Opinion : Lessons from Appeal Court verdict on Abia guber election – Chuks Nwankwo

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If there is a medal for overcoming odds and difficulties, and a prize for overcoming obstacles and antagonism, only very few elected leaders would deserve it ahead of the governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu. Since 2015 when he was first elected as governor, every obstacle had been thrown his way, but he had trumped all.

On Saturday November 16, he overcame yet another legal hurdle when the Owerri division of the Appeal Court gave affirmation to his victory at the February 2019 Governorship election. Justice R.A Adah struck out the appeal filed by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate in the 2019 governorship election in Abia State, Alex Otti. The court held that Otti had failed to prove that the election was marred by over-voting and non-compliance to the INEC election guideline and the electoral act.

The Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Umuahia had similarly upheld the victory of Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as the governor of Abia State earlier in September.

Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Lekan Ogumonye while delivering a unanimous judgement held that the candidate of APGA in the election, Alex Otti, failed to prove his allegations of over-voting and non-compliance with the electoral act in the conduct of the election.

The decision of the appellate court has strong implications for the state and it must come as a relief to all lovers of Abia State. For one, it confers legitimacy on the election victory of Governor Ikpeazu as affirmed him as the true choice of the people. If there was any doubt about his re-election, the appeal court affirmation of the lower tribunal’s verdict must have rendered any such insinuations as pollical mischief.

But more critical is the opportunity it offers the governor to recoup his energy and focus and turn them on the task of governance and delivering on his mandate to continue the transformation he started in 2015. In truth, a similar legal distraction which had trailed his governorship victory in 2015 inflicted a toll on governance as it dragged on for nearly two years up to the Supreme Court.

It is hoped that Alex Otti, the candidate of APGA, will let go and allow the will of the people prevail by dropping any ambition to go to the Supreme Court. Matters like this cause distraction for all parties, including the people elected to lead the state. It is time for Otti to give up and allow the will of the people to prevail.

For the governor, it is time to pick up and refocus as residents of the state expect. He had demonstrated uncommon courage and leadership at difficult moments since 2015. Many expect him to continue along that line and not allow the challenges of governance to dampen his spirit. He is tough, determined and has a vision of a destination for the state. That was why the people re-elected him.

Expectations of him are high now as they were in the state when he was first elected as successor to Theodore Orji. The state had suffered prolonged underdevelopment slow infrastructural growth. He inherited many challenges but tackled them one after the other. He was determined to make a difference and set his priorities.

He was focused on providing essential social amenities to guarantee improved welfare and boost trading activities. He wanted economic transformation of the state and saw Aba, the commercial city of the state, as the linchpin for that. Since then the story of Abia State has changed.

Judging by his performance in promotion of trade and commerce, agriculture, oil and gas, education, health care delivery, and infrastructure development. As the governor himself noted in a recent interview, the people believed he had lived up to expectations in his first term and delivered on his campaign promises. That was why they rewarded him with a second term.

Governor Ikpeazu had commissioned several infrastructural projects and his record and achievements speak for itself. To achieve as much at a time of significant financial constraints is a testimony to his commitment to the people and fidelity to his vision. There is no doubt in my mind that performance was the major reason he was re-elected by the people.

Ikpeazu was an academic who came into government and betrayed no significant public service experience. He had eased into governance as any leader deserving of the name. Perhaps, his is a case study of innate leadership acumen. He was bequeathed a state slow on all governance indexes but has turned things around, and now Abia must be one of the fasted developing states in the country. He had frog-jumped the state by nearly 10 years in less than four years.

But despite his lofty achievements, a lot remains to be done. Ikpeazu must try to spread infrastructural development to all parts of the state and deepen his urban renewal projects across the three senatorial districts of the state. His promotion of trade and commerce must stretch beyond Aba to every town in the state. Such a stretch would ensure that the drive to transform the internally generated revenue of the state succeeds and becomes irreversible.

As a writer noted recently, Ikpeazu is on his last lap as governor of Abia and must be concern about what he intends to bequeath as legacy. While he is unarguably a successful governor, he must consolidate his successes and turn them to his legacy. He cannot afford to turn down his guard and wallow in self-praise.

He must start with those he picks into his cabinet. And he appeared to have started well with the choices he has made so far. His appointees must be those who share his vision for Abia and are willing to show passionate commitment and determination to succeed.

Governing a state like Abia is challenging. There are huge gaps in every sector and managing peoples’ expectations is no less daunting. Governor Ikpeazu did it from 2015 to 2019. Now he must do even more from 2019 to 2023. That is the only way to cement his legacy. But Ikpeazu is up to it.

Chuks Nwankwo wrote in from Aba, Abia State

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