Barrister Monday Ubani, legal counsel to Governor-elect of Abia State, Dr. Uche Ogah, weekend, expressed dismay that the Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice Theresa Uzoukwu, who ought to swear-in and administer oath of office to Ogah had gone into ‘hiding.’
Ubani, who addressed some select journalists in Lagos, said “the entire world is watching the delay tactics of Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu,” adding that “in the fullness of time Dr. Uche Ogah would be sworn in as the executive governor of Abia State, because the Chief Judge is not going to remain in hiding forever.”
Ubani, who disclosed that Ogah’s team of legal counsels were prepared for the task ahead, said, “if the Chief Judge continues to hide, we would explore other available alternatives to ensure that the right thing is done, which is swearing in Dr. Ogah as the executive governor of the Abia state.”
Genesis of legal battle
However, chronicling how the legal battle between Ogah and Ikpeazu started, Ubani said: “This issue came up as a result of the Primary of the Peoples Democratic Party which was held on December 8, 2014.
“My friend, and client, Dr. Uche Ogah and by the special grace of God the current governor of Abia State was a participant. He was manipulated out because the irregularities of that primary was glaring for all to see. Before we could start the Primary the delegates that were not supposed to be there were already inside the stadium. That irregularity produced Ikpeazu as the PDP candidate.
“But that was not the issue. The main issue all started when we sought to look at the documents presented by Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu which is a requirement of the law. The law says if you want to contest an election you must file in an affidavit, fill a form, disclose your educational qualification, your birth certificate and your tax papers. Now, the issue of tax is very critical. It is a constitutional requirement that if you want to contest an election in any political party you must have paid your tax for three years as at when due.
“Section 177(c) of the 1999 constitution says that a party must sponsor a candidate before he contests a general election. If a party don’t sponsor you, you can’t run for election. For that to happen, it means such a candidate must have complied with the guidelines of a political party before he is qualified to contest.
“But in Ikpeazu’s case, we went through his papers and discovered that he had lied. There were so many lies on the face of his tax papers. One of the things we discovered was that he was alleged to have started paying tax when he was not yet in the employment of the Abia State Government. Two, the serial numbers on his tax receipts were evidence of deception. The 2013 serial number showed as if it was the beginning of the tax payment, whereas, the 2011 receipt showed as if it was the last payment. The serial numbers were conflicting. The conflict showed that Ikpeazu had not paid his tax as at when due in accordance with the law.
“Third, was the issue of figures. Let us assume he was supposed to earn N500,000 per annum but in his tax papers, it was showing above N1million.
“He said his tax was being deducted at source. But the question is. If that was so, why the discrepancies in your taxable income. Is it not what he was earning, he should be taxed on. We found so many discrepancies in his tax certificate.
Why the case delayed
“And the law in Section 31 of the 2010 Electoral Act as amended gives a co-aspirant the opportunity to examine the documents of an opponent to validate whether he was qualified to contest for the primary election in the first place, because it is a pre-election matter. And if you find out in his disclosures and declarations that he has given a false or misleading information, the section guarantees you the right to apply to a Federal or State High Court for a redress. You also have the right to ask that that candidate be disqualified because he was not qualified in the first place to run for primaries.
“Section 31(6) says if such a candidate was found to have declared false information, he is liable to be disqualified by the court. When we found all that, we proceeded for Originating Summons, but they (Ikpeazu’s legal team) came up with the issue that the court has no jurisdiction. So, we had to trash it out at the Supreme Court. That was why time was wasted, because this matter would have been settled a long time ago.
“So, when the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court has jurisdiction to hear the case, we had to come down to the Federal High Court again to start all over.”
Allegations of bias
He added: “Ikpeazu’s team alleged bias against Justice Adeniyi Ademola that he has been compromised and all manner of frivolous allegations. So, the Justice said, ‘look I hands off the case, I don’t want anything that will tarnish my image.’ For sanctity of the Justice and the judiciary, he transferred the case back to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN for reassignment.
“The CJN now reassigned the case to Justice Okon Abang, who went on to hear the case. They came again with all manner of applications. But if you read the judgement of Justice Abang, it was comprehensive. He took time to tackle all the applications they brought, including the issue of jurisdiction, which had already been decided by the Supreme Court. All these were tackled before the Court came to the merit of the case. They (Ikpeazu’s team) agreed that on the face of the tax papers, the disclosures were false, but that it was a mistake. This in law is an admission.
