LAGOS lawyer Festus Keyamo has said the continued stay in office of Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu as Abia State governor is illegal.
In a statement yesterday, Keyamo said the judgment of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, which nullified the nomination of Ikpeazu as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2015 governorship election in Abia State and his subsequent election as governor, ought to stand.
He said the court ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue a Certificate of Return to Dr. Sampson Uchechukwu Ogah, who scored the second highest number of votes in the primary which produced Ikpeazu.
The statement reads: “A thorough scrutiny of the judgment of the court will reveal that, contrary to widespread opinion that Dr. Ogah’s case was that Dr. Ikpeazu presented forged tax papers to the INEC, his case was simply that Dr. Ikpeazu apparently rushed to pay all his backlog of taxes, just before the elections; yet, he swore to a false affidavit and supplied false information to the INEC that he paid his taxes as at when due. It was based on this false information that the court nullified his candidature.”
Analysing the development in Abia State, Keyamo said he had carefully listened to various arguments on the immediate issuance of a Certificate of Return to Ogah by the INEC in strict compliance with the judgment of the court.
According to him, contrary to opinions expressed in certain quarters, there was no judicial decision or statutory provision preventing the INEC from complying immediately with the orders of the Federal High Court.
He said: “The provision of Section 143(1) of the Electoral Act, Part VIII, which gives Dr. 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, the INEC acted legally and correctly by instantly issuing a Certificate of Return to Dr. Ogah.”
The lawyer noted that it would have been permissible for Ikpeazu to continue in office as governor, 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.
He averred that having been issued a Certificate of Return, it was constitutionally abnormal and legally paradoxical that a person with a validly issued Certificate of Return should not occupy that office immediately, and that the person with an invalidated Certificate of Return continued to occupy that office.
The statement added: “That is why the Interim Order restraining the Chief Judge of Abia State or any other judicial officer from swearing in Dr. Ogah is a non-sequitor as the judgment of Abang, J. has already been complied with by the INEC.
“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 Dr. Okezie Victor 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.” The Nation