The Appeal Court sitting in Owerri, Imo State on Friday sacked Okezie Ikpeazu from office as governor of Abia State and declared Alex Otti as winner of the April 11 and 25 supplementary polls in the state.
Ikpeazu contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party while Otti, was the All Progressives Grand Alliance flag bearer.
Delivering judgment in an appeal filed by Mr. Otti, the five-member panel, headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, said the APGA candidate scored 164, 444 valid votes to defeat Ikpeazu, who scored 114, 444 votes.
The court declared that Mr. Alex Otti was the winner of the governorship elections in the state, setting aside the November 3 judgment of the Abia Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, which said the PDP validly won the election.
Justice Omoleye held that the cancellation of the elections in three LGAs of Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Isiala Ngwa by the returning officers after the results were uploaded to INEC, was wrong.
“In the Electoral Act, the Returning Officer has the right to only declare results of elections and not to cancel elections.
“This panel discovered that the earlier results uploaded to INEC headquarters correspond with the correct valid registered voters in the three LGAs, while that awarded to the respondent shows over voting and therefore null and void”.
Justice Omoleye had while reviewing preliminary objections and issues raised by both parties, struck out the preliminary objections by Mr. Ikpeazu’s counsel to the effect that the appeal lacked merit.
The court also turned down the objection raised by the PDP that the members of the panel were wrongfully constituted and affirmed the arguments of Mr. Otti’s counsel.
The appellate court also noted that the lower tribunal erred by not handling all the issues raised before it on their merit.
“It was wrong for the court below to insist that because the appellant failed to appear in person, his matter will not be given due attention.
“For not appearing in person, the first appellant did not abandon his case”, she said.
The court stressed that there was no need to call for re-run because the results of the April 11 and 25 polls clearly present Mr. Otti as the genuine winner of the exercise.
It, therefore, directed INEC to issue Certificate of Return to Mr. Otti and swear him in as winner of the Abia Governorship election.
Reacting to the judgment, a lawyer in the team that represented Mr. Otti, Oracle Nwali, described the victory as “an end of the year gift to APGA”, saying the former Chief Executive of Diamond Bank would not disappoint Abia people.
On his part, Charles Esonu, the PDP secretary in Abia, said the party and its candidate would study the judgment and decide on the next line of action.