unanimous ruling, the five-man panel of judges, presided over by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, faulted the ruling of the Abia State Governorship Election Tribunal which upheld the election of the governorship candidate of the PDP, Okezie Ikpeazu, as the winner of the April governorship election. The panel of distinguished judges stressed that there were established proofs of over-voting and substantial non-compliance to electoral laws during the election in Osisioma, Isiala-Ngwa North and Obingwa Local Government Areas of the state and as such unlawful votes were allotted to Dr Okezie Ikpeazu. In the counsel of the panel, after subtracting the votes from the Isiala-Ngwa, Osisioma and Obingwa, the PDP candidate was left with a total vote of 114,444 votes while the APGA candidate had 164,332 votes, and thus should be returned as the rightful winner of the election.
The restoration of the people’s mandate to Dr. Otti represents a great uplift in the democratic development of the country. The Appeal Court judgment which has been described as a “landmark and thoroughly analyzed judgment” by legal luminaries across the country sounds a death knell to the impunity of incumbency. Dr. Otti was indeed a determined underdog who doggedly battled against all odds put on his way by the formidable state machinery. Even as the PDP legal team has approached the Supreme Court for the final verdict on the matter there is no gainsaying that electoral affirmation in Nigeria will gain a world of good from the Dr. Otti example.
It needs to be recalled that the PDP had in the course of the appellate proceedings called for the disbandment of the appeal panel. Such brazen intimidation of the judiciary points to the fact that the PDP has everything to fear given that their so-called electoral success was fraught with so much impunity. It is incumbent on the judiciary not to succumb to the threats as mouthed by stalwarts of the PDP. Dr. Otti has all along pursued his cause with remarkable philosophical calmness that needs to be emulated. Elections ought not to be a do-or-die affair, and the people’s will must not be thwarted on the altar of filthy lucre.
The judiciary has shown over the years that it can always rise beyond state intimidation to give justice as a matter of course. The exemplary victory of Peter Obi through the judiciary in the Anambra State governorship election over Dr. Chris Ngige represents the watershed that nourishes the Dr. Otti endeavour in Abia State. Peter Obi was then of APGA and Ngige belonged then to the mighty PDP with all the godfathers. Peter Obi’s eventual triumph added cubits to the reputation of the Nigerian judiciary. The reputation of the judiciary even soared higher when the selfsame Peter Obi sacked yet another PDP pretender governor in the person of Andy Uba when the jurists declared that Obi’s tenure had not ended when Andy Uba assumed his position. Dr. Otti is therefore in good stead in seeking to restore his mandate through the trodden route of the judiciary of Nigeria.
A First Class graduate of the University of Port Harcourt, Dr. Otti will definitely give Abia State quality governance that has been denied the state in 16 uninterrupted years of PDP superintendence. His distinguished charge at the helm of Diamond Bank should stand as a metaphor for the entrepreneurial wizardry he will bring to bear on the administration of the affairs of Abia State. He represents a grand idea whose time has come. It is obvious that one can only delay an idea, but there is no stopping the idea. A democrat with uncommon qualities, Dr. Otti is a splendid advertisement of the belief in the rule of law. He has pursued his cause through the judiciary without any vilification of the jurists as had been the forte of his opponents. In Dr. Otti the judiciary has found a profound believer. He cannot be denied at the last hurdle. Dr. Otti represents what Nigeria should be showcasing to the wider world. The promise of Abia as “God’s Own State” is on course to be fulfilled.
• Prof Achor wrote in from Aba, Abia State.
Abia People’s Mandate And Alex Otti
Isidore Isotonu Achor