The way and manner that order was made in which the judge ordered that certificate of return be issued to Uche Ogah immediately in flagrant disregard of the constitution is not only curious but also suspicious and an aberration of justice.
It was a rude shock to all lovers of democracy especially Indigenes and residents of Abia state, southeast of Nigeria when the news broke out that the mandate freely expressed by the electorate under the rage of the sun and rain of April 11, 2015 was supposedly truncated by a Federal High Court in Abuja.
His excellency, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu did not just emerge as a governor of Abia state by an inconsequential happening. His emergence was the deliberate expression of the will of the People of Abia state. The people of Abia translated themselves through their fingerprints on the ballot for Okezie Ikpeazu. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) captured their figure as 248,459 votes. This choice by the Abia people empowered Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to lead the state on the path of prosperity and development. As expected by the electorates he has proved capacity since he came to office in spite of the various legal distractions. Such record votes garnered by Okezie cannot be easily wished away. Not by anyone, not by any Court, especially when the parameters of such conclusions are faulty and can be redressed by the Court of Appeal.
Today, the people of Abia have no regret for their choice. The special interest the man has put in working the talks has been ‘fantastic’, an Abia resident said. Ikpeazu has proved to be a dependable governor, his passion to work and the clear evidence of his works in the state shows that the people did not make a mistake in choosing him to govern Abia State.
What could have informed such a crude joke? Many had wondered. When the report first filtered out on the social media it was, as usual, dismissed by many. As time went by, the social media feasted even deeper on the story that was earlier dismissed by the wave of the hand by many intelligent and learned minds. “No such judgement cannot flow from the fountain of justice,” many said in dismissals. Alas, the supposedly crude joke stood out as not just an incredible report after all. A Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, has annulled the election of Governor Ikpeazu of Abia State.
The court dismissed the votes of the electorate. Votes which the people had cast for Ikpeazu on April 11, 2015 and upheld by the Supreme Court after long legal battle that traversed the various ladder of the judiciary. What was the premise of the Court Order? That Ikpeazu did not pay his personal tax as and when due in 2010 and 2011. The claim of malfeasance was not investigated but a mere allegation.
No wonder, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) while commenting on the matter dismissed the judgement is laughable.
The Court did not just stop there but stretch its wisdom further. It directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately issue a certificate of return to Samson Ogah who slugged it out in the party primary with Okezie Ikpeazu. Samson Ogah lost in the primary of December 8, 2014 to Ikpeazu who scored 489 votes became the flag bearer of the party while Samson Ogah trailed him with 103 votes.
Ikpeazu’s popularity was further tested on the May 28 gubernatorial election in Abia where he defeated candidates of other parties to prove that Abians had him for choice as governor. Okezie Ikpeazu of the PDP scored 248,459 votes against Alex Otti of the All Progressive Grand Alliance and closest contestant to Okezie polling 165,406. How can a Court ignore this volume of mass support for candidate on a matter of tax which it has not properly investigated to ascertain the veracity of claim or otherwise and hurriedly run to such a hasty and devastating conclusion smearing the temple of justice?
Such judgement has drawn the irk of the public both learned and ordinary men whom have been finding it difficult to come to terms with the judgement no wonder Peoples Democratic Party, PDP chieftain and former special assistant to Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Mr. Ben Onyechere, has described the court judgment as a black market Judgement and quarried further the sort of wisdom that inspired the controversial judgement which in his view will not stand the test of time and justice.
In his interview with the media Onyechere said “The case of annulment of Abia governor’s election by merely declaring that he forged tax receipts is mischievous because the governor’s records can be investigated by the EFCC to verify whether he worked and resigned from government services in which case his tax was deductible at the end of every month. This chief judge should have asked for in-depth investigation rather than basing his argument on the frivolity of the date on the tax certificates. The way and manner that order was made in which the judge ordered that certificate of return be issued to Uche Ogah immediately in flagrant disregard of the constitution is not only curious but also suspicious and an aberration of justice.”
The case being preferred against Ikpeazu held that Mr. Ikpeazu was guilty of tax evasion and was therefore unqualified to have contested the 2015 governorship election in the state. Even at that, does he not have the right to contest the matter at the Court of Appeal? It is the knowledge of this fact that actually probes the hurried manner with which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was so ordered by the Federal High Court, Abuja to issue a certificate of Return to Samson Ogah.
Mike Ozekhome further said that “the action is illegal, null and void. The action is unconstitutional, illegal and of no effect whatsoever. The Judgment is laughable “There is what you call doctrine of lis pendis which means that once matter has been submitted to Court and the parties are aware that one of the parties is already in court or on an appeal, then parties should refrain from taking any steps that will be detrimental to the other party in the matter. “This judgement is not going to stand for so many reasons, from what I have read in the last few days, a judge who is not a member of the Election Petition Tribunal is annulling the election of a governor after the governor has been successfully elected and after he has fought his election up to the Supreme and the Supreme Court validated his election.
“To me, the judgement given by my learned judge is laughable and I can assure you, neither the Appeal Court nor the Supreme Court will uphold that funny judgement.”
It is such enlightened view which Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and his camp know that has made the peace loving made in Aba governor to continue to calm his supporters across the state to be law abiding and await the outcome of the appeal.
Already, the view of the Professor Itse Sagay captures the matter appropriately when he said that “This is an unprecedented case because it has never happened in law. The only similar case was the Amaechi vs. Omehia case which was taken to the Supreme Court. In that instance, Amaechi was the elected candidate of the party but Omehia went ahead to contest and win the election. At the end of the day, the Supreme Court ruled that Amaechi was the candidate of the party and should be the governor. In this case, Ogah came second during the primaries while Ikpeazu came first. I think the courts will be ones to decide.” And Ikpeazu has approached the Court. In this case the Appeal Court. It is the belief of the Abia people that this trial of her electoral mandate will yield the same result of victory earlier gained in the supreme Court.
Exploring the electoral act exposes the weakness of the judgement by Federal High Court Abuja. This is moreso by the provisions of section 145 of the Electoral Act, 2015 which posits that any person against whom a decision has been handed down by the Courts or Tribunal under the Electoral Act , has a window period of 21 days within which to file an Appeal challenging the decision of the lower Court or tribunal .
Thus, Section 143. (1) of the Electoral Act provides – that If the Election Tribunal or the Court, as the case may be, determines that a candidate returned as elected was not validly elected, then if notice of appeal against that decision is given within 21 days from the date of the decision, the candidate returned as elected shall, notwithstanding the contrary decision of the Election Tribunal or the Court, remain in office pending the determination of the appeal.
(2) If the Election Tribunal or the Court, as the case maybe, determines that a candidate returned as elected was not validly elected, the candidate returned as elected shall, notwithstanding the contrary decision of the Election Tribunal or the Court, remain in office pending the expiration of the period of 21 days within which an appeal may be brought. What happened to this sane legal reality in the mind of judge?