Ikpeazu wants to focus on governance
As Otti calls for overhauling of judiciary to protect democracy
AS the recent verdict of the Supreme Court, which favours the incumbent governors of Abia and Akwa Ibom states, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu and Odom Emmanuel of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) continues to generate controversies, candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in last year’s governorship elections in Abia, Dr. Alex Otti, who lost out in the litigation has called for a thorough overhaul of Nigeria’s judicial system “to protect the country’s democracy.”
Otti, who was until last week’s Thursday when the verdict of the apex court was pronounced against his aspiration, very optimistic of getting favourable judgment, told The Guardian that the country’s democratic journey would lead nowhere except the process of seeking redress is properly cleansed.
Ikpeazu however appealed to all parties involved in the matter to rest their case as the apex court had decided. He also begged his detractors, especially the opposition, to desist from distracting him but allow him focus on his mission of rendering services to the people.
The governor in a statement through his Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Godwin Adindu said the protracted legal battle that ended at the Supreme Court was a huge distraction and having come out of it, he needs all the time and energy to focus on the onerous task of rebuilding his state.
But the Chairman, Conference of All Progressives Congress (APC) Publicity Secretaries (CAPS), Mr. Joe Igbokwe, in his view, said that the apex court decision that upheld what he considered as controversial elections that took place in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia states “sent a dangerous signal to the political landscape and at once put a question mark on anti corruption project of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Igbokwe said he was stunned into disbelief that the Supreme Court of Nigeria should in one fell swoop render nugatory all the tribunals and appeal court rulings with respect to Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Abia states without thinking about the bizarre consequences of such unilateral actions in the body polity.
While Otti stressed the need to protect the integrity of the ballot box by instituting a judicial system that will be insulated from the manipulations of the politicians, he said, “If you don’t fix the judiciary, every other thing will fail. We need an independent judiciary that should do the right thing.”
Although Otti and his party lost at the Election Petition Tribunal where he challenged the declaration of Ikpeazu as the winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) despite allegations of widespread violence and manipulation, the Appeal Court declared him as the winner after cancelling returns from the three contested local councils of Isiala Ngwa, Osisioma and Obingwa.
The Supreme Court in its decision, full details of which will be made available to the public on February 26, was not convinced that the Appeal Court was right and set aside its judgment.
The APGA candidate said he “cannot speculate on why the Appeal Court judgment was not upheld, but a lot of things still have to change in the electoral system, as it is highly irregular to award victory in an election to someone who did not win the majority of votes cast. Moreover, President Buhari complained that judiciary was his headache and now we can see beyond the President’s headache.
“The truth however, is that change has to start with the political class. At present, we have lost all moral rectitude. In established democracies, people who stand for office have careers, and only stand for office in order to serve their people, but here in Nigeria, there are individuals of high social standing who are idle, but somehow receive monthly allowances drawn from the federation account. This is the sort of illegality we hoped to put an end to.
“We need to set the criteria. People are after what they called blood tonic, which I did not promise. The cabal should give way. INEC should not allow itself to be compromised. INEC officials should not hide the authentic result sheets and tender fake ones. We need legislations that will tackle electoral offences so that we can have a more transparent and enduring process.”
Speaking on the recent judgments of the Supreme Court in Delta, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers and Ebonyi states, Otii observed that the pronouncements had followed the same process that he described as a bandwagon effect.
He however declared that he would continue to look for any opportunity to serve the Abia people saying, “After watching the fortunes of Abia wane for decades, we stood for an election to provide an alternative to the status quo. All those who followed the events leading to the election can confirm that we provided credible opposition during the electioneering process and as a result, the 2015 elections in Abia were unlike any the State has ever witnessed.
“However, for us it is not a matter of life and death. As a party, we accept the ruling of the Supreme Court, although we do not agree with the judgment, as we believe that justice had not been served. It is very important to underscore at this point, that the Supreme Court, which is composed of human beings, is not infallible. We believe this ruling was a mistake, but we know that one cannot expect to receive justice every time.”
On his plans to seek election again in the future, Otti said he would wait to assess progress in Abia under the new administration before making a final decision stressing, “I believe it is a bit early in the day to start making such plans. I would not want to make comments that may upset anyone, so I will observe what happens in the State in the next few years. We should not distract anyone right now with talk of 2019, but I can assure you that I will always be available to improve the lot of my people.”
According to Ikpeazu, with the verdict of the Supreme Court, the era of politics in Abia State is over. He said that all resources and time would have to be channeled into full governance, stressing that he could discern the yearning of the people for services through their massive solidarity with him throughout the election and the protracted legal battle.