Monday Onyekachi Ubani, is the former Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja Chapter, and the legal counsel to Dr. Uche Ogah who was penultimate Monday declared the governor-elect of Abia State. In this interview, he bares his mind on the comprehensive details of the legal suit surrounding the alleged falsification of the tax certificate of the embattled governor of the state, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu; the ruling of Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja High Court sacking Ikpeazu and the appeal against the swearing in of his client, Ogah, IkennaAsomba reports for Vanguard. Excerpts:
How did this legal battle start?
The genesis of this issue is that it came up as a result of the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party which took place on December 8, 2014. My friend, and client, Dr. Uche Ogah and by the special grace of God the current governor of Abia State was a participant. He was manipulated out because the irregularities were glaring for all to see. Before we could start the delegates that were not supposed to be there were already inside the stadium. That irregularity produced Ikpeazu as the PDP candidate.
The main issue
But that was not the issue. The main issue started when we sought to look at the documents presented by Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu which is a requirement of the law. The law says if you want to contest an election you must file in an affidavit, fill a form, disclose your educational qualification, your birth certificate and your tax papers. Now, the issue of tax is very critical. It is a constitutional requirement that if you want to contest an election in any political party you must have paid your tax for three years as at when due. But in Ikpeazu’s case, we went through his papers and discovered that he had lied. There were so many lies on the face of his tax papers. One of the things we discovered was that he was alleged to have started paying tax when he was not yet in the employment of the Abia State Government.
Two, the serial numbers on his tax receipts were evidence of deception. The 2013 serial number showed as if it was the beginning of the tax payment, whereas, the 2011 receipt showed as if it was the last payment. The serial numbers were conflicting. The conflict showed that Ikpeazu had not paid his tax as at when due in accordance with the law.
Third, was the issue of figures. Let us assume he was supposed to earn N500,000 per annum but in his tax papers, it was showing above N1million. He said his tax was being deducted at source. But the question is. If that was so, why the discrepancies in your taxable income? Is it not what he was earning, he should be taxed on? We found so many discrepancies in his tax certificate.
Why the case delayed
And the law in Section 31 of the 2010 Electoral Act as amended gives a co-aspirant the opportunity to examine the documents of an opponent to validate whether he was qualified to contest for the primary election in the first place, because it is a pre-election matter. And if you find out in his disclosures and declarations that he has given a false or misleading information, the section guarantees you the right to apply to a Federal or State High Court for redress. You also have the right to ask that that candidate be disqualified because he was not qualified in the first place to run for primaries. Section 31(6) says if such a candidate was found to have declared false information, he is liable to be disqualified by the court.
When we found all that, we proceeded for Originating Summons, but they (Ikpeazu’s legal team) came up with the issue that the court has no jurisdiction. So, we had to trash it out at the Supreme Court. That was why time was wasted, because this matter would have been settled a long time ago. So, when the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court has jurisdiction to hear the case, we had to come down to the Federal High Court again to start all over.
Justice Okon Aban’s ruling
Again, now that the Supreme Court has held in the case of Otti vs. INEC, that PDP is the winner of April 11, 2015 election in Abia State, the PDP is the party that ought to replace the candidate that was not qualified. This is exactly what Justice Okon Abang ruled on June 27, 2016. The judge ordered that Ikpeazu should vacate the office and that INEC should issue a Certificate of Return to Dr. Uche Ogah immediately and he should be sworn in immediately by the Chief Judge of Abia State. And this was exactly what INEC did. There was no contrary order to that judgement. It’s the extant law.
How do you react to the Appeal filed by Ikpeazu?
The fact remains that appeal does not operate as a stay of execution. Every elementary student of law knows this. They still have to obtain an order of stay before you can stay execution of judgement. Now, it’s a different scenario when it’s a judgment of the tribunal. Many lawyers are making a mistake that for the fact that Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu has appealed, there should have been an automatic stay of execution.
Automatic stay of execution
But this is not true. Section 143 of the electoral Act 2010 as amended says if you appeal after your election has been validated by the Tribunal, your appeal operates as a stay automatically if it’s within 21 days. But in a pre-election matter like this one, it does not apply. You still have to obtain a separate order from the appeal to stay execution.
Alex Otti, candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA is kicking, that the court should have declared him governor as the first runner-up?
Otti has no case. The Supreme Court has already decided that the PDP won that election and that judgement has not been changed. There is an end to every litigation. So, no political party can come back to re-litigate after the Supreme Court has decided.
Another aggrieved PDP aspirant, Friday Nwosu, is laying claim to the governorship seat. Your take?
He has filed a case but it is subjudice to comment. However, in this case that was decided by the Abuja High Court, he joined as a party in the case. We allowed him. However, the court found his claims very strange. That Uche Ogah complained about the conduct of the PDP primary does it change the result that he came second? Even Nwosu came fifth and not third. Even the PDP constitution says if you are not happy with the conduct of the party’s primary, you write to the election appeal panel, which Ogah did and they didn’t even reply him. They were also aware of the action he filed in court even when Ikpeazu was presented for the general election. So, the brief by Nwosu was thrown out in Abuja, although he still has a substantive case in Owerri. In the Sheet submitted in Court, the PDP said Okezie Ikpeazu won with the highest votes and Ogah came second.