Abia: A most curious judgement, by Chinyemike Torti

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Court-symbolFollowing the decision of the Abuja Federal High Court, On Monday, June 27, to relieve Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of his well-earned mandate, concerned stakeholders and informed legal pundits are beginning to wonder if the objective and extraordinary powers invested in the bench is not being assailed. Judges are important judicial officials whose authority reaches every corner of society as they resolve disputes between people, institutions with the Wisdom of Solomon, interpret and apply the law by which we live. Judges must have the capacity to undertake in-depth legal research, able to write decisions that are clear and cogent that will stand up to close scrutiny. Through that process, they define our rights and responsibilities, determine the distribution of vast amounts of public and private resources, and direct the actions of officials in other branches of government.

The learned judge overreached himself and did not seem to have distinguished between law and politics. Removing a Governor, in a knee jerk and whimsical manner is anonstarter.This judgment is said to be predicated on section 24 (1) (f) of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act. According to the court, the governor did not qualify to contest the election ab initio and PDP was wrong to have presented him as a candidate, on the unverified accusation of tax evasion/avoidance. On these grounds, he was asked to surrender his mandate to Sampson Uche Ogah.

To be sure no statute demands the payment of tax as a sine qua non for vying for any election in Nigeria. If OkezieIkpeazu on his own volition did fulfil this obligation on his own merits, must it be an avenue for a legal ambush or political chicanery? Noteworthy to mention is that Ikpeazu did not prepare the tax papers. Like any other applicant, he applied to the Inspector of taxes at the Board of Internal Revenue to issue him tax receipts and clearance for the previous three years. They extracted andprocessed his records from the various department and agencies of government where he had done duty tours, during the period under review. The Inspector of taxcomputed the figures and issued the document. He had no business with how the tax papers were made or how the entries were posted. It is therefore very ridiculous to posit that he “cooked” his tax documents. The issuing authority confirmed that they were responsible for the document and its contents. If Ikpeazu had prepared the tax papers himself or fabricated the signature on an otherwise genuine receipt, then there would have been a case to answer.

So much heavy weather was made about the so-called many “lies” of Ikpeazu. And now you want to ask what elements of falsehood are embedded in the tax papers? They harangued him that the serial numbers on the tax receipts were dodgy because the three years were written in the same document seriatim.

Ikpeazu was on the pay as you earn (PAYE) scheme; and it is standard practice that tax certificates are only issued when requested. Consequently the years of a client’s tax coverage will be written sequentially on the same booklet and so the question of how separate years were captured in the same booklet does not arise. Second it is a universally accepted practice that every tax year by convention ends on December 31.  If you requisitionedfor your tax clearance certificate for 2015 today, it will be datedDecember 31, 2015; but where you asked to be assessed for 2016 for extracted in July same year. The endorsement will bear 31st December 2016 signature. That the 31st December of a particular year happens to fall on a Saturday or Sunday which is a non-working day does not invalidate the document.

One would have thought that in the effort to unravel the truth by the court, the judge should have deployed a sincere mix of forensic tools of interrogation of witnesses, cross examination etc. A hot button issue, like this matter, should have called up the Abia State Inspector of Tax, by way of a writ of summons as a witness to ascertain or deny the veracity of the papers in question. That is how the judge erred profusely. His ruling also was further desecrated when he further anchored his decision on two platforms derived from the Rotimi Amaechi versus Omehia case, which the Electoral Act section 141 had rendered otiose. Not done yet,he proceeded to make consequential order,which was beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. Asking INEC to issue a certificate with immediate effect betrayed the ulterior motives of the forces beating the drum for the governor’s challenger.  Under 48 hours, after the ruling, INEC hastily issued a certificate to the oil and gas mogul even when the legal team of Ikpeazu had filed a notice of appeal and stay of execution.

In the words of Constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), the ruling was”hogwash, unnatural, curious and questionable… It constitutes a blatant breach of the hallowed doctrine of “lispendes”. See Govt of Lagos state vs Ojukwu”.

What is the hurry about it when the sitting governor has already appealed with a motion for stay of execution? The certificate is dead on arrival, as dead as dodo having regard to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act. As soon as INEC became aware of the appeal and motion for stay of execution, it should have been guided by discretion and waited. Ozekhome further postulated that Okezie Ikpeazu remains the governor until the appellate appeals are exhausted at the Supreme Court. This is the governor’s constitutional right.

* Torti is a public policy analyst and management consultant.

(Source: The Nation)

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