“If this was a mistake, it means on the face of the law you are not qualified to participate in the electoral process. Does it now mean that the Dr. Uche Ogah, who came second in that primary should go empty handed? the court said no. Even though election has taken place and Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu won, since he was not qualified to have participated in the election ab initio, the proper order is to ask him to vacate the seat. PDP as a party should have presented a qualified candidate for the general election.”
Justice Okon Aban’s ruling
“Again, now that the Supreme Court has held in the case of Otti vs. INEC, that PDP is the winner of April 11, 2015 election in Abia State, the PDP is the party that ought to replace the candidate that was not qualified. This is exactly what Justice Okon Abang ruled on June 27, 2016.
“The Judge ordered that Ikpeazu should vacate the office and that INEC should issue a Certificate of Return to Dr. Uche Ogah immediately and he should be sworn in immediately by the Chief Judge of Abia State. And this was exactly what INEC did. There was no contrary order to that judgement. It’s the extant law,” he declared.
On the appeal by Ikpeazu, the former Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA Ikeja Branch, said: “Now they have appealed. The fact remains that appeal does not operate as a stay of execution. Every elementary student of law knows this. They still have to obtain an order of stay before you can stay execution of judgement. Now, it’s a different scenario when it’s a judgment of the tribunal. Many lawyers are making a mistake that for the fact that Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu has appealed, there should have been an automatic stay of execution.
“But this is not true. Section 143 of the electoral Act 2010 as amended says if you appeal after your election has been validated by the Tribunal, your appeal operates as a stay automatically if it’s within 21 days. But in a pre-election matter like this one, it does not apply. You still have to obtain a separate order from the appeal to stay execution.
INEC did the right thing
“So, the allegation that INEC was in a hurry to issue Certificate of Return to Dr. Ogah, despite their appeal is a wrong assumption. The problem we have in Nigeria is we tend to do certain things wrong and when it becomes a norm, we feel that is the way it should be. No, the normal thing is that when a court makes a pronouncement, you have to obey it, you don’t look behind you or begin to read meanings.
“I must say that INEC’s action was very historical and good for the development of our laws and judicial system. For the first time obeyed our laws and issued Dr. Uche Ogah Certificate of Return. Dr. Ogah was supposed to be sworn in immediately as the courts have ordered, in the absence of any contrary order.
Chief Judge Disappeared
“But he got to Umuahia and discovered that the Chief Judge of the State and the President in charge of the Customary Court of Appeal in Umuahia have disappeared or may be kidnapped or may be went into hiding. This gave them the opportunity to obtain a black market injunction in a nearby court in Umuahia. But the fact is that order can’t stand, because it is a court of coordinate jurisdiction with the Abuja Federal High Court. The order is nullity. The only court that can reverse the decision of the Abuja High Court is a higher court and not one with a coordinate jurisdiction; one that shares the same power with the Federal High Court in Abuja.
“Again, that interim order was based on the wrong premise of law. It was quoting Section 143 of the Electoral Act which we already know is only applicable to a judgement delivered by a Tribunal. So, in the absence of any stay of execution to the ruling of the Abuja High Court, Dr. Sampson Uche Ogah (OON) today, is the governor of Abia State.
“Yes, when INEC issued him that Certificate of Return, the implication is that the earlier one you have issued has been cancelled. So, Ikpeazu is sitting there illegally. He has no right to declare public holidays and he also has no right to withdraw money from the bank. What we hear now is that he’s withdrawing money from Abia State Account, whereas he is not the Governor of the state.
“What Ikpeazu has to do now is to vacate office, while he continues his appeal. Then, Dr. Ogah according to the court order should be sworn in and be administered with oath of office by the Chief Judge, so that he can begin his responsibilities as the governor of Abia State. Off course, if tomorrow the Appeal Court reverses the ruling of the Abuja High Court, INEC would re-issue Dr. Ikpeazu another Certificate of Return, until the matter is finally decided at the Supreme Court. This is the way the matter should be.”
Why court disqualified Ikpeazu
Adding, the legal practitioner said: “Again, people are making similarity with a murder case. They are not similar at all. This is a pre-election case, in which somebody who was supposed to be the right candidate was being denied since 2014. Up to this time somebody who is not qualified to be the governor has been there drawing salaries and allowances from the state and making decision on behalf of the state.
