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.
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