Tension and high expectations from all the parties were evident on the commencement of hearing of the six(6) appeals before the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division yesterday. As usual the court was full with spectators and lawyers. Funny enough none of the dramatist personae was present. A bit of drama when PDP carried their internal squabble to the court.
The two factions added flavor to the already high tensioned court room. One Barrister Bashir Madugu, Legal Adviser to a faction of PDP announced himself as representing PDP while Chief Vincent Ogbulafor former PDP Chairman representing another faction announced himself as BOT member or chairman,( can’t remember)of PDP. This confusion infuriated the presiding judge who made it clear that she was not ready for any drama. The presiding judge thought that the drama was over when Chief Ogbulafor once again sprang to his feet to emphasize his status in PDP and denigrating any other person who is claiming to represent PDP in the case. That was the height of impunity which these politicians are known for and that singular irritation was the limit the presiding judge was ready to take.
She thundered at Chief Ogbulafor to sit down or risk being whisked out of the court room by security agents. He quietly sat down and soon thereafter whisked himself away quietly. The drama continued when a lawyer representing a faction of the party informed the court that Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu SAN who hitherto had been representing PDP does not enjoy their patronage, in order words his appeal over the verdict of 27th June 2016 of Justice Abang wherein Dr Okezie Ikpeazu was asked to vacate his seat does not enjoy their support. The presiding judge countered, arguing that the learned silk who announced his appearance for the faction of the PDP( presumably Alli Modu-Sheriff faction, whose faction is enjoying the judgement of the court) was not on record and so could not be heard, however his motion was taken note of by the learned justices in another appeal filed by PDP.
After the ritual announcement of appearances of counsels, the legal fireworks commenced in earnest. Chief Olanipekun SAN adopted and relied on his written briefs.
He adumbrated his points, and of course it is on the already over argued point that the Appellant is a public servant whose taxes cannot be queried by the court except by the Tax authorities. He further stated that tax is not a requirement for the contest of elective position by the constitution and since the party guidelines does not graduate to constitutional requirement for contest of office in Nigeria, Justice Abang was wrong to have so held. He further argued that the Electoral Guidelines of PDP 2014 was not exhibited and as such the court was wrong to have relied on the Giudelines of 2010 which formed the basis of decision of the Supreme Court in Ukachukwu Vs PDP. In the Guidelines of 2014 “as and when due” was not used whereas it was used in the one of 2010 and to him that made a great difference. He mentioned the Tax Act which is the law governing taxation matters but failed to cite the section of the Act that provides that paying one’s tax as and when due or paying tax (which is annual event) can be done at any time including paying three years tax in one day! None was cited and the authority of Ukachukwu he cited was not helpful as that particular case did decide on giving false information of tax documents under S31 of the Electoral Act of 2010 as amended.
Alex Iziyon SAN lead counsel to Dr Ogah put up a strong argument against the grounds of appeal filed by Dr Ikpeazu after adopting and relying on his written brief. He was of the view that what was at stake was the issue of false information(not forgery which was the allegation of Sir Friday Nwosu in the federal High Court, Owerri) as provided by Section 31(1-6) of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended. Under that section any false or misleading information supplied by a candidate in his or her document or affidavit when filing his document to his political party is sufficient to disqualify that candidate if the court makes a finding of such false information which according to him was the fact in the present case where Justice Abang found eight undeniable lies on the tax papers of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu. He cited an authority in a case divinely decided by the presiding judge in a recent case of giving false information in a document submitted by a candidate for electoral purpose. On the issue of none submission of Guidelines of PDP, the learned silk argued that the Guidelines of PDP was already used in Ukachukwu’s case and the court is bound to take judicial notice of it, besides the parties to the case did not dispute the existence of the Guidelines and both parties have addressed the court on the provisions of the guidelines in their written addresses in the lower court. After exhaustive arguments and counter arguments on the issue, the learned justice reserved judgement on that major appeal.