“Let me clarify that in the documents aspirants file, there is a column that says you the declarant every information you have given is attributable to you and you are held responsible for it. And if it is found out to be false, misleading and inaccurate that section says I the aspirant is liable to be disqualified. This is a statement filed under oath to the High Court before any aspirant contests an election. So, the Court looked at it that the statement he made under oath was discovered to be false, so it disqualified him.
“It should also be clarified that Ogah didn’t sue Ikpeazu for forgery or evasion of tax. Rather, he sued for the fact that in the form Ikpeazu submitted he made false declaration. The law allows that after the filing of documents opponents are supposed to have certified true copies from INEC. Being a public document, this is what we submitted to the court.
“So, it was the court that discovered that Ikpeazu had lied. Even the Board of internal Revenue was called in and they agreed that it was a mistake. What we were alleging that it was false and that is what the court discovered to reach its decision of disqualifying him. In the affidavit he sworn in court, he had affirmed that he has gone through the documents and certify that all documents presented were true and that he should be held liable if not true. So, saying the Board of Internal Revenue was not brought in as a witness, don’t hold water here. If Ikpeazu had brought a superior document to show that look this is what I was earning and this was what is being deducted as tax. If it was the Board of Internal Revenue that was making the error, it would have been a different case.
“The case of Rotimi Amaechi vs. INEC is still being used a judicial precedence in a pre-election matter. The Supreme Court had held that if a political party fields an unqualified candidate in a general election, if the party goes on to win the election, and the right candidate comes to the court for redress the court will ask the man who came second to be sworn in. It’s the law and it has not changed. It is only the Supreme Court that can over rule itself on this, not a lower court.
“It is best to put all these issues in perspective to debunk the lies peddled out there. The Ikpeazu team are going to the Court on Monday to get a Stay. So, since they only appealed and there was no stay, they have no right to stop the swearing in of Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah. I reiterate, as at today, Dr. Sampson Uche Ogah is the executive governor of Abia State going by the subsisting court order of the Abuja Federal High Court last Monday.
“The delay by the Chief Judge is only a temporary thing. In the fullness of time, he would officially take his oath of office. At the same time, he would declare his assets in accordance with the law and begin to perform his function as governor. Now, he can’t perform that function until he takes that oath and declare his assets.”
Otti has no case
On insinuations that Alex Otti, candidate of All Progressives Gramd Alliance, APGA has a case, he said: “No! The Supreme Court has already decided that the PDP won that election and that judgement has not been changed. There is an end to every litigation. So, no political party can come back to re-litigate after the Supreme Court has decided.
PDP Nwosu’s brief thrown out
Reacting to the case filed by another aggrieved PDP aspirant, Friday Nwosu, who lay claimant to the governorship seat, he said: “He has filed a case but it is subjudice to comment. However, in this case that was decided by the Abuja High Court, he joined as a party in the case. We allowed him. However, the court found his claims very strange. That Uche Ogah complained about the conduct of the PDP primary does it change the result that he came second?
“Even Nwosu came fifth and not third. Even the PDP constitution says if you are not happy with the conduct of the party’s primary, you write to the election appeal panel, which Ogah did and they didn’t even reply him. They were also aware of the action he filed in court even when Ikpeazu was presented for the general election.
“So, the brief by Nwosu was thrown out in Abuja, although he still has a substantive case in Owerri. In the Sheet submitted in Court, the PDP said Okezie Ikpeazu won with the highest votes and Ogah came second.”
Abia Chief Judge can’t be in hiding forever
Condemning however, the alleged absconding of the State Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Uzoukwu, Ubani said, “Ogah would duly take his oath of office. The Chief Judge can’t remain in hiding forever. We are making efforts to ensure he comes out from hiding to do the needful. However, even if she doesn’t come out, we have other alternatives. Our team of Senior Advocates are very ready for this case. We are on ground even up to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
“The whole world is taking note that our efforts are being frustrated and all these would be tested in court in time to come. How can Ikpeazu declare public holiday to mourn Chief Ojo Maduekwe when the time table for his funeral is not yet announced. He declared a public holiday for someone who is not even a former Governor of the state. That means if a former Governor dies, he may declare one year holiday for mourning. The entire world is watching, the Justices are watching how they are frustrating us with delay tactics.”
DISCLAIMER:Opinion articles are solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of ABN TV