Embattled Abia State Governor Okezie Ikpeazu got a huge relief on Tuesday as the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja told him to retain his seat pending the time the court will hear his appeal challenging the judgment of a Federal High Court which removed him from office.
Justice Morenikeji Ogunwumiju who presided over a five-member panel of judges said the parties in the matter must “remain as they were” before the case got to court.
However, she said the ruling did not mean a stay-of-execution order.
A Federal High Court had on June 27 nullified Ikpeazu’s election after holding that he submitted false information regarding his tax clearance certificate.
The trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, had also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue Samson Ogah a certificate of return.
At the hearing of the appeal yesterday, Dr Alex Izinyon, SAN, who represented Ogah argued that Ikpeazu was not legally the de facto occupant of the Abia State Government House. He said there were conflicting judgments on the matter.
Izinyon also protested the order of the court that parties should maintain their positions.
This protest made the court to ask him who was the de facto occupier of the Abia State Government House. Izinyon said he would not answer the question because to answer would imply that he had conceded.
However, Justice Ogunwumiju, said the court considered it important to avoid a misinterpretation of its ruling.
She said that the ruling of the court was for parties to remain as they were should not be misconstrued as implying that the court had issued an order for stay of execution.
Also yesterday, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Dr Alex Otti applied to join as an interested party.
The appeal was adjourned to August 9th for hearing. The court said it would hear all applications and the main appeal together.
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 as 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.
Ikpeazu also faulted the judge when he held that he did not pay his tax for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013, as and 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 issued 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 get any staff of the board to testify that the tax certificates were forged.
He accused the trial judge, Justice 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 further 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 ingenious 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 at 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 presentations 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.”
Meanwhile, the first respondent, Obasi Ekeagbara, yesterday, explained that the basis for Justice Abang’s sack of Ikpeazu was on supply of false tax information to INEC.
Ekeagbara gave the clarification yesterday at a press briefing in Abuja.
He noted that the clarification became necessary in view of the widespread information in some sections of the media that the court decision was based on alleged forgery that was committed by Ikpeazu.