Another Appeal that deserve mention is the appeal of PDP filed by Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu SAN in Ekeagbara’s case, a sister case filed by members of PDP in Abia State. One of the grounds of appeal by PDP in that case was that the originating summons was not signed by the counsel in that case and so the entire proceedings and judgement were a nullity. When the appeal came up, the presiding judge asked Dr Iziyon SAN to address the court on the issue and clear the air whether the originating summons was signed or not. Dr Iziyon dutifully explained that the originating summons was signed by the counsel, Mr Max Ozoaka, he pointed out to the court where the signature is and even went further to cite two more places in the originating processes where the signature of the counsel was evident and urged the court to compare and contrast the signatures. Signature is a factual situation, not legal. It is either it is there or it is not there. Dr Ikpeazu SAN’s argument was that the signature was not on the space for it but signed on the sidelines and besides the lawyer that signed on the sideline did not indicate which of them signed it since there were list of other lawyers mentioned on the originating process. Dr Iziyon urged the court to dismiss the argument of Dr Ikpeazu SAN as the signature on the process was evident. Assuming but not conceding that it was not signed, the learned Silk for Dr Ogah continued, the Originating Summons was amended and it was the amended version which was also signed that was used to conclude the case.
He finally urged the Court to dismiss both the first appeal filed by Dr Okezie Ikpeazu against Dr Uche Ogah and the one filed against Ekeagbara by both Dr Okezie Ikpeazu and PDP while counsels for both PDP and Dr Okezie Ikpeazu urged the court to uphold their appeals.
Sir Nwosu’s case needs a bit of little attention. His counsel seemed drowned and unable to present a flawless case. In concluding his submission, he even urged the Honourable Court to dismiss his own appeal, laughs. The argument of Sir Nwosu through his counsel was that Dr Uche Ogah who came second in the primaries should not be the beneficiary of the misfortune of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu as he (1) Dr Uche Ogah did not accept the result of the primaries and that he (2) petitioned against the result alleging irregularities and that (3)he or his agent refused to sign the Result Sheet.(He was making the Result Sheet appear to be like a land agreement which if you fail to sign, renders the agreement negatory). His second ground of appeal was that Dr Uche Ogah’s case against Dr Okezie Ikpeazu was an abuse of court procedure as he Sir Nwosu had earlier on sued Dr Ikpeazu and Dr Ogah in another court asking that Dr Okezie Ikpeazu be disqualified, whereas Dr Ogah “secretly” according to him went to another court seeking same remedy.
Dr Iziyon SAN, counsel to Dr Ogah wasted no time in demolishing both arguments. (1) the electoral guidelines and the constitution of PDP made provisions for aggrieved candidate/s to seek redress including but not limited to presentation of petition to Appeal Panel, in fact it is a condition precedent to institution of suit against the party. So he is not correct to assert what he was pushing forward and secondly that there was no abuse as reliefs, interests are quite different. Sir Nwosu’s interest, reliefs are not similar to that of Dr Ogah and for a candidate who came distant fifth with five(5) votes at the primaries to demand that he should be declared governor over the first runner-up who came second(2)with 103 votes in a primary election in which all the delegates were held incommunicado four(4) days to the election by the government of Abia State seemed preposterous! His appeal according to Dr Iziyon was considered an extreme abuse that should be dismissed with ignominy
Finally it is important to point out that the Legal Team of Dr Uche Ogah filed a motion for the appeal of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu to be dismissed for gross abuse of the judicial process as he sought self help in Osisioma High Court which arrested the completion of the process of swearing in Dr Ogah as ordered by the Federal High Court, Abuja. Dr Okezie Ikpeazu’s legal team has filed a counter affidavit to it. Both the main appeal and the motion will be delivered at a date yet to be given by the distinguished court.
Counsels and parties from both camps forgot the tension and their high expectations awhile and bantered and shook hands with one another immediately the court arose from proceedings that started by about 9.30am and adjourned by few minutes after five in the evening.
The main issue is that Abia State is the subject matter. Other Igbo States have moved on, Abia State, God’s own State must move on. The time is now! It is God’s time and believe me He makes all things beautiful in His own time.
INEC who was a defendant in Dr Uche Ogah’s case at the trial court where they filed a cantankerous defense and who is supposed to appeal against the decision of Justice Abang of the 26th of June, 2016 elected to withdraw their written briefs and remain neutral until the final decision is reached by the court. It is a wise thing to do, so kudos to INEC.
Monday Onyekachi Ubani Esq.Legal Practitioner.