By Alex Enumah in Abuja, Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia and Benjamin Nworie in Abakaliki
The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the election of Okezie Ikpeazu as Abia State Governor on the grounds that he was properly nominated by the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP).
Delivering judgment in three separate suits challenging the eligibility of Ikpeazu in the 2015 governorship election by Sam- son Ogah and Friday Nwosu, the apex court dismissed the suits on the grounds that they lacked merit.
In the lead judgement written by Justice Musa Datijo Mohamed and read by Justice Ejembi Eko, the court held that the appellant failed to prove his allegation that the tax clearance of the governor was forged.
According to the judge, tax of civil servant are normally deducted from source and being an employee of the state government at the time, Ikpeazu’s tax was deducted at source, adding that if there are any irregularities, it is not the governor that should be held responsible.
The apex court in declar-
ing that the appeals lacked substance, described them as amerestorminacupoftea and consequently awarded a cost of N250,000 in favor of Ikpeazu and the PDP.
Leading the panel of Justices in the judgment, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen took a swipe at politicians and warned them not to destroy the judiciary, which he described as the last hope of the ordinary Nigerian.
The CJN, told the open court that desperate politicians had been invading the court with the aim of compromising court officials and perverting the course of justice for their selfish ends.
In the instant case, the CJN admitted that there were sev- eral security breaches, where desperate politicians made frantic efforts to compromise the court officials in the course of doing their job.
Onnoghen said that the security breaches were serious offences and that they would be thoroughly investigated to unmask the politicians and make them face the wrath of the law.
“I have said times without number that under my leader- ship, you do not need to know a judge before you can get justice. The law is superior and the law must take its course.
“Attempt to bribe court of- ficials, so as to know who is writing judgment and to know who and who are in the panel is a serious offence and after investigation, anybody indicted would be made to face severe punishment.
“I do not just understand why politicians are resorting to blackmailing the judiciary. They should realise that the executive and the legislature belong to them; they should
leave out the judiciary in their political battle. They should allow the judiciary to be inde- pendent because without an independent judiciary, there will not be a just society,” he said.
The CJN therefore appealed to the politicians to allow judiciary do its job.
Meanwhile, Ikpeazu has dedicated his victory at the Supreme Court to the people of Abia State, who he said stood by him all through the period of litigations.
He stressed that only God would take glory for the victory, and commended the judiciary for standing firm on the side of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Ikpeazu who spoke to journalists at government house after emerging from the chapel where he had gone to pray after receiving the good news from Abuja said that he was dedicating the victory to the people of Abia who had supported and prayed for him.
He regretted that â€œtwo years after the gubernatorial elections, other states have moved forward except Abia state as those who never meant well for our state have taken me to court, adding that with this victory it was â€œnow â€œtime to join and move above them in terms of development.â€
The visibly elated Abia governor said: “The time for politics is long over, and I have forgiven all those that were bent on distracting me. Let all well-meaning Abians, including my opponents, come and join us to grow and develop our state without distractions as we ultimately have stakes in the growth and development of our state and people.â€
The governor had all the while described the multiple ligations against him as distrac- tions but insisted that he was not deterred from doing the
work he was elected to do for Abians hence the need for col- lective effort to develop Abia.
â€œToday, there is the work of Abia to do and history will judge us by how much of that work we do, not by how much politics we play,â€ he said, adding, â€œMy doors are open to all, my ears are open to hear and my eyes are strong enough to read suggestions on how we can best deliver greater dividends to those who really matter: the great people of Abia State.”
While the hitherto embattled Abia governor described the Supreme Court verdict as â€œa victory for all and a blow to the aspirations of those who want to disunite us” he nonetheless appeared magnanimous in victory.
“All those who went to the trenches to fight the mandate that was freely given to me by the people of Abia state, I call on them to sheathe their swords and come and join hands with us to develop the state to an enviable height,” he said.
Umahi, South East PDP hail Ikpeazu’s victory
Also yesterday, Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi congratulated Ikpeazu after his victory at the Supreme Court.
Umahi, who is the chairman of South East Governors Forum described the judgment that affirmed the election of Ikpeazu as triumph of good over evil.
The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal last year upturned the judgment by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja which sacked Ikpeazu from office.
The appellate court, in the unanimous judgment vacated the June 27, 2016 judgment of Justice Abang and held that he erred in law and that the judgement occasioned a miscarriage of justice against Ikpeazu.
Justice Helen Ogunwumiju who delivered the lead judge- ment of the Court of Appeal, held that Justice Abang â€œcom- mitted a grave violence against one of the pillars of Justiceâ€ relating to fair hearing, adding that Abang placed the law on its head when it directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue fresh Certificate of Return to Ogah.
While upholding Ikpeazu’s appeal, the court awarded N100,000 cost against Ogah and resolved all the five issues raised in the appeal in favour of Ikpeazu.
Justice Abang had in his judgments delivered on June 27, 2016 sacked Ikpeazu for allegedly disclosing false information in relation to his tax clearance details to INEC in his form nominating him as the candidate of the PDP for the last year â€™s governorship election in the state.
The judge, also in the said judgment, ordered the governor â€™s rival, Ogah, who was the first runner-up in the primary that produced Ikpeazu as the candidate of the PDP to takeover, adding that, Ikpeazu was not qualified to be PDPâ€™s candidate having disclosed false information to INEC in violation of his partyâ€™s Article 14(a) of the PDP Electoral Guidelines and Section 31 of the Electoral Act.
Dissatisfied with the judg- ment, Ikpeazu approached the Court of Appeal, praying it to set aside Justice Abang’s judgment which sacked him from the Abia State Government House.
But the judgment of the Supreme Court delivered yesterday affirmed the election of Ikpeazu, saying that he was validly nominated by the PDP to fly the flag of the party in Abia State.