Abia: One dis­pute, dif­fer­ent ver­dicts

Courts’ ver­dicts on Fri­day, July 8, 2016, have in­ad­ver­tently made worst the po­si­tion of the law as far as the con­trol of the Abia State Gov­ern­ment House in Umuahia is con­cerned.

Daily Trust - - INSIDE POLITICS - By John Chuks Azu

he sit­u­a­tion is such that while two can­di­dates of the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP) still hold valid Cer­tifi­cates of Return for the gov­er­nor­ship of the state, two courts hold vary­ing opin­ions on the sub­ject of dis­pute: the gover­nor’s tax cer­tifi­cate.

The le­gal log­jam be­gan af­ter Jus­tice Okon Abang of the Fed­eral High Court in Abuja, on June 27, re­moved Gover­nor Okezie Ik­peazu for in­clud­ing false tax cer­tifi­cate in­for­ma­tion in his In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC) Form for the De­cem­ber 8, 2014, pri­mary poll of the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP).

Jus­tice Abang agreed with Uchechukwu Ogah, who came sec­ond in the pri­mary, that there are dis­crep­an­cies in the gover­nor’s Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) tax re­ceipts for 2011, 2012 and 2013 as filled in his INEC Form CF001, and or­dered INEC to is­sue Ogah a Cer­tifi­cate of Return as the qual­i­fied can­di­date for the elec­tion.

The judge af­firmed the or­der on July 8 in the sis­ter suit filed by two Abia in­di­genes, when he re­fused an ap­pli­ca­tion for stay of ex­e­cu­tion of the or­der by Ik­peazu’s coun­sels, pend­ing the de­ter­mi­na­tion of an ap­peal filed at the Court of Ap­peal, Abuja.

But rul­ing on a sim­i­lar suit filed by another PDP as­pi­rant in the De­cem­ber 8, 2014, pri­mary poll, Fri­day Nwanozie Nwosu, be­fore the Fed­eral High Court in Ow­erri, Jus­tice Lewis Al­l­o­goa held that Nwosu did not prove the al­le­ga­tion of forgery ei­ther by pre­sent­ing a foren­sic re­port or that of the is­su­ing author­ity-the Abia State Board of In­ter­nal Rev­enue.

In­ter­est­ingly, the judge up­held another re­lief sought by Nwosu that hav­ing re­jected the out­come of the pri­mary elec­tion process by re­fus­ing to sign the re­sult sheet, “Ogah is not el­i­gi­ble to en­joy the out­come.”

Be­fore these im­por­tant pro­nounce­ments, at least, four suits were filed in dif­fer­ent courts by in­di­vid­u­als seek­ing to an­nul the elec­tion of gover­nor Ik­peazu, al­leg­ing false tax dec­la­ra­tion.

The suits in­clude those filed by Ogah and Nwosu, there was the suit jointly filed by the Abia in­di­genes: Uba Obasi Ekeag­bara and Chuk­wue­meka Mba and the re­cent suit filed by the can­di­date of the All Pro­gres­sives Grand Al­liance (APGA) in the April 2015 gen­eral elec­tions, Dr Alex Otti, chal­leng­ing the con­se­quen­tial or­der of the Fed­eral High Court in Abuja.

Otti faults the con­se­quen­tial or­der of the court di­rect­ing INEC to is­sue fresh Cer­tifi­cate of Return to Ogah, who came sec­ond in the pri­mary poll, on the grounds that un­der Sec­tion 141 of the Elec­toral Act, Ogah, who did not par­tic­i­pate in all the stages of the elec­tion, can­not ben­e­fit from the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion of Ik­peazu.

Ten­sion height­ened on June 30 when INEC, in what the Com­mis­sioner in charge of the South-East Zone, Am­bas­sador Lawrence Nwu­ruku, said was in com­pli­ance with the or­ders of the court, is­sued a Cer­tifi­cate of Return to Ogah.

“The court said with im­me­di­ate ef­fect we should is­sue him cer­tifi­cate of return, and that is what we have done,” Nwu­ruku said. “If the court to­mor­row is­sues court or­der, we will obey the same.”

Armed with the doc­u­ment, Ogah went to Umuahia via a char­tered flight and was re­ceived by a crowd of sup­port­ers, hop­ing to be sworn-in as gover­nor.

But an in­junc­tion is­sued by the Abia State High Court in Osi­sioma re­strained the chief judge of the state or any judge from per­form­ing the oath cer­e­mony. The judge’s or­der, how­ever, did lit­tle to re­solve the stale­mate.

Ik­peazu’s coun­sel, Wole Ola­nipekun, lead­ing other Se­nior Ad­vo­cates of Nige­ria in­clud­ing Kanu Agabi, Ade­moyega Awom­olo, Mike Us­man, and Onyechi Ik­peazu, did achieve some­thing on July 8.

The lawyers suc­ceeded in ob­tain­ing a stay of ex­e­cu­tion, pend­ing the hear­ing of ap­peal in the main suit af­ter Ogah’s coun­sel Alex Izinyon, lead­ing other Se­nior Ad­vo­cates of Nige­ria in­clud­ing Femi Falana and Dipo Okpe­seyi, con­ceded to their ap­pli­ca­tion.

In his rul­ing, Jus­tice Abang said that un­der Or­der 7 Rule 4 of the ap­peal court, he has the ju­ris­dic­tion to hear the ap­pli­ca­tion to stay ex­e­cu­tion or­der of June 30 and the ap­pli­ca­tion to set aside the or­der of an Abia State High Court made by both Ik­peazu and Ogah, but for the con­ces­sion made by Izinyon.

“Or­der 4 Rule 11 of the Court of Ap­peal Rules only reg­u­lates ap­peal against in­ter­locu­tory de­ci­sions not an ap­peal on a fi­nal de­ci­sion, in this there is noth­ing pend­ing at the trial court,” he said. “But the turn­ing point is that Dr Alex Izinyon (SAN) con­ceded that the ap­peal hav­ing been en­tered, the court lacked the ju­ris­dic­tion to take the mo­tion for stay. If al­lowed to take the mo­tion for stay, it means this court would have jumped into the arena of le­gal dis­pute.

“Dr Okezie Ik­peazu can­not go to the Court of Ap­peal with a mo­tion for stay of ex­e­cu­tion with­out this court tak­ing a de­ci­sion first. I will leave these is­sues for their lord­ships at the Court of Ap­peal to de­ter­mine.”

Speak­ing on the con­flict­ing ver­dicts, Tawo Eja Tawo (SAN), who brought Nwosu’s tax suit against Ik­peazu in Jan­uary 2015, said the suits ought to have been con­sol­i­dated and heard by one court.

He how­ever, said that the ap­pel­late court is now in the best po­si­tion to re­solve the dis­pute.

He said: “There is no con­fu­sion what­so­ever. The only way out now is to al­low all the cases to go the whole hog. These is­sues will be re­solved at the high­est court and that de­ci­sion will be bind­ing on all.”

On his part, Ozekhome ar­gues that the court ab ini­tion has no pow­ers to re­move a sit­ting gover­nor on the ba­sis of doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence with­out a foren­sic ex­pert and the op­por­tu­nity to cross ex­am­ine the wit­ness.

As the ma­jor con­tenders now head for the ap­peal court and, per­haps, the Supreme Court, Nige­ri­ans hope that the mat­ter will be re­solved by more ex­pe­ri­enced panel of judges.

The out­come of this suit, no doubt, will deepen and pro­mote democ­racy in the coun­try.

Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah

Dr. Ik­peazu

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