The strangle-hold of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) over Ebonyi politics, appears to have been altered, albeit slightly following the emergence of Comrade Chinedu Nweke Ogah, of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as member representing Ikwo/Ezza South Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, writes MIKE UBANI
The time was 1.30 pm – November 1, 2019. The expansive court room was filled to capacity. And moments later, a large section of the audience erupted in raucous joy to the chagrin of Hon. Justice A. I. Agubu.
“This is not a market place, but a court of law, so if you want to celebrate go outside and do so,” warned the Appeal Court judge.
Of course, the wild jubilation that momentarily enveloped the court room was not fortuitous. The Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu, had just dismissed an appeal filed by Hon. Lazarus Nweru Ogbee, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) challenging the declaration by the National and State Houses of Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal, of Comrade Chinedu Nweke Ogah, of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the February 23 House of Representatives election for Ikwo/Ezza South federal constituency of Ebonyi state, as lacking in merit.
It will be recalled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Ogbee as winner of the election, having scored a total of 31,296 votes, to beat Ogah, who according to INEC, scored 27,695 votes.
However, Ogah claimed that he scored majority of the lawful votes, contrary to the results declared by INEC.
He, thereafter, challenged INEC’s decision before the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal, sitting in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi state capital.
The APC candidate urged the tribunal to declare him winner of the election, having scored majority of the lawful votes cast at the election.
He alleged that his votes were reduced by INEC, while Ogbee’s votes were arbitrarily inflated, thus his emergence as winner of the election.
And after re-computing the results of Ikwo/Ezza South Federal Constituency, the tribunal presided over by Hon. Justice S. H. Aprioku, found out that Ogah scored 36,238 votes, while Ogbee scored 33,263 votes.
The tribunal, therefore, ruled on September 9, 2019 that Ogah scored majority of the lawful votes cast at the election into the House of Representatives for Ikwo/Ezza South Federal Constituency “and ought to have been declared, and duly returned as the winner by INEC.”
Consequently, the tribunal ordered the withdrawal of Certificate of Return earlier issued to Ogbee by INEC. The tribunal also directed INEC “to forthwith issue Ogah with a Certificate of Return as winner of the election conducted on Saturday, February 23, 2019, into the membership of the House of Representatives to represent Ezza South/Ikwo Federal Constituency.”
According to the tribunal, “the petitioner (Ogah) established through evidences and testimonies from reliable 28 witnesses against the respondents that he was short-changed by the electoral umpire in connivance of the machineries of the state government, and the ruling PDP which the INEC lawyer, Ibrahim Obiahor, in cross examination, admitted when he stated that results sheets may have been mutilated by INEC staff when computing same…”
However, the PDP camp was upbeat that the decision of the tribunal would be upturned by the Appeal Court. But despite filing 41 grounds of appeal, the tribunal’s ruling was upheld by the higher court.
“We are going to make a case to the legal practitioners’ disciplinary council, and perhaps the Body of Benchers to save us from this avalanche of grounds of appeal, said Justice Agubu, who was apparently dazed by the higher number of grounds of the appeal
After picking holes with the submissions of Ogbee’s counsel, Roy O. U. Nweze (SAN), Justice Agubu, who read the judgment on behalf of the presiding judge, Hon. Justice Veronica Dongban Mensen, said: “I hereby affirm the decision of the learned trial tribunal. This appeal lacks merit, and is hereby dismissed. My learned colleagues who sat on the appeal also agreed with the lead judgment of the presiding judge.”
Also, an appeal filed by the PDP against the same judgment of the tribunal, suffered a similar fate.
“We too relied on the decision of the same appeal to hold that this appeal (by PDP) is without merit and is hereby dismissed as it suffers the same fate with a sister case,” declared Justice Agubu.
Ntufan Mba Igweni, (SAN) counsel to Ogah, told journalists after the ruling that “the APC candidate Comrade Chinedu Ogah, automatically becomes the member representing Ikwo/Ezza South Federal Constituency of Ebonyi state in the House of Representatives.”
According to him, “we knew the substance of the case we prepared. Cases are won or lost during preparation. It is not in the court that cases are won. So, we knew the substance of our case from the beginning when we prepared it.
“We had the documents with us. So the efforts of our opponents during the trial to use INEC to change the results that were already in our hands was an exercise in futility.
“INEC even wrote to us to return the results that they had already given to us. But we couldn’t do that. We are not foolish to that extent to return the results that we already had which was the actual result of the election.”
A visibly elated Ogah told journalists that his victory at both the tribunal and Appeal Court symbolized the triumph of justice over injustice; victory of democracy and rule of law over autocracy, and the beginning of inflow of the proverbial dividends of democracy to his constituents.
He promised that APC would use his constituency as a beach-head to take over power from the ruling PDP in the state in 2023. “My victory today has shown clearly that APC exists in Ebonyi state, and we are going to march from here to assume power in the state in 2023,” he boasted.
Not a few say that this feat is achievable given the vital strategic importance of Ikwo/Ezza federal constituency in Ebonyi politics. For instance, Ikwo is the largest local government area in Ebonyi state.
The homeland of a former governor of the state, Chief Martin Nwanchor Elechi (an APC chieftain), Ikwo has a large voter population, and has also produced several political activists that unarguably have the capacity to shape the future of Ebonyi politics.
Also, Ezza South with Onueke as headquarters has a large voter population. The area is the political headquarters of the entire Ezza nation – an ethnic group that usually determines where the political pendulum of the state swings to.
According to political watchers in the state, the emergence of representative Ogah would attract federal presence in the area, thus guaranteeing maximum support for the APC during the next general elections.
It will be recalled that Ikwo/Ezza South federal constituency gave President Muhammadu Buhari, the largest number of votes during the February 23 presidential election – contributing largely to his achieving the mandatory twenty-five per cent of the votes cast in the state.
Meanwhile, Ogbee seems to have gotten into another trouble after being hauled out of the parliament.
The people of Ikwo and Ezza South federal constituency have called on security agencies and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to arrest and prosecute him over alleged diversion of skills acquisition equipment meant for youths in the area.
In a petition by their spokespersons Comrade Ikem Oti, and Kingsley Ogbonna, to the EFCC, the Commissioner of Police, Ebonyi state Police Command, and other security agencies, the people accused the former lawmaker of selling several pieces of hair dressing equipment and tailoring machines provided by the federal government to enhance the economic well-being of the people of the area.
The petitioners also alleged that the former lawmaker, sold computer gadgets and 70 brand-new motor cycles meant for the people of the area.
According to them, the erstwhile lawmaker exhibited a sense of partiality in the citing of federal government rural electrification project meant for the constituency, saying that the project favoured only the state Deputy Governor, Dr. Eric Kelechi Igwe, who hails from Ndufu Alike-Ikwo, in Ikwo Local Government Area of the state.
A copy of the petition obtained by The AUTHORITY reads in part: “At present, more than 70 pieces of motor-cycles, hair dressing machines, stylist equipment, computer gadgets, agricultural equipment, and other skills acquisition devices worth millions of naira, have been sold out in batches to companies, individuals, and firms.
“Transformers which would have ameliorated the power supply debacle in the constituency are now being sold out to people. This is …contrary to the reasons behind the appropriation of the funds.
“It is imperative to note that Hon. Ogbee rather than give the constituency her electrification project graciously approved for her by the federal government criminally diverted it to favour the current Deputy Governor of Ebonyi state, Barrister Eric Kelechi Igwe, an action that is currently tearing the entire constituency apart.”
Interestingly, Ogah has promised his constituents that he will fight for their rights, and for the rights of the greater number of people of the state.