By Chukwudi A. Chukwudi
Abia is on fire. The tension has gone past boiling point. It is melting. But melting for who? For Okezie Ipkeazu and Alex Otti. Both are of the same Ngwa clan. Okezie became governor on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while Otti contested on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Both political structures are embattled and leaving no one good enough chance for stability. PDP is troubled because of it decimation. It is lacking in voice and no longer has the power to force its views down. APGA, in Abia state, has three factions fronting three different persons all claimants to the ticket of the party at the last governorship election.
Alex Otti, and ex-Diamond Bank CEO has Regan Ufomba and Chief Otagburuagu to contend with for the ticket of the party. However, Otti is the actual face behind the mask for which Ikpeazu’s office is threatened. His name is the one with INEC as governorship candidate of APGA in Abia state. So, other arguments as to who actually won the APGA primary election are immaterial here.
By the turn of events, it is either Ikpeazu remains governor of Abia state or Otti is foisted on the state using judicial fiat. If Ikpeazu remains, it will be victory for the Ngwa clan, whic ab initio, saw Ikpeazu’s aspiration for the office as an Ngwa project. This is so because the Ngwa had endured years of frustration and marginalization from the Old Bende axis.
Despite the reality of three senatorial zones in the state, Abia is majorly seen from the prism of the Old Bende and Aba districts. Governors of the state since 1999 have all come from the Old Bende axis. Ikpeazu is therefore the first time an Old Aba district person would mount the saddle since 1999. The protest against the Appeal court reasoning on his election is therefore explained from the backdrop of fact that the Old Aba section is on the verge of being shoved aside in the political equation in the state.
Beside, Otti, though a claimant to being an Ngwa, is from the Old Bende axis. His claim to be Ngwa is not captured under the truth of his origins. Fact is, Otti is an Arochukwu man. His running mate is also from Arochukwu. In essence, his aspiration is faulty on the grounds of not respecting the Abia Charter of Equity as well as the political correctness of spreading such high offices among the zones. This is a major fault which has ignited the protests against Otti. But again, it is neither here nor there because the issues at stake have gone past that stage. However, this is an issue that is capable of igniting worrisome passion in Abia in the days ahead.
However, beyond looking at the situation from the politics of it, even the legal angle leaves some fault lines which may work only to increase tension and rob Abia of peace in the long run. Results of three local governments were cancelled by the Court of Appeal. The cancellation paves way for Otti to be declared governor-elect. In other words, if Otti was to become governor, it means votes of the electorate in three council areas would not count. Legally, it does seem like people of the council areas are being told that they do not count in the making of their governor.
A peep at the past shows something interesting. In November 2010, the Court of Appeal, then led by Justice Ayo Salami, sacked Gov. Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun state and PDP and installed Rauf Aregbesola as governor after cancelling results of 10 local governments out of 30 in the state.
Before that in October, the same Appeal Court had sacked Segun Oni of Ekiti state and PDP and installed Kayode Fayemi as governor as cancelling results from Ijero and Ido-Osi local council areas, recorded in favour of Oni.
Those two judicial precedence were roundly condemned by Nigerians as rendering those areas cancelled voiceless in electing who governed the state. It was also one of the reasons the Electoral Law was amended to ensure that such challenges ended at the Supreme Court. That decision was also taken to protect voters from the tyranny of a few judges at the Court of Appeal. It was argued then that the Court of Appeal ought to have ordered a re-run in the affected council areas instead of a blanket cancellation. Recall that Justice Salami was eventually removed from Court of Appeal over questions arising from alleged expressed interest in the judgments.
In the Abia case, the arguments are not different. Those protesting the Court of Appeal decision, are not doing so on grounds that Ikpeazu must be declared winner no matter the circumstances. Rather, they demand that their votes ought to count in selecting who governs them. In essence, they are asking to be saved from the tyranny of a few justices of the Court of Appeal and be offered the opportunity to cast their ballots for whosoever they wish.
By the cancellation, which also affected Ikpeazu’s home council area, the Court of Appeal renders even Ikpeazu’s vote for himself. This makes it a lot more worrisome because it comes home as trend-setting. What is therefore expected from the Supreme Court, is an order of rerun within 90 days as it is the case in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states.
Taking cue from Akwa Ibom state. The Court of Appeal had nullified results of 18 out of 31 council areas of the state. Yet, it did not expressly order swearing in of the petitioner like it happened in Abia state. It rather ordered a re-run. Ask therefore; in what material way different is Abia state situation?
While the judiciary is the last hope of the common man, the judiciary should also not work to create a bitter society using judicial instruments to advance a destabilizing cause.
*Chukwudi wrote in from Aba.
The Ikpeazu-Otti Conundrum In Abia
By Chukwudi A. Chukwudi