•Sheriff, Makarfi factions clash in court
From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal yesterday reserved judgments in the six appeals relating to the Abia State governorship tussle.
There was, however, a mild drama as former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, Basil Maidugu, Anicho Okoro struggled on who should be the representative of the party in court.
They were, however, stopped by the court which ordered that they should carry their rivalry to the party secretariat.
In another drama, the Appeal Court rejected the attempt by the Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the PDP to represent the party in the six appeals.
A counsel from the group, Mr. Olagoke Fakunle had attempted to appear for PDP, but Justice Ogunwumiju presiding held that since he was not a party on record, he cannot be allowed to scuttle the hearing of the appeals.
Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu who appeared for PDP had urged the court to void the letter brought by Fakunle on the ground that it was a worthless document because it had no seal of any lawyer.
The court had earlier despatched the governorship candidates of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Alex Oti and KOWA party, Dan Onyeonagu from participating in the legal battle on the grounds that they were busy-bodies and meddlesome interlopers in the case between Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and Dr. Samson Ogah.
Meanwhile, the appellate court heard a total of six appeals filed by governor Ikpeazu, (three appeals) Peoples Democratic Party (PDP two appeals) and Friday Nwosu (one appeal) respectively.
The court after listening to submissions from counsel to both parties, reserved judgment to a date to be communicated to parties.
A Federal High Court had on June 27 in two separate judgments nullified the election of Governor Ikpeazu’s election after holding that he submitted false information regarding his tax clearance certificate.
Justice Okon Abang also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue Dr. Samson Ogah a certificate of return.
The judge also directed INEC to issue a fresh Certificate of Return to Ogah, who was the first runner-up in the governorship primary conducted by the PDP on December 8, 2014.
He ordered that Ogah’s full entitlements be restored to him as governor of Abia State. In the main appeal by Governor Ikpeazu, the Appeal Court was urged to set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court.
The governor through his counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) claimed that the court erred in its conclusion when the PDP guidelines and tax receipts were not made by his client but from official quarters.
The lawyer argued that his client had always been a public servant and it was unimaginable that tax papers of a public officer would be queried the way the judge did.
He claimed further that the trial court erred in interpretation of section 31 of the Electoral Act 2010 on the basis that there was no evidence before the court that the tax papers were false.
Olanipekun submitted further that the court acted like a magician when it gave interpretation to PDP guidelines that was not before it.
In addition, he said it was wrong for the court to rely on mere disposition by Ogah to arrived at a final conclusion instead of a copy of PDP guidelines.
However, counsel to Samson Ogah, Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN) submitted that the judgment of the lower court was misconstrued by Governor Ikpeazu and urged the court to dismiss the appeal.
Izinyon argued that the issue of forgery was not before the court but it was the case of alleged presentation of false information to Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC) for the purpose of getting nomination as a candidate for the governorship slot of the PDP in Abia.
Besides, the lawyer submitted that Ikpeazu did not dispute that the information he swore before the Commissioner of oath was false adding that the case of the appellant was compounded when one of his witnesses admitted error in the computation of his tax paid.
Izinyon therefore urged the court to dismiss the appeal and uphold the judgement of the trial court.
On their part, the PDP and Friday Nwosu did not opposed the appeal of Governor while INEC said it would abide by the decision of the court.
In another appeal against the judgement in favour of Messrs Obasi Ekeagbara and Chukwuemeka Mba, Governor Ikpeazu urged the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment on the ground that the originating summons was not signed by counsel as required by law.
Olanipekun who argued the case of the governor informed the court that the amended originating summons signed later by a counsel cannot cure the defect because a defective originating summons cannot be cured by an amendment.
In opposing the submissions of Olanipekun, Counsel to the respondents, Dr. Izinyon said arguments of counsel cannot take the place of evidence before the court.
Izinyon insisted that the amended originating summons contained a signature of a counsel, Mr. Mazi Ozuaka and urged court to dismiss the appeal.
Justice Morenikeji Ogunwumiju after taking arguments from counsel to parties in the six appeals reserved judgment.
Earlier, the Appeal Court had rejected the attempt by the Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the PDP to represent the party in the six appeals.
