Ogah vs Ikpeazu
Ogah vs Ikpeazu

UNEASY calm fell over Abia State recently following the judgment by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which sacked Governor Okezie Ikpeazu from office, citing his non-qualification to contest the 2015 governorship election for tax evasion as reason for setting aside his election. The judge also ordered the Chief Judge of the state to swear in, Uchechukwu Samson Ogah, his opponent in the December 2014 gubernatorial election in state as the substantive governor. Similarly, Justice Abang ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to issue a certificate of return to Ogah. The judge ruled that on the account of fake tax returns during the primaries, and that Ikpeazu was never qualified to run in the primaries. According to him, his judgment was based on the Supreme Court decision in the case of Obi vs INEC, and Amaechi vs INEC respectively. But in another judgment on Friday at the Federal High Court, Owerri, the tax forgery suit filed against Ikpeazu by a chieftain of the PDP in the state, Mr. Friday Nwosu was dismissed. Nwosu who contested the December 8, 2014 PDP governorship primaries in the state had accused the governor of submitting a forged tax certificate and prayed the court to disqualify Ikpeazu and declare him governor. Delivering judgment on the suit, Justice L.A. Allagoa, who resolved other issues in favour of Nwosu, however said that Ikpeazu was not the maker of the tax document, stressing that the Abia State Board of Internal Revenue, testified that the document emanated from them and was not forged. The Judge further ruled that Nwosu failed to prove the case of forgery against the governor. Justice Allagoa added that Uche Ogah who is the 4th respondent in the suit lost his right to benefit from the process as he refused to sign the result and petitioned the party to conduct another exercise. Many Nigerians believed that the current political logjam in Abia State was another attempt by the APC-led government to deflate the camp of PDP by supporting the ‘anti-party’ activities of Ogah, who some members of PDP alleged was planning to defect to APC shortly after he must have been sworn-in as the governor. Similarly, many people have blamed the judiciary for most of the logjams with its numerous ‘anti- people’ judgments and counter judgments which they noted were not good for the image of the arm of government and the nation’s democracy in general. While sacking Ikpeazu, Justice Abang held: “That to give effect to the judgment of this court, the plaintiff, Dr. Samson Ogah, the candidate of the PDP in the 2015 gubernatorial election in Abia, is the person entitled to the certificate of return in the election for the office of governor of Abia State of Nigeria in the election held in April 2015. “It is hereby ordered that INEC, the third defendant, should immediately issue a certificate of return to the plaintiff, Dr. Samson
thronged the premises located along Umuwaya Road, Umuahia, to celebrate the court judgment while Ikpeazu’s camp quickly fought back, with the governor insisting that he remained the state’s chief executive. Ikpeazu has asked the people of the state not to panic, affirming that he remains governor, despite the certificate of return ordered to be issued to Ogah. He said that he had faith in the judiciary and rule of law. The governor noted as an appointee of the state government from 2011 to 2014, when he served as the General Manager, Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest and Safety Scheme, ASPIMSS, and first Deputy General Manager, Abia State Environmental Protection Agency, ASEPA, Aba and Environs respectively, before his resignation in October 2014 to contest the governorship election in the state, his taxes were deducted at source within that period. According to him, when he had need of his tax clearance in 2014,
Ogah, as governor of Abia State in the election held in 2015 and restore to him all the entitlements as the elected governor of Abia. “Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu is hereby ordered to vacate office as governor of Abia immediately relying on the decision of the Supreme Court in INEC vs Obi”. Expectedly, the campaign office of Ogah burst into life as supporters he applied to the Abia State Board of Internal Revenue, and was duly issued with his tax receipts for the period in question. He maintained that he remains the governor of the state according to law and will await the final determination of the matter by the appellate courts. Ogah, a major contender during the PDP primaries had approached the court to declare Okezie unqualified to secure the party’s nomination for alleged tax evasion. Ogah, polled the second highest number of votes in the PDP primaries. Without wasting much time, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has issued Certificate of Return to Ogah as the governor-elect of Abia State. Its Commissioner in charge of the South-East, Lawrence Nwuruku, performed the duty on behalf of the commission in Abuja. Nwuruke said the decision to present the certificate of return to Ogah was in obedience to the directive by the court to do so immediately. “The situation is we are simply obeying the court order. The court said with immediate effect, we should issue him certificate of return,
and that is what we have done”, he explained. The INEC commissioner said that as a citizen, he could go to jail if he flouts a valid court order. He, however, added that if the court tomorrow orders a reversal of the action, INEC would not hesitate to do its bidding. “The situation is that we are simply obeying the court order. The court said with immediate effect without wasting of time, we should issue him Certificate of Return and that is what we have done – to obey the court order. If the court tomorrow issues another order, we would obey the same”, he said. He went further: “By the grace of God, I am the INEC Commissioner in charge of South East. I’ll do the same thing if the court orders us to do so. If court says we should issue the same certificate to another person. In this case, court ordered us to issue a Certificate of Return to the person who won the election and that is Uche Ogah. “I was the person who gave the Certificate of Return to Governor Ikpeazu as he was declared winner. Now, the court has said otherwise. One thing we know is that we are not above the law and we cannot disobey the laws of the land. After
the court, another person we obey in our land is God and my conscience is my God. Another thing that guides us is the court and we must obey its order with immediate effect. If you were in the court that day, and I urge you the media, to go and study the court ruling very well, it was wonderful; it was direct”. But a Lagos-based constitutional lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa described the issuance of a Certificate of Return to Ogah as the new governor of Abia State as “worrisome,” saying the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC-led government is setting a dangerous precedent for the nation’s democracy if it is lying in wait and prodding the INEC to violate the basic tenets of democracy, which is respect for the rule of law and due process. According to him, the Abuja Federal High Court’s decision on the matter cannot be enforced because Okezie Ikpeazu, who was removed as governor, had filed an appeal, as well as a stay of execution. “There is said to be a grand plan, now in its well advanced stage, to swear in Ogah, who will then subsequently defect to the
ruling APC, on the excuse of the fictionalization within the PDP between Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Markafi. “On June 29, 2016, the sitting governor of Abia State, Mr. Okezie Ikpeazu, filed an appeal against the said judgment, together with an application for a stay of execution of the judgment of court. “The said application is yet to be heard or determined by the court, the consequence of which is that the judgment of court cannot be enforced”, he alleged in a statement issued after the court’s decision. Adegboruwa stated that the Supreme Court had held that once an appeal has been filed against a judgment and the appellant has also filed an application to stay the execution of the said judgment, the judgment cannot be enforced, until the application for a stay of execution has been heard and determined. He maintained that it would be a dangerous precedent if the judgment is enforced, noting that “In times past, APC governors and public officers under its platform have benefited robustly, from this hallowed principle of law, the latest example being the
president himself, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, Retd”. “Very recently, the Federal High Court dismissed a preliminary objection filed by the President, in respect of the case challenging his eligibility, for alleged absence of his WAEC certificate. “The President promptly filed an appeal against the said ruling and also filed an application for a stay of further proceedings before the high court. The high court deferred to the President and adjourned further proceedings sine die”, he stressed. It would be recalled that two members of the PDP had accused Ikpeazu of failing to pay per¬sonal income tax as and when due for the years 2010 and 2011 in line with Section 24(f) of the 1999 Constitution, which states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen to … declare his income honestly to appropriate and lawful agencies and pay his tax promptly”. Subsequently, a lawsuit was instituted at the Federal High Court, Abuja in December in 2014, by two individuals, Obasi Eke and Chukwuemeka Mba, who had asked the PDP and INEC to disqualify Ikpeazu from contesting the governorship election.

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