*Group wants Certificate of Return retrieved from Ogah
*I’m confident of victory —Nwosu
*Mandate given to Ikpeazu remains sacrosanct —Onyechere
By Innocent Anaba, Dapo Akinrefon, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Victor Otigbu & Dotun Ibiwoye
Contending with the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja presided over by Justice Okon Abang that removed Okezie Ikpeazu as governor, the Chairman of the Coalition of Ethnic Nationalities of Nigeria, Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, has described it as judicial rascality.
Speaking with newsmen, yesterday, together with several civil society groups, the coalition noted that judiciary nowadays has taken to taking sides with the prosecution and the government whenever a corruption or money-laundering case comes up. The huge bail bonds being posted on accused persons appear rather judgmental.
According to Fasehun: “The latest of what many well-meaning Nigerians like me see as a landmine is the current political confusion in Abia State. Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja last week ruled in favour of a petition brought by Mr. Uchechukwu Ogah, and ordered that the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC) issue the Litigant a Certificate of Return and he should be sworn in immediately in place of the sitting Governor of Abia State.
According to Fasehun,“Such an order is not only provocative but also injudicious, strange and very insensitive. It shows inordinate and suspicious haste on the part of the Honourable Justice. It flies in the face of the law and against common sense. The Judiciary in other places always strives to dispense justice and fairness to both the Litigant and the Respondent, and allows everyone to exercise his right to fair hearing to the maximum, through appeals made to higher courts, in this case the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
“What if the case had been one of homicide and the death penalty passed, would the Honourable Judge order that the prisoner be executed immediately, depriving the accused his chance to appeal? Justice Abang was playing God, arrogating to himself powers that he did not have. The National Judicial Council (NJC) must investigate and take a stand against the Honourable Judge’s licentious haste and abuse of court process.
“The facts of the case actually make you know that both this case and the judgement accruing are strange. As I am made to understand, before resigning to contest the governorship polls, Governor Ikpeazu had been in the state civil service for the last 25 years, meaning that, technically and administratively speaking, his tax is deducted from source. Such a person pays tax automatically.
“His employer, the government, deducts the tax even before the man sees his payslip, and the payslip informs him of the tax deducted and actual take-home. That is routine. And then the Abia State Internal Revenue Service body has confirmed the authenticity of the clearance certificate issued. So where did the Judge get the notion that the Tax Certificate issued was fake?
“Fundamentally, however, tax payment and the presentation of tax clearance certificates are not a prerequisite for contesting an election. Neither the Nigerian Constitution nor the Electoral Act makes tax payment a demand. Therefore, the case, solely based on this peg of non-payment of tax, should have been dead on arrival concerning the qualification of anyone interested in running for the post of Governor, Section 177 of the Constitution”.
It will be recalled that Justice Okon Abang of the lower court had on June 27, 2016, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to immediately issue Certificate of Return to Dr. Uche Ogah, who pooled the second highest number of votes in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, primary election.
But Governor Ikpeazu has appealed the judgment.
In the appeal, Dr. Ikpeazu through his counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, raised 50 grounds of appeal and expressed dissatisfaction with the decision of the lower court.
Respondents in the appeal are Dr. Uche Ogah, the PDP, INEC and Sir Friday Nwosu.
Ikpeazu is further contending that the decision of the lower court was against the weight of evidence, and therefore, sought the following reliefs from the Court of Appeal, the first being, an order allowing this appeal.
The second, an order setting aside all the main and consequential orders made and granted by the lower court and the last, an order dismissing or striking out the amended originating summons in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/71/2016.
Ikpeazu in the first ground of the appeal, is contending that the trial judge erred in law and came to a wrong decision in holding that the appellant was ineligible to participate in the primary election of the PDP by reason of presenting false information to INEC in Form CF001 and consequently granting all the reliefs claimed by Ogah in his originating summons.
According to him, the lower court equally erred in law and reached a perverse decision when after finding thus: “The cause of action arose in this matter when the 1st and 2nd defendants forwarded Form CF001 containing alleged false information to INEC,” as it went ahead to disqualify the appellant from being a candidate at the 2nd respondent’s primary election and declared the 1st respondent as the winner of the primary election.
