FEATURE ARTICLE

Sunday, January 13, 2019
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WHEN AMBITION OVERSTRETCHES THE BOUNDS, THE CASE OF ABIA GUBERNATORIAL CONTEST

mbiton is good, and it is noble to pursue ambitions, whether political or otherwise. What is negative about ambitions is when they over stretch the bounds.

Wolsey's charge to Cromwell is classical to those seeking ambitions beyond reasonable limits."Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels; how can man then,The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?Love thyself last, cherish those hearts that hate thee;Corruption wins not more than honesty .Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,To silence envious tongues. Be just and fear not;Let all the ends thou aim'st at be thy country's,Thy God's, and truth's. Then if thou fall'st, o Cromwell,Thou fall'st a blessed martyr. Had I but served my God, with half the zeal I served my King, he would not in mine age Have left me naked to mine enemies"

Cardinal Wolsey, it would be recalled , is adviser to King Henry the Eighth of England, but he was an overly and unscrupulous element.As overambitious elements are not content with their states, Wolsey was not content with the level of wealth he amassed and besides, he had the ears of the King.

Overambitious elements are noted for always going into unholy alliances to satisfy their selfish ambitions, Wolsey connived secretly for an alliance with France, and urges the king to divorce Katharine of Aragon, who has been his wife for twenty years. Wolsey hopes the king will then marry a French princess to cement the alliance. But the king falls in love with Anne Bullen, a Protestant. Alarmed at this turn, Wolsey requests the Pope to delay the divorce. A copy of this letter and an accounting of Wolsey's wealth, enough to make a king jealous, fall into Henry's hands. Confronted with the king's wrath, these evidences of his double-dealing, and the loss of his offices, Wolsey meditates upon the precarious nature of ambition, and then speaks a touching farewell to his servant Cromwell.

Like Wolsey charged Cromwell to fling away ambitions, especially when they over stretch the bounds, the time is apt for some of the candidates who are presenting themselves in the forthcoming governorship election in Abia State of their antecedents. Such reference should graphically capture their repeated roles to subvert and truncate the mandate of Abians unanimously bestowed on Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.

There is always a day of reckoning that is why we are strongly charged to be mindful of our deeds.These gladiators should be substantially be reminded of how they murdered the sleep of Abians on 31st of December, 2015, that reminiscent of the Macbeth's scene:"I thought I heard a voice cry, "Sleep no more! Macbeth is murdering sleep." Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life's feast, and the most nourishing".

More worrisome is that the timing of the judgment did not even support the illegality allegedly perpetrated by the five-man member panel headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, who robbed Abians of the treasured sleep by delivering a judgment that was tagged "the most controversial in the recent history".

The judgment came on the eve of the New Year when Abians were savouring the goodies that the festivities usher. It came at a period Abians in the Diaspora had cashed in on the opportunity provided by the yuletide to have a firsthand assessment of the transformation going on in their state, courtesy of the seven months old administration of Ikpeazu.

Indeed, the five- man member panel that nullified Ikpeazu's mandate at the Appeal Court in Owerri on 31st December, 2015 murdered sleep that soothes away all the worries of Abians. Sleep that has put their decades of neglect to rest. Sleep that relieved them of their weary labour and hurt. And like Cawdor and Macbeth, sleep eluded them .Like the proverbial character that stirred the hornet's nest, it was banters, knocks and bashing. It has been barrage of criticisms from the legal to moral and what have you.

The controversy that surrounded the Appeal Court judgment compelledthe Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, few days after the judgment,while addressing justices of the Court of Appeal in Abuja at the Annual Conference of the Court of Appeal held in Abuja, to express concerns over conflicting judgments emanating from the Court of Appeal.He said: "As the guardians of the law, we must not only be just but also convey certainty in our justness".

The judgement also provoked a strong allegation from the Peoples Democratic Party to the effect that tge justices interpreted the laws to favour the ruling All Progressives Congress. The party also accused the justices of the Court of Appeal of giving conflicting judgments in similar cases and refusing to follow the precedents laid down by the Supreme Court.The justices were told that they were not allowed to continue to shift the goalposts when the game was on.

