This Day News Paper’s Editorial of Wednesday, 29th November 2016, was indeed an absurdity. The Nduka Obaigbena led news paper went partisan, and deliberately took an uninformed position in the case between Dr Uche Ogah and Okezie Ikpeazu. The content of that editorial piece is absolutely malicious and at best a paid job. It was devoid of legal facts, rather drawing conclusions from street gossips.
In order to achieve their pay master’s objective, This Day editorial attacked Justice Abang frontally, basing its authority on hearsay, with no reference to any known legal position. The totality of what they based their unwarranted attack on was an obiter dictum, which every enlightened mind knows is of no legal consequence.
Justice Abang’s pronouncement will not be the first and the last judgement of a high court to be set aside in Nigeria. So many judgements in history have been set aside based on the position any higher court decides to take per time. We have seen many cases which were set aside by the Appeal Court but were later upheld by the Supreme Court. Why is This Day editorial coming to a conclusion that Justice Abang was wrong in a case that is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court? Again, going by the verdict of the National Judicial Council on the four petitions sponsored by Okezie Ikpeazu and his cult of political marauders against Justice Abeg, it is clear that he did no wrong. Justice Abang was cleared on all cases and the NJC was emphatic in its pronouncement, stating that the Learned High Court Judge was on point with the position of the law regarding the matter. But deliberately This Day editorial made no reference to that verdict.. Meaning that This Day editorial not only indicted Justice Abang, it also questioned the knowledge of the highest judicial decision making body in the land regarding the law. This by inference means that This Day Editorial is saying that members of the NJC are ignorant of the law.
If This Day News Papers editorial team was not out to do a dirty job, they would have sought to know the basis upon which Justice Abag’s judgement was set aside. Nothing in the judgement of the appeal court was based on the substance of the matter. The technicalities upon which justice Ogunwumiju based her judgement were detrimental to the substance of the matter, which has to do with whether an individual lied under oath or not, and what the consequence was. The Electoral Act 2010 as amended is clear about the fact that a contestant is required to present his document to his party after having sworn to an oath in any High Court of the land, affirming the authenticity of any information he provides. By this act, the individual will be held liable for any false information so presented. The opportunity of this oath also avails the individual the leeway to correct any noticeable discrepancies in his document by stating the true fact in his affidavit.
A review of the of facts which This Day editorial deliberately shied away from discussing shows that Dr Okezie Ikpeazu is liable according to the law. The main issue started when Dr Uche Ogah 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, and disclose your educational qualification, your birth certificate and your tax papers. Now, the issue of tax is very critical. It is a requirement that if you want to contest an election in any political party you must have paid your tax for three years. But in Ikpeazu’s case, it was discovered that he had lied. There were so many lies on the face of his tax papers.
One of the things discovered was that he was alleged to have started paying tax when he was not yet in the employment of 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 his taxable income? Is it not what he was earning, he should be taxed on? The court found so many discrepancies in his tax certificate.
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 false or misleading information, the Section guarantees you the right to apply to a Federal or State High Court for a 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 Dr Uche Ogah found all that, he proceeded for Originating Summons, but Ikpeazu’s legal team came up with the issue that the court has no jurisdiction. So, it was trashed out at the Supreme Court. The apex court was shocked that a man who wanted to be the governor was not ready to come clean on his tax record. It ordered that the case be tried at the high court. Subsequently the case was assigned to Justice Abang’s court. Ikpeazu was not ready to face his case because he knew obviously that his records were not clean. That was why time was wasted, because this matter would have been settled a long time ago.
Already, 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.
In his findings, Justice Abang discovered that, indeed, Dr. Ikpeazu was not qualified based on 2014 Peoples Democratic Party Electoral Guidelines to contest the said primary because the INEC Form CF001 and documents Ikpeazu deposed to and submitted to Independent National Electoral Commission contained false information contrary to Section 31(5 & 6) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
So, it needs repeating that the Abia State Governorship case has nothing to do with forgery of the documents as alleged by the Ikpeazu legal team. It is not whether the tax receipts were forged by Dr. Ikpeazu. The issue here all along has been simple and straight forward: whether there is any false information contained in the documents submitted to Independent National Electoral Commission by Dr. Ikpeazu. It was confirmed that the information contained in tendered documents are actually false as could be seen in Dr. Ikpeazu’s tax receipts.
