From PETER OKORE, Umuahia

Last Wednesday, Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu and his deputy, Sir Ude Oko Chukwu received their Certificates of Return from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as winners of the 2019 governorship election in Abia State.
Ikpeazu won the governorship election for a second tenure on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Speaking at the event, which took place within the premises of the INEC secretariat in Umuahia, Ikpeazu promised to run an inclusive administration and extended the olive branch to his political opponents in the last poll. He called on them to join hands with his administration to build Abia and take the state to greater heights.

“This is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the welfare of Abia people. In 2015, I said that this government is for the common and ordinary people”.

This is even as the spokesmen for both Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Dr. Alex Otti of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in the state, have rejected the invitation by Ikpeazu, describing it as “an empty Invitation”, stressing “you cannot give-out what you don’t have”.

Speaking in telephone interviews, both the Director of Publicity, Uche Ogah Campaign Organization ,”Abia Rejoice”, Chief Joshua Ogbonna and Alex Otti’s Campaign Director of Contacts and Mobilizations, Chief Nwaka Inem, re-iterated that the 2019 guber election in Abia State was riddled with fraud, violence, insecurity, massive rigging, and other electoral mal-practices, saying that that result cannot be seen as being reliable coming from a credible and believable election.

Consequent upon that, the state had remained in a mourning mood ever since the 2019 guber election results were made public because the elections were not believed to have been free and credible, as envisaged.

INEC had announced Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu winner of the 2019 governorship election in Abia, having scored the highest valid votes of 261,127 votes; and having met the requirements as stipulated in the 2015 Electoral Guidelines (as amended); and hereby declared governor-elect of Abia State, as announced by the Retuning Electoral officer, Professor Benjamin Ozurumba. The second runner-up, Dr. Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah of the APC, scored 99,574 votes , while Dr. Alex Otti of APGA got 64,366 votes to come third.

But Ikpeazu , while rededicating himself to greater service to Abia State, commended INEC “for conducting one of the most transparent elections in Abia, and Nigeria in general.”

He also lauded security agencies for their role in ensuring that Nigeria remained united and peaceful country.

The governor restated his commitment to embark on programmes and policies that would fast- track infrastructural developments in the state, through the five- pillars of development programme of his administration; in the areas of Education, Industrialisation, Trade, Commerce and Agriculture, to drive the process of job creation and provide employment for the teeming number of unemployed youths of the state.

Earlier, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, the National Commissioner of INEC, called on the winners to consider their victory at the polls as an expression of trust from the people. He charged them to make the people’s welfare a top priority. “In Nigeria, we need to develop a culture of post-election healing. Elections should not necessarily be divisive; more -so, in our context. We must work together to treasure this mandate”, he said.

Also speaking, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Dr Joseph Iloh, asserted that the elections were credible and commended the security agencies for providing a conducive environment for the peaceful conduct of the 2019 general elections in the state. Certificates of Return were also presented to the 24 members-elect of the Abia state House of Assembly same day and ceremony.

Nevertheless, in their reactions to the events of the day, both Chief Joshua Ogbonna of Ogah’s Campaign organisation and his counterpart, Nwaka Inem for Otti’s Campaign Organisation, representing the guber candidates of the major opposition political parties in Abia, hinted that the issue of going to court is not closed yet. They were unanimous that their team of lawyers were still studying the documents and gathering necessary materials, pointing out that they will file their cases before the time allowed for filing of Election petitions elapses.

According to Joshua Ogbonna: ”In the first place, Ikpeazu did not win that election. He knows he lost the election. So he cannot talk of running an inclusive government. You cannot give what you don’t have. Should we join him to continue looting Abia? Ogah cannot join hands with anybody to loot Abia, his beloved Fatherland.

“They (the Ikpeazu administration) have nothing to offer. So we cannot join hands with any of them to defraud Abia. It is just an empty invitation that Ikpeazu gave us. If he won that election clean and clear, people will listen to and celebrate with him. But he did not! This is why Abia has remained in a mourning mood ever since. Let him point at those who voted for him. ‘He cannot claim to have the controversial 19,000 votes from Ngwaland’. Who is deceiving who? Let Ikpeazu allow Abians to mourn their fate!
“But I appeal to Abians to keep their hope alive. The suffering will end one day. Those forces (including the so-called stakeholders in Abia)that hold Abians down(in captivity) will go one day. God will one day answer our prayers.”

In his own reaction, Chief Nwaka Inem said the extension of the Olive branch to Dr.Alex Otti for the purpose of building a solid and progressive Abia, is premature. He described the invitation as “playing to the gallery”.

According to him:”First of all, Dr. Ikpeazu has to accept that something went wrong with the results of the election that brought him to power, before inviting us to partner with him. He must accept that he manoeuvred us. Sincerity is lacking in that call to partner with him”.

On court matter, Inem hinted that they are preparing hard to go to court.” This is why we have not congratulated anybody. We cannot applaud injustice. We do not believe in the saying that “if you cannot beat them; you join them”.

Meanwhile, mixed reactions and comments, in form of congratulatory messages from individuals, traditional rulers, organizations and institutions have continued to trail the Issuance of Certificate of Return to the governor by INEC. While some are adverse, others have culminated in calling Drs. Uche Ogah and Alex Otti to sheath their swords, accept the verdict of the INEC, embrace peace and avoid resorting to legal battle over the 2019 governorship election results, in view of the devastating effects such an action will have on Abia finances and welfare of the citizenry.

The commentary written by one of the governor’s aids, Chief Isaac Ogbonna, aired Sunday, 17,March ,2019, on the State-owned Radio Station, BCA, Umuahia, climaxed the plea to Otti and Ogah to drop their legal battles because of the effects it will have on workers, pensioners and Abia citizens, in particular. The writer of that commentary, Ogbonna, who also hails from same locality with Governor Ikpeazu, assured that he governor would do better in this second tenure.

It is, probably, as a result of court litigations that political pundits are suggesting that arrangements be made so that a sitting governor steps down from office if he intends to contest any elective position. Reason given by them is to avoid meddling with state finances while pursuing electoral cases in court. To perfect that arrangement, INEC should ensure that all litigations arising from elections are concluded before a sitting governor(who wins) is sworn-in. The essence is to make sure that public funds are not tampered with by a sitting government functionary, to prosecute his personal matters.

Another commentator on the issue of going to court, who pleaded that his name should not be in print here, accused the PDP of playing double standard by appealing to the duo of Ogah and Otti at the state level ,not to go to court; while at the National level, same PDP advised her presidential candidate in the 2019 Presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to head for the courts to reclaim his mandate from Buhari.

According to him:” Ikpeazu should go to court to defend his mandate with his personal money; like Alex Otti, Uche Ogah and Atiku. If this happens, this matter will end faster and amicably.
“That the Council Congratulates Governor Okezie Ikpeazu for his victory in the last governorship election held on Saturday, March 9, 2019 and urges him to consolidate on the gains made in his first term so as to continue to develop the state and, as well, deliver the dividends of democracy to Abians.

In their Communique issued at the end of March congress of the Abia state council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, signed by the state Chairman Comrade John Emejor, the Union observed with dismay the election malpractices that characterized the 2019 general elections, such as rigging, vote buying, multiple voting and thuggery and, therefore, called on President Mohammadu Buhari and the National Assembly to work out an Electoral Act that will incorporate electronic voting in all elections to eliminate the vices that mar elections in the country.

“That as a new administration is expected to emerge on May 2019, the Congress urges the Federal Government to apply Federal Character in all appointments into the Federal Executive Council and the leadership of the National Assembly, among others, to give all zones in the country, particularly the South-East, a sense of belonging.

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