June 13, 2024

The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia state, Okey Ahaiwe, is contesting the legitimacy of Governor Alex Otti’s nomination from the Labour Party before the state’s governorship election. This challenge is centered around Governor Otti’s submission of a letter purportedly from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), as revealed in court documents.

According to the court filing obtained by the Peoples Gazette, Ahaiwe’s legal representatives stated that they intend to argue that Otti “was not qualified to participate in the election because he failed to submit his NYSC discharge certificate” to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) when completing his nomination documents.

Otti presented a letter to INEC, allegedly from 1992, certifying that he had completed his mandatory one-year national service in Lagos. The letter, appearing to be generated from a contemporary NYSC template, explained that Otti had not yet received his national service certificate due to circumstances beyond his control, and that it would be issued to him once received from the NYSC headquarters in Abuja.

Born on February 18, 1965, Otti claimed in his INEC submissions that he graduated from the University of Port Harcourt in 1988. However, his submission to the electoral office necessitated the presentation of an NYSC discharge certificate, as his details indicated that he graduated at the age of 23 and thus was required to partake in the national youth service program.

While a response from Otti’s spokesperson was unavailable, reports suggest that Otti’s legal team is preparing to counter the PDP’s argument in court.

In this legal matter, Okey Ahaiwe and the PDP are the complainants, while the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Alex Otti, and the Labour Party are the first, second, and third defendants, respectively.

Otti was declared the winner of the March 18 governorship elections, securing 175,467 votes compared to Ahaiwe’s 88,529 votes, thereby ending the PDP’s longstanding dominance in the state since the inception of the Second Republic in 1999.

Ahaiwe, a former chief of staff to ex-Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, has rejected the election result and is committed to challenging it before the election tribunal.

In his petition, the PDP candidate asserts that any NYSC discharge certificate submitted by Otti during the tribunal proceedings should be deemed a fabrication, citing Nigerian laws that stipulate the requirement of completing compulsory national youth service to hold public office.

Despite instances of individuals being elected to various political positions without presenting NYSC certificates to INEC, Ahaiwe argues that individuals who attended tertiary institutions, especially universities, after 1973 must obtain either a discharge or exemption certificate, depending on their age upon completion of their studies.

Given that Otti confirmed attaining his university degree at the age of 23, Ahaiwe’s legal team argues that there are no legal grounds for him not to possess an NYSC discharge certificate. They consider the 1992 letter presented by Otti to INEC during his failed governorship bid in 2015 as “peculiar.”

They also highlight the apparent inconsistency in the Labour Party’s stance, as they challenge Peter Mbah of the PDP over his NYSC certificate controversy in Enugu while dismissing the importance of Otti’s failure to present the same certificate in Abia, citing differences in the accusations against them.

Ahaiwe also calls on the election tribunal to declare Otti’s election null and void, asserting that Otti wasn’t a registered member of the Labour Party during the election, thus rendering his candidacy invalid. This claim is based on the alleged absence of Otti’s name from the Labour Party’s membership register, which the party is legally obligated to submit to the electoral commission 30 days before its primary election.

It’s important to note that the PDP had previously challenged the candidacy of Tinubu/Shettima at the Federal High Court in Abuja on July 28, 2022. However, in a unanimous decision on May 26, the Supreme Court ruled that the PDP lacked the standing to initiate legal action against the internal affairs of the APC. The Supreme Court imposed a fine of N2 million on the PDP in favor of INEC and the APC, as well as the individuals named in the appeal.

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