Governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, has described the issuance of certificate of return to his political rival, Samson Ogah, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as a litmus test for the nation’s democracy.
Governor Ikpeazu wondered how Ogah, who never contested an election to test his popularity, was ordered to be sworn-in as governor by a federal high court sitting in Abuja.
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court had in his judgment on Monday, ordered INEC to issue a certificate of return to Ogah while ordering Ikpeazu to vacate office.
The development caused tension in the state on Thursday, following an alleged attempt by Ogah to get the state Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, to swear him in as the governor.
Speaking with newsmen on the situation in Umuahia, the state capital on Friday, Ikpeazu, who appeared unperturbed by the development, described it as a temporary setback where a man is trying to ambush democracy and get into government through the back door.
According to the governor, the tenets of democracy are very clear as one is required to campaign, run for an election, go through the rigors of tribunal and other courts required to validate his election.
“I went through a campaign, ran an election and had gone through the tribunal and a court turned around to issue a certificate of return to someone without allowing me to exhaust my legal rights, which I must exercise”, he declared.
Gov. Ikpeazu continued: “I am baffled with the desperation of one man to assume office, here is a man facing twelve criminal charges pending in many courts in Lagos, this means that he is trying to get immunity to enable him escape prosecution.
“The way things are in the state, it means that democracy is on trial, as people who know me are aware that I worked last at the state environmental agency (ASEPA) where I paid my taxes and people are now saying that I did not pay tax.
“It is strange to Abians as the Board of Internal Revenue (BIR) which I have no problem with has said it loud and clear that I paid my taxes, as I was duly assessed, so nobody can deny my fundamental rights and claim the mandate given to me by the people”.
“I am resolute to protect the mandate as I have an injunction from a competent court of jurisdiction stopping anyone including the state chief judge or any other person in that capacity in any part of the state to swear in any one as governor of the state”, he added.
Ikpeazu, who reaffirmed his position as Governor of Abia, appealed to the people to remain calm until the final verdict of the Supreme Court is given.
“This illegality will not stand. I will test the judgment in the Appeal Court up to the Supreme Court.
“Even if it was a death sentence, I don’t think that I will be executed without right of appeal.
“That right is fundamental, that right is undeniable and a denial of that right is a denial of my fundamental right”, he said.
On speculations in some quarters that there are people behind the stalemate, the governor said he does not believe it, “As am aware that the federal government is fighting corruption, so they cannot support corruption in any form”.
Ikpeazu also expressed happiness over the conduct of youths in the state and urged them to maintain their calmness.
He said that “Abia is calm contrary to current act of wanton destruction of oil pipelines in other Niger Delta states in the country.
“Abia perhaps is the only Niger Delta state in the country where youths have refused to join in vandalising Federal Government pipeline installations”.