A counsel from the group, Mr. Olagoke Fakunle (SAN), had attempted to appear for PDP, but Justice Ogunwumiju presiding, expressed surprise over the action and held that since, he was not a party on record, he cannot be allowed to scuttle the hearing of the appeals.
Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) who appeared for PDP had urged the court to void the letter brought by Fakunle on the ground that it was a worthless document because it has no seal of any lawyer.
In another drama, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, former National Chairman of the PDP, had sought to be recognised as representative of PDP Board of Trustees (BOT) while another PDP chieftain, Barrister Basil Magudu who claimed to be deputy National Legal Adviser and Mr. Anicho Okoro, Deputy Director Administration at PDP also sought to be recognised as representative of the party.
In the confusion that ensued, Justice Ogunwumiju warned that they should not exhibit any act of indiscipline before the court or show their murky waters in court but at the party secretariat.
In his notice of appeal filed by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN the Abia state governor raised five grounds of appeal upon which he asked the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment and orders of the high court.
The governor said that the Federal High Court lacked the power to order him to vacate the seat of Abia State Governor.
The notice of appeal reads: “The trial judge erred in law when he ordered as a consequential order that the appellant vacates his office as the Governor of Abia state immediately when there was no jurisdiction in the Federal High Court to remove, vacate the occupier of the office of the governor of a state or order the removal of such officer after the unsuccessful challenge of the result of the election at the Tribunal and swearing in of the appellant as the governor.”
The governor said that the only power, authority and order exercisable by the Federal High Court was to disqualify the candidate from contesting the election based on section 31(6) of the Electoral Act 2010.
Ikepazu also faulted the judge when he held that he did not pay his tax for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013, at when due, when he was a public officer whose tax deduction was under Pay As You Earn (PAYE) scheme where tax deductions were from the source of his monthly salary by the tax authorities who isssued all the tax receipts and certificates.
He also said that the Abia State Board of Internal Revenue Services that issued him with the tax certificates had not declared the certificates forged and that the trial court did not invite the issuing authorities to give evidence in the course of the trial.
Ikpeazu said that the plaintiff Dr Samson Udechukwu Ogah was not a staff of the Abia Board of Internal Revenue and did not any staff of the board to testify that the tax certificates were forged.
He accused the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang of violating his right to fair hearing by embarking on judicial investigation without giving him (Ikepazu) the opportunity to address the court on the issue.
The notice of appeal also states: “The learned trial judge erred in law when he held that the appellant presented false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission by his ingenous meticulous study and investigation of documents filed in courts in the recess of his chambers and thereby violated the right of the appellant to fair hearing.”
The governor said that the judge had no duty to investigate the contents of documents dumped on the court in the recess of his chambers with a view to finding for the plaintiff.
“The decision of the judge which arose from the judicial investigation without opportunity to the appellant violated the appellant’s right to fair hearing”, the governor said.
Ikepazu also rejected the decision of the high court declaring him unqualified to be nominated as the primary election conducted by his party because false information was supplied to INEC.
According to him, INEC Form CF001 which the judge relied on was not one of the grounds of qualification to contest the primary election of PDP.
He said that the judge misconceived the presented by the parties and thereby arrived at a wrong conclusion which occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice.
Meanwhile, the governor’s party, the PDP has also rejected the judgment and filed a separate appeal.
The party said that the trial court erred in law when it held that it had jurisdiction to hear the suit which was on whether section 24 (f) of the 1999 constitution was complied with.
It said: “The honourable trial court misdirected itself when it construed the provisions of the PDP constitution to the detriment of the appellant without giving the appellant a chance to be heard and thereby occasioned miscarriage of justice.”
In the particulars of the error, the appellant said Ukeagbara and Mba being “the 1st and 2nd respondents in the appeal did not pray the trial court to construe the provisions of the PDP constitution.
“No evidence was led that the said Uche Sampson Ogah participated in the 2015 Abia State gubernatorial elections yet the trial court declared him as winner of the said elections contrary to the express provisions of section 141 of the Electoral Act.”
The PDP urged the Court of Appeal for “an order setting aside the judgment of the Federal High Court of Nigeria in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/10862014 delivered on the 27th day of June, 2016.”