Abia Governorship judgement: CJN threatens sanction against those who tried to influence Justices
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen has revealed that there was a “security breach” in the course of preparing the judgment of the Abia Governorship case which was decided in favour of the sitting Governoe Dr Okezie Ikpeazu.
He said there were attempts by “some politicians” to use court officials to get to know Justices of the Supreme Court that would prepare the lead judgment and what the court’s decision would be.
While warning politicians to allow the judiciary to do its job without interference, the CJN vowed that the incident would be thoroughly investigated and those found culpable appropriately sanctioned.
Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu Governor Okezie Ikpeazu in his reaction said the victory was for the unity and a unified entity called Abia, saying that he dedicated it to the people of Abia State.
Meanwhile, the apex court panel affirmed judgment of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal which voided Ikpeazu’s removal from office over the alleged tax fraud.
Whereas the lead judgment was prepared by Justice Musa Dattijo Mohammed, it was however delivered by Justice Ejembi Eko.
The appellants went before the apex court to challenge August 18, 2016, decision of the Court of Appeal which reversed the high court verdict that sacked Ikpeazu from office.
It will be recalled that a five-man panel of Justices of the appellate court led by Justice Morenike Ogunwumiju had on August 18, 2016, vacated the June 27 verdict of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja which sacked Ikpeazu.
Justice Abang had in his judgment, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), to issue fresh Certificate of Return to Ogah who came second in the primary election that produced Ikpeazu as gubernatorial flag-bearer of the PDP. While setting-aside the high court verdict, the appellate court, knocked Justice Abang who it said “stood the law on its head”, as well as adopted a “hostile proceeding” against Ikpeazu and the PDP.
The appellate court noted that allegation of forgery and tax evasion levelled against Ikpeazu by Mr. Ogah were “very contentious”, saying Justice Abang was wrong to have determined the case on the basis of an Originating Process instead of Writ of Summons. It concluded that Ikpeazu was denied fair hearing by the high court.
Though the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the appellate court, it however disagreed with opinion of the lower court that the substantive suit was not rightly commenced at the High Court through Originating Summons.
It held that Ogah’s failure to tender a copy of PDP’s guidelines which he claimed made it mandatory for aspirants to tender their tax clearance certificate, was fatal to his case.
It further held that Ikpeazu, being a civil servant at that time, could hardly be found to have flouted tax payments when his tax deductions were done from the source.
The second appellant, Sir Nwosu, had contended that he should be the one to take over from Ikpeazu should his sack be sustained by the apex court.
Nwosu told the court that Ogah not only refused to sign result of the said primary election, but equally condemned the entire exercise as being fraudulent.
He argued that Ogah, having failed to sign or accept the outcome of the PDP gubernatorial primary election, ought not to benefit from it.
Similarly, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA), in the state, Mr. Alex Otti who came second in the election, equally applied to be joined as an interested party in the legal action.
Otti insisted that he should be the one to replace Ikpeazu having secured the second highest number of valid votes at the April 11, 2015, governorship poll in Abia State. However, while dismissing the appeals, the apex court described Otti as a meddlesome interloper in the matter. The court awarded N250, 000 cost in favour of Ikpeazu and the PDP.