The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, said on Sunday that he had yet to offer any legal opinion on the developments which followed the June 27 judgment that sacked Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State.
The minister, through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Salihu Isah, asked the embattled governor and Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah, who was issued a Certificate of Return by the Independent National Electoral Commission on Thursday, to wait for the courts to resolve the crisis.
Malami’s reaction coincides with the hearing of the motion for a stay of execution of the judgment filed by Ikpeazu on Monday (today) before Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court in Abuja, who delivered the judgment that sacked the governor.
Justice Abang had sacked Ikpeazu for allegedly disclosing false information in relation to his tax clearance details to INEC in his form nominating him as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the 2015 governorship election in Abia State.
The judge, also in the said judgment, ordered Ogah, who was the first runner-up in the primary that produced Ikpeazu as the candidate of the PDP, to be sworn in as the state governor.
The judge held that Ikpeazu was not qualified to be the PDP’s candidate, having disclosed false information to INEC in violation of his party’s election guidelines and the Electoral Act.
He ordered that Ogah, which the court recognised as the winner of the PDP governorship primary, be issued a Certificate of Return and be sworn in as governor in Ikpeazu’s stead.
A few hours after INEC presented the Certificate of Return to Ogah on Thursday in Abuja, an Abia State High Court in Osisioma issued an order, stopping the state Chief Judge or any other judge from swearing-in Ogah, the governor-elect.
Ikpeazu equally declared that he remained the governor of the state despite the order of the court sacking him from office.
Malami, in the statement, denied having a hand in INEC’s decision to issue a Certificate of Return to Ogah.
The statement added that INEC had yet to seek the minister’s opinion on the issue and that the minister had yet to offer any.
He described as “crass lies” alleged insinuations “being peddled and disseminated by a cross-section of Nigerians that “the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation is behind the legal logjam over the Abia State governorship seat.”
It added, “Of particular concern are those who have peddled ill-natured rumours with a view to misinforming our discerning populace that the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation, and by extension, the Federal Government of Nigeria, gave directives to INEC to issue Certificate of Return to Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah, declaring him governor-elect.
“He (AGF) has definitely not taken any action either by spoken words or body language as far as this Abia governorship crisis is concerned.
“I wish to, therefore, on behalf of my principal, declare that these rumours are untrue and a figment of the imagination of those pushing these selfish, shameless and irredeemable lies into public space, which only translate to partisanship on the side of its purveyors.
“As far as the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation is concerned, the constitutional powers for the legal opinion of his office have not been invoked on this issue. So far, nobody has approached him to proffer any legal opinion to it.”
While urging parties to the case to await the courts’ decisions, the statement said Malami would allow the law to take its natural course.
It stated, “The parties involved should await the decision of the courts.
“In fact, we wish to, by this statement, advise those in the habit of dragging the highly esteemed Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice into knotty issue of this kind even when it is yet to take a position, to desist from these unwarranted presumptions henceforth.”
In an interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday, Isah said he could not say which of the courts of the land would resolve the case, adding that there were cases in three courts.
He stated, “It’s safer to say courts because it encapsulates all the courts of the land. As it is it now, there is a part of the case in Abia High Court; the motion for a stay of execution is before the Federal High Court and the notice of appeal is before the Court of Appeal.
“Like all litigation, we cannot predict how this case will end, how it will be resolved and at what level it will get to.”
Meanwhile, the Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, has dispelled insinuations that she has absconded from her duty post to avoid the inauguration of Ogah as Governor of Abia State.
She described the report as “allegations of cowardice by mischievous politicians” who did not mean well for the state.
Uzokwe said contrary to the allegations, she was in her office from 8.30am to 4.30pm on Thursday.
The CJ, in a statement on her behalf by the Acting Chief Registrar, Abia State Judiciary, Mrs. Vicky Analaba, on Sunday, said the facts were verifiable and in the records of the court for the public to see.
The statement read, “For the avoidance of doubt, on Thursday, June 30, 2016, the Chief Judge was in her courtroom performing her lawful duties, including the delivery of four rulings on that date.
“The particulars of the ruling in question are HU/35CM/2015 FRANCIS AKOR vs THE STATE; HU/ICM/2016-Johnson Aseigbu vs. Commissioner of Police, HU/42CM/2016-Onyekachi Samuel vs. Commissioner of Police; HU/34CM/2016-Lucky Sampson vs. the State.
“These facts are verifiable and in the records of the court. The various lawyers, who appeared in the respective suits listed above, are also living witnesses.
“This press release has become necessary in order to avoid further mischief and to set the records straight.”
In another twist on Sunday, the Abia State Government alleged that it had uncovered plot by those it described as desperate politicians to kidnap judiciary officers in the state.
In a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Enyinnaya Appolos, the state government said, “We call on security agencies in the state to increase surveillance and protection services around all the judiciary officers in the state.
“We wish to warn those involved in this plot to desist from their nefarious activities as the government will not hesitate to apply the full weight of the law against them.”
Also, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions, Mr. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, who is from Abia State, warned against allowing the case to throw Abia into anarchy.
He stated, “We have to approach it with caution as it is the case with every matter that goes through the courts. They have to be pursued to a logical conclusion.
“We are aware that another court of similar jurisdiction in Abia State also gave an order halting any swearing-in ceremonies.
“There is also an appeal. So, all these issues have to be resolved before any further steps could be taken.”
The Minority Leader of the House and Leader of the PDP, Mr. Leo Ogor, confirmed that lawmakers had discussed the issue informally and came to the conclusion that it was a pre-election matter.
Ogor added, “The general opinion of most of the members is that this case should not have gone the way it has gone.
“The Abuja Federal High Court gave its own decision. Is there no room for appeal? Didn’t the governor appeal the case?
“We shouldn’t be in a hurry. That is why the courts are there to resolve this type of case amicably.”