By Vincent Kalu
The legal battle between Abia state governor, Okezie Ikpeazu and Uche Ogah will come to an end today at the Supreme Court after two years.
The subject matter between the duo who are members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was the governorship primary election conducted on December 8, 2014.
The declared result of the said primary was as follows: Iheanacho Okezie, 1 vote; Marc Wabara, 3 votes; Okey Emuchay, 3 votes; Ikpeazu Okezie, 487 votes; F.N. Nwosu, 5 votes; Uche Ogah 103 votes; Emeka Wogu, 33 votes, Acho Nwakama 5 votes, and nine invalid votes.
Ogah, who came second, had in a suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1086/2014, dated December 22, 2014, instituted at an Abuja High Court, against the PDP, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Ikpeazu, sought to disqualify Ikpeazu from contesting the governorship election in 2015 on the grounds that he was not “fit and proper,” having allegedly failed to pay his personal income tax for two years in line with the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria.
He also prayed the court for an order to bar the 1st defendant (PDP) from presenting the 3rd defendant (Ikpeazu) to the 2nd defendant (INEC) as governorship candidate, just as he equally prayed the court for a consequential order that since he came second in the primary election of December 8, 2014, he should be declared the rightful candidate of the PDP.
The back and forth
Daily Sun recalls that the pre-election matter had commenced after the conduct of PDP primary at the Federal High Courts (FHC),where the applicants prayed the court for the following reliefs: that in view of the provisions of the relevant sections of the Electoral Act, PDP Electoral Guideline 2014 and the PDP Constitution, that INEC Form CF001, Tax Payment Receipts and Tax Clearance Certificate attached to the Form submitted to INEC by Ikpeazu through PDP be declared to contain false information, and as such hold that Ikpeazu was not qualified to contest for the PDP primaries in the first instance.
Ikpeazu, upon receipt of Uche’s claims, filed a preliminary objection seeking an order of the court to transfer the matter from the FHC to the Chief Judge of Abia State for assignment, since according to him, the FHC, Abuja, lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter.
After hearing parties’ submissions, the trial judge dismissed the application and ruled that FHC had jurisdiction.
Dissatisfied, Ikpeazu appealed to the Court of Appeal and the decision of the trial court was reversed. Uche also appealed the ruling at the Supreme Court.
In its judgement, the panel led by Justice Mohammed Muntaka -Coomassie, the Supreme Court faulted the decision of the Court of Appeal and affirmed the competence of the Federal High Court to try the case. The justices then remitted the case back to the Federal High Court for a re-trial.
At the FHC, the matter was re-assigned to Justice Okon Abang, following a petition alleging bias against Justice Ademola who had ruled against Ikpeazu’s preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court.
On June 27, 2016, Justice Abang sacked Governor Ikpeazu and ordered INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to Ogah.
But before the order could be executed, Ikpeazu went to state High Court and obtained an injunction restraining any judge from swearing in Ogar.
The order was given by Justice Chibuzo Ahuchaogu.
Ikpeazu appealed the high court judgment. In his notice of appeal dated July 4, 2016, Ikpeazu through his counsel, Wole Olanipekun, SAN, raised 50 grounds of appeal and expressed dissatisfaction with the decision of the lower court.
He among other things averred that the trial judge erred in law and came to a wrong decision in holding that Ikpeazu was ineligible to participate in the primary election of the PDP by reason of presenting false information to INEC.
Ikpeazu’s counsel also noted 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 in determining the originating summons before it without the PDP Guidelines being put in evidence before it.”
In the end, the Appeal Court in Abuja, on August 18, 2016, set aside the judgment of Justice Abang, which sacked Ikpeazu as the governor of Abia state, describing it as “a rape of democracy”.
The five-member panel of judges led by Morenikeji Ogunwumiju, further faulted the technicalities in which Justice Abang employed to arrive at his judgement.
She said: “The trial judge stated that the exhibits were not for his consideration, in the absence of his consideration of the contents of the documents, it would amount to the deliberate avoidance on the implication of the acknowledgement.
“It is my humble view that his lordship committed great violence against one of the pillars of our criminal justice. Judges don’t work at the tax office or know how they issue receipts and clearances,” adding that based on the tax act, the court was bound to the assessment of the Abia tax office, which has “documents of the governor that has not been faulted”.
APGA joins the fray
While the trial was on, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the state, Alex Otti and an aspirant on the platform of the PDP, Friday Nwosu, had at different times, sought to be joined in the Ikpeazu/Ogah suit, but the appeal court declined, describing them as “busybodies.”
However, on January 27, 2017, the Supreme Court gave a nod to the request by Otti, seeking to be allowed to appeal the judgments relating to validity of Ikpeazu, as Abia governor.
After hearing the appeal and objection by Ikpeazu and Ogah on February 16, 2017, the apex court fixed today, Friday, May 12, 2017, for its judgement.