While advising them to adhere to certainty and stop creating confusion, Justice Mohammed said: "As your lordships will agree, where an aggrieved person perceives, whether rightly or wrongly, that they will not receive justice, such a situation can indeed bode ill for the community in which he lives and can lead to acrimony and anarchy. "We must not ignore the negative perception that is occasioned by conflicting judgments delivered at various divisions of the Court of Appeal. Such judicial contradictions only result in untold hardships to litigants in their quest for justice. They further cast your lordships in an unfavorable light and leave the judiciary at the mercy of innuendoes, crass publications and editorials".

A highly- respected and celebrated columnist, Amanze Obi, in his column "Broken Tongues" of Thursday , January 7, 2016 entitled" Judiciary on trial again" raised some pertinent questions that call for sober reflection.For clarity and comprehension of the piece, permit me to reproduce substantial part of the piece:" This latest judgment from the Court of Appeal is in the mould of some of the radical judgments, which our courts have had to deliver in election matters. It will go down in our political history as one of the judgments that have tried and tested the impartiality and independence of the judiciary in Nigeria. It should be noted, for instance, that the judgment is a radical departure from the earlier one given by the Abia State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which upheld Okezie's election. Given this earlier verdict, the expectation was that the worst that could happen would be to call for a rerun in the event of a higher court feeling that the earlier judgment could not be upheld.

"But what came from the Court of Appeal was a bombshell. It was not in conformity with the wildest imagination of bookmakers. Our recent experiences with our courts show that such judgments, whenever they are given, are largely political and ultimately spiteful. There are plans behind them. They are usually directed at persons or institutions, which the courts feel have de-liberately perverted the principles of equity and fair play. When, for instance, the Supreme Court declared Chibike Amaechi as the governor of Rivers State, even when he did not stand for election, the story behind it was one of spite. The court saw Amaechi as the oppressed, in fact, an underdog, who was trampled upon by the PDP and some powers that be who did not want him to become governor. The court's disposition was that such a man needed help. And so, it veered off the legal route in order to procure a favorable judgment for Amaechi. But the court was later to be embarrassed by its own indiscretion. Today, the verdict of the Supreme Court on Amaechi remains one of the legal aberrations of our time.

"But the Abia situation, to all practical intents and purposes, cannot be likened to the Rivers scenario. There are, no doubt, notable political gladiators, who have been battling for political space in the state. But in all of this, neither Okezie nor Otti was in the picture. The two gover-norship contenders may have been associates of the contending power brokers in the state, but their involvement is too tangential for the political judgment that is playing out. And so, the question must still be asked: Why is the Court of Appeal incensed over Okezie? Why is he being made a subject of spite and disdain? Why has the Court of Appeal acted as if it was on a mission? The majority of the Abia electorate are raising these questions. They are incensed by the judicial fiat that wants to make nonsense of their verdict. And so, the court may have pleased itself in this matter, but the people who are supposed to be the ultimate beneficiaries of the judgment are not satisfied.

"The people cannot also fathom why Abia is being factored into the political earthquake that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is allegedly planning to unleash on the polity. The party has moved into Akwa Ibom and Rivers States and appears set to topple the apple cart. We fully understand the politics behind all this. The two South South states gave the Jonathan candidacy a big boost with the reasonable number of votes they returned in last year's presidential elections. Given the winner takes all disposition of the present order, somebody somewhere may be feeling that the two states should be punished for their practical support for Jonathan.

"But how does Abia come into this mix? Abia, we must recall, is one of the South East states that supported Jonathan only in words but not in action. South east states, most embarrassingly, could not return substantial number of votes because of the shallow thinking of the political elite in the zone. They did not play the politics of numbers. They did not know that the ultimate braggadocio is to ensure victory, using numbers as bait. This device was masterfully employed by Attahiru Jega's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in many northern states, notably Kano, Katsina and Kaduna where it posted huge figures to boost Buhari's chances at the polls. This notwithstanding, nobody is complaining about the padded figures from the north. The courts are not going there to try their hands on any form of radical displacement of the existing order.

