By Chinelo Obogo
For one who has not had respite after winning the 2015 governorship election in Abia State, yesterday’s Appeal court judgment in favour of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu may have made him the proverbial cat with nine lives. His one year old administration has been fraught with many legal battles but he keeps surviving amid all odds.
Yesterday, respite came Ikpeazu’s way again, when the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, set aside the judgment of Justice Abang which removed him in office. In a unanimous judgment, the court held that the originating summons through which the case was filed at the High Court was not signed and therefore invalid. Justice Ibrahim Shatta Bdliya, who read the lead judgment, held that there was no cause of action as at December 27, 2014, when the case was filed because the tax receipts which Justice Abang relied on heavily had not been submitted to the PDP. The court further held that Justice Abang made prejudicial statements in the course of the judgment.
Justice Philomena Ekpe, who was among the panel of judges also said Abang ought to have transferred the motion to it in line with time-honoured doctrine of stari decisis. She said Mr. Abang wrongfully interpreted the provisions of order 4 (10) and (11) of the Court of Appeal rules when he ruled that the said provisions were only applicable to an interlocutory ruling of lower court and when a final judgment in a suit had been delivered. The judges held that Abang did not have jurisdictions to interpret the provisions of the Court of appeal being the rules of a superior court, and that he “deliberately stood the law on its head” by justifying jurisdiction to entertain the motion when appeal had been filed.
The Court of Appeal also dismissed the appeal by Nwosu, ruling that the fact that Ogah failed to sign the result of the primary election did not take away his right to protest against it by approaching the throne of justice for redress.
On July 27, 2016, Ikpeazu was sacked by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja over alleged falsification of tax papers. Delivering judgment in the suit filed by Uche Ogah, who came second in the 2014 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Abia governorship primaries, Justice Abang ordered Ikpeazu, to vacate office immediately for contesting the primaries based on false information. He also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately issue a Certificate of Return to Ogah.
Ikpeazu’s troubles started immediately he was declared winner of the PDP governorship primaries in Abia. Ogah and other aspirants were aggrieved by the outcome of the exercise and dragged him to court.
In suit no FHC/ABJ/CS/1086/2014, the aggrieved aspirants challenged his eligibility to contest the primaries, alleging that he did not pay his taxes for years 2011, 2012 and 2013 as at when due, alleging that his taxes for the three years were paid on same day. But Ikpeazu challenged the jurisdiction of the court, insisting that the matter ought to have been filed in Abia State but the objection was over-ruled. However, the Appeal Court agreed with him that the suit ought to have been filed at an Abia State High Court. The matter proceeded to the Supreme Court, where five justices of the apex court led by Justice Mohammed Muntaka-Coomassie affirmed the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to hear the matter. Consequently, the justices returned the case to the Federal High Court for expedited hearing. Ogah, had in his suit, contended that based on Article 14(a) of Part IV of the PDP Electoral Guidelines for Primary Elections and Section 87(4) (B) of the Electoral Act, 2010, Ikpeazu was not qualified to contest the December 8, 2014, governorship primary poll in the state because he presented a fake tax clearance certificate in his nomination form.
Ikpeazu, who said he was unfazed by the ruling of Justice Abang of the Federal High Court argued he was an appointee of the Abia State government from 2011 to 2014, where he served as the General Manager, Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest and Safety Scheme (ASPIMSS), and first Deputy General Manager, Abia State Environmental Protection Agency (ASEPA), Aba and Environs respectively, before his resignation in October 2014 to contest the governorship election in the state. He also said that within the period in question, his taxes were deducted at source, and when he had need of his tax clearance in 2014, he applied to the Abia State Board of Internal Revenue, and was duly issued with his tax receipts for the period in question.
In a separate suit filed at the Federal High Court by Friday Nwosu who came third in the primary election, he joined Ogah in the suit claiming that he (Ogah) did not sign the result sheet of the primary election. He then asked to be declared the winner of Abia State PDP gubernatorial primary election of December 2014. Delivering the judgment, Justice Allagoa of the Federal High Court sitting in Owerri dismissed all the preliminary objections raised by the defence, but however said that the plaintiff (Nwosu) did not lead any evidence to show that the tax documents he relied on were forged. “The third defendant (Governor Ikpeazu), was not the maker of the document. It was rather made by the Abia State Board of Internal Revenue, a corporate body established for assessing and collecting taxes for the state”, Justice Allagoa said.
Before the latest development, Ikpeazu had also survived an onslaught against him by the 2015 governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance,(APGA), Dr Alex Otti. After he was declared winner of the election, Otti dragged Ikpeazu to the Abia State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Umuahia, urging it to annul his election, alleging that it was marred by irregularities and substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act. He then urged the tribunal to declare him (Otti) the winner on account of the lawful votes cast during the election. But Otti’s prayer was not granted, as the tribunal upheld Ikpeazu’s election instead.
Not done, Otti dragged Ikpeazu to the Court of Appeal, and seemed to get some reprieve when the Court, sitting in Owerri, had on December 31, 2015, nullified Ikpeazu’s election and declared Otti the winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary elections in the state. Delivering judgment, the five-member panel, headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, said the APGA candidate scored 164, 444 valid votes to defeat Ikpeazu who scored 114, 444 votes.
At the Supreme Court, which is the final stop of governorship election petitions, Ikpeazu was declared the validly elected governor of the state, while Otti’s case was dismissed.
The court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal, which nullified Ikpeazu’s election, and ruled that he (Ikpeazu) won the lawfully cast votes in the April 11, 2015 election.
But even with Ikpeazu’s victory yesterday the battle is not yet over as Ogah has said he would go to the Supreme Court.