Human Rights lawyer, Festus Keyamo, has described the continued occupation of the Abia State Government House by Okezie Ikpeazu despite a Federal High Court overturning his election as governor as ‘illegal’. According to Keyamo, Mr. Ikpeazu ceased to be governor the day Justice Okon Abang delivered the judgment sacking him from office.
Stating this during a press statement on Wednesday, the Lagos based lawyer said Uche Ogah should be sworn in immediately as governor pending the appeal lodged by Mr. Ikpeazu.
Keyamo however, maintained that Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) acted legally and correctly by instantly issuing a certificate of return to Ogah, stating that it would have been permissible for Ikpeazu to continue in office as Governor of Abia State pending the outcome of the appeal despite the judgment of the court if Ogah had not been issued a certificate of return instantly.
“I have carefully listened to various arguments regarding the immediate issuance of a certificate of return to Ogah by the Independent National Electoral Commission in strict compliance with the judgment of the Court. Contrary to opinions expressed in certain quarters there is no judicial decision or statutory provision preventing the INEC 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 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, INEC acted legally and correctly by instantly issuing a certificate of return to Ogah.
“It would have been permissible for Ikpeazu to continue in office as Governor of Abia State pending the outcome of the appeal despite the judgment of the Federal High Court (and the nullification of his Certificate of Return) if 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.
“That is why the interim order restraining the Chief Judge of Abia State or any other judicial officer from swearing in Ogah is a non-sequitor as the judgment of Justice Abang 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 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.
“Ogah should be sworn in immediately as Governor of Abia State, pending the appeal lodged by Ikpeazu. That is the only way to go to enthrone legality in Abia State. The heavens will not fall.”
It would be recalled that having found Mr. Ikpeazu guilty of tax-related offences, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, had last month, annulled Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu’s election and ordered INEC to issue a certificate of return to Mr. Ogah, who came second during the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) primaries in the state.