When he was appointed as General Manager of Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Scheme effectively from 18th July, 2011, his salary, allowances/entitlements were clearly spelt out. Going by the exhibits, Dr. Ikpeazu worked for Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Scheme for 5 months, 12 days in 2011. Now, his earnings based on the letter of appointment in 2011 for 5 months and 12 days by simple calculation would be N493, 128.00 if he was assigned Government vehicle or N546, 609.00 without any Government vehicle. The tax receipt or tax clearance did not reflect these figures. Exhibits further show that the tax receipt for 2011 indicates that the gross emolument of Dr. Ikpeazu for 2011 was N1, 135, 476.00 and his income tax was assessed on this figure for 2011. However, his gross emolument for 2011 did not correspond with the period he worked for Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Scheme in 2011.
In 2011, Dr. Ikpeazu actually received 12 months’ salary whereas he worked for only 5 months and 12 days. Put differently, Dr. Ikpeazu gave false information in his documents that his gross emolument for 2011 was N1, 135, 476.00. The correct gross emolument ought to be N493, 128.00 or N546, 619 (if not assigned any government vehicle). It is not possible that Ikpeazu earned that amount having worked for 5 months and 12 days in 2011, taking into consideration what he was supposed to earn as salary, allowances and entitlements as per appointment letter.
Also, there is a difference between the date of issuing of a tax receipt and its duration of coverage. In Ikpeazu’s case, the date he was issued the tax receipt with Serial No. 0012849 was on 31st December, 2011, which was a Saturday. Saturday is not a working day even in Abia State. Ministeries, Public bodies such as Abia State Board of Internal Revenue do not work on a Saturday. This is another false information given in the documents submitted by Dr. Ikpeazu.
Going further, the Serial No. 0012849 of his 2011 tax receipt came first for a tax receipt purportedly issued on a Saturday on 31st December, 2011 before the tax receipt No. 0012846 of 2012, 31st December was issued. The tax receipt for year 2013 with Serial No. 0012847 was earlier in time before Ikpeazu obtained tax receipt for 2011. This is false information. Using the same booklet to issue tax receipt for 2011 ought to have been first in time before the serial number of the tax receipt of Ikpeazu for 2012 and 2013. However in this case, it is the serial number of his tax receipt for 2012 and 2013 that came first.
Although Ikpeazu claimed that the information was issued in error, the fact of his explanation here is an admission against interest that indeed the earlier 2011 tax receipt contains false information. But if indeed the information was issued in error and known to Ikpeazu, he ought to have explained this to Independent National Electoral Commission when Form CF001 with attached documents was returned to INEC on 26th December, 2014. He waited till when the issue was raised by Dr. Ogah. Therefore, Ikpeazu’s defense on this issue was an after-thought.
Yet another misinformation given by Ikpeazu is the claim of payment of income tax for 2011, 2012 and 2013. For instance, his tax clearance certificate of 2013 in a column indicated that he paid personal income tax of N75,017.76 while his tax receipt for 2013 with serial no. 0012847 dated 31st December, 2013 indicated that he paid N38,775.00. The amount in the 2013 tax receipt for 2013 should be the same amount in the column for 2013 tax in the tax clearance certificate. This is false information that Ikpeazu submitted to INEC in his tax clearance certificate.
Ray Okaor, a lawyer from Akakaliki in his article stated factually that ‘’indeed it is true that the entry of personal income tax of Ikpeazu in the tax clearance certificate for 2013 represents payment of taxes when Dr Okezie Ikpeazu served in two agencies in 2013, he ought to have made this explanation to Independent National Electoral Commission when he filled and submitted Form CF001. This is so because Ikpeazu on 22nd December, 2014 declared on Oath in Form CF001 that all answers and particulars he had given in Form CF001 were true and correct, which is false.
But it is obvious, from all the foregoing hard facts presented, there is no doubt that Ikpeazu was not qualified to contest the People’s Democratic Party’s primary for the office of the Governor of Abia State of Nigeria in line with Article and 14 (a) of People’s Democratic Party’s Electoral Guidelines 2014. And Justice Abang was right in his judgment disqualifying Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu as the candidate of People’s Democratic Party for 2015 general election and declaring Dr. Uche Ogah as the de facto Governor of Abia State.
Then why is This Day editorial team and their pay master, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu trying to confuse the matter? It is important they realize that when you swear an oath claiming that the information you have presented is correct and that you are liable upon the discovery that it is false; no other person can be held responsible for it but you.
Despite this fact, This Day Editorial focused its attention on a mare obiter dictum, in an attempt to mislead the general public and lure the Supreme Court away from the true position of law in the upcoming judgement. This only goes to show that this is a paid job, an attempt to arm-twist and ambush the Supreme Court in a matter that is obviously clear. Not only that, it is subjudice and indeed a disservice to the nation. This Day’s editorial in its totality is malicious, injurious to society and absolutely done in bad