"Even if Abia has to be tinkered with for whatever reason, the people do not understand why that should come about through massive disenfranchisement of a section of the Abia electorate. In fact, the most contentious aspect of the entire drama is the cancellation of the results of the three local government areas in Ngwa land where Okezie hails from. The affected local government areas are those of Osisioma, Obingwa and Isiala Ngwa North. The court cancelled the results of the elections in these local government areas and did not order for a rerun. This is the crux of the matter.

"Those who have peeped into the strength of the registered voting population in the state say that the aforementioned local government areas have about 300,000 registered voters. With the cancellation of the results of the April 2015 governorship elections in the state in these areas, this huge number of the voting population has been disenfranchised. Our experience here shows that whereas INEC bothers about the disenfranchisement of voters, one of the reasons it has declared a number of elections inconclusive, the courts do not care a hoot about who is disenfranchised or not.

"The recent governorship elections held in Kogi and Bayelsa states, for instance, were declared inconclusive by INEC because there was need to ensure that registered and eligible voters are not unduly schemed out in the electoral process. In the case of Bayelsa State, the result of the election is still pending because INEC is insisting on a rerun in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area. The argument here is that the number of registered voters in Southern Ijaw can tilt the result of the election to any direction.

"The same thing is largely true of the Abia scenario. Here, three local government areas with a registered voting population of over 300,000 are involved. If the court complained of substantial non compliance with the Electoral Act in the election that held in these areas, the right thing to do is to order for a repeat of the election in the affected areas. To declare a winner without minding the fact that the votes of the three local government areas could alter the equation is the height of arbitrariness. The action undermines the right of the electorate in the state to choose who should govern them.

"It is unbecoming of our judges to sit in their comfort zones and declare results of elections, which took so much to conduct. By that act, the courts are making nonsense of both the electoral process and the elections. The Supreme Court should rise to the occasion and save our courts from imminent infamy".

A legal luminary and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome has lent his voice to the issue. Ozekhome, who spoke at a Channels TV Breakfast Programme 'Sunrise Daily', described the judgment as 'fundamentally wrong' and full of errors in Law.

He pointed out that the Court of Appeal was wrong in nullifying the election of Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu and declaring the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Mr. Alex Otti as the winner of the election. According to him, "the Court of Appeal erred in Law by granting the Appeal of Mr. Otti who could not adopt his own Written Statement on Oath at the Tribunal and also by admitting in Evidence, the Card Reader Report from a witness who was not the maker of the document. He also wondered how the Court of Appeal could give credence to the Evidence of the APGA Star Witness, Mr. Ahamdi Nweke, who was only a Collation Centre Agent and could not have been at the Polling Units where Elections were alleged not to have held".

Ozekhome reasoned that on the facts of the case before the Court of Appeal, it was fundamentally wrong for them to have declared Mr. Alex Otti as the winner of the elections and ordered his swearing-in. He noted that considering the fact that even going by the calculations of the Appeal Court Justices, the difference between the votes allocated to Mr. Otti and Dr. Ikpeazu was 48,000 while the total number of registered voters in the 3 Local Government Areas of Obingwa, Osisioma and Isialangwa North where they cancelled elections are over 250,000 and as such, going by the Electoral Act, the very worst the Court of Appeal should have ordered should have been a rerun election in those 3 Local Government Areas where they cancelled elections to decide the eventual winner. He equally faulted the Court of Appeal for relying only on the Card Reader to determine the issue of over-voting and wondered why they discountenanced the Manual Accreditation done in those Local Government Areas considering the fact that the INEC Guidelines allowed for Manual Accreditation where Card Readers fail.

Ozekhome was optimistic that the Supreme Court will not allow the Appeal Court Judgment on Abia State Governorship Elections to stand in the interest of Equity, Justice and Fairness.

The December 31st, 2015 attempt to truncate the mandate of Avians was a child's as more efforts came in torrents which culminated bin an "arrangee" judgement that purportedly oust Gov. Ikpeazu from office in 2016. More comical was the fact that the arrangee judgement was accompanied by an arrangee"certificate of return ".

Their mantra then was " Abia First" which failed to take into deep cognisance the breakdown of law and order their actions could have generated. Their narratives have continued to change in form and content and the new mantra is "Enough is Enough". Enough of what? Avians these overambitious political elements are back to their trenches. Be warned that the leopard hardly sheds its spots.


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