On his third ground of appeal, Ikpeazu is contending that the lower court erred in law and acted without jurisdiction when it purported to enforce/apply the provisions of the PDP Electoral Guidelines for primary elections 32014 in determining the originating summons before it without the PDP Guidelines being put in evidence before it.
Ikpeazu is also contending that the lower court erred in law and reached a perverse decision when it held in respect of the Supreme Court decision in Ekagbara V. Ikpeazu (2016) 4 NWLR (pt. 1503) 541 thus: “ In fact in the above cited case, Supreme Court in a way departed from its earlier decision in Kharki V. PDP… Supreme Court also held that this court has jurisdiction to entertain a suit questioning the qualification of an aspirant in a primary election by a fellow aspirant when the aspirant whose qualification is being questioned did not pay tax as at when due or where there are lapses in the tax paper of such aspirant…
In Ekagbara V. Ikpeazu (supra), the Supreme Court also held that it does not really matter that this will involve the examination of tax administration in Abia State of Nigeria.”
In his fifth ground of appeal, the appellant observed that the trial judge erred in law and came to a perverse decision when he asked thus: “It is either that the information are false or correct, I do not think it is a case of forgery. I do not think facts are in dispute. Even if the affidavits of the parties are in dispute, they are not in my view in dispute on material grounds
It is for the 1st to 2nd defendants to show that the information contained in documents attached to Form CF001 submitted to INEC are not false … I think the court can conveniently use the affidavit evidence placed before it to resolve issues in controversy. This suit was properly commenced by an originating summon”
In the seventeenth ground of appeal, Ikpeazu observed that the lower court misdirected itself and reached a perverse decision when it held that the appellant presented false information to INEC by reason of the alleged differences between the tax receipts and the tax certificate with respect to the tax return 2013, and among other grounds.
Group wants Certificate of Return retrieved from Ogah
Meantime, the Civil Society Alliance for Civic Rights and Rule of Law has called on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to retrieve the Certificate of Return issued to Dr. Uche Ogah, saying it was done in error.
The coalition also called on the Nigerian Judicial Council, NJC, to set up a probe panel to investigate the judgments emanating from the court of Justice Okon Abang.
Addressing a press conference, yesterday, in Lagos, spokesperson for the alliance, Mr. Onuoha Oliver faulted INEC for issuing a Certificate of Return to Dr Ogah, saying, “INEC should within 24 hours retrieve the Certificate of Return issued erroneously to Dr. Uche Ogah as the court order restraining INEC from doing so by the State High Court in Osisioma Ngwa in Abia State still subsists.”
I’m confident of victory —Nwosu
In another development, Mr. Friday Nwosu, a governorship aspirant in Abia State, who instituted a tax forgery suit against Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu, has said he is confident of victory as the court delivers judgment tomorrow.
Presiding Judge of the Federal High Court, Owerri Division, Justice I.A.Alagoa had fixed July 8 to deliver judgment on the suit as parties adopted their written addresses, Monday.
According to Nwosu,” I have confidence in the judiciary to administer justice in the tax forgery suit and declare me governor. I’m also confident that the court will also correct the error in the declaration of Uche Ogah as governor. I remain the rightful aspirant to be declared governor; both Ikpeazu and Ogah have no lawful claim to the position.
Mandate to Ikpeazu sacrosant —Onyechere
But Ben Onyechere, a Peoples Democratic Party chieftain and former Special Assistant to Dr. Alex Ekwueme in Umuahia, yesterday, said that the mandate given to governor lkpeazu remains sacrosanct as it is recognized by law and no one man can unilaterally upturn it on the excuse bordering on date of issuance tax certificate.
He said: “Judgment on taxes against Abia State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu is clearly oppressive and conspiratorial in nature because the judge allegedly allowed himself to be used in perpetrating a plot to seize power from the backdoor.
“The quest to hasten the annulment of Governor Ikpeazu’s election is the greatest misnomer in our democracy and an affliction to the sensibility of the Abia electorate. In our fragile unity, no body can arrogate the power of life and death to himself because voters’ rights are also protected in the Constitution.
“The judge veered off from substantial facts of whether the governor was an appointee of government and if his taxes were deducted and not to rely on technicalities in a matter as serious as a governorship position which has since been settled and for which there is peace in the state. The onslaught of the business moguls of Abia extraction who reside in Lagos and Abuja is an affront against the state and must be resisted at all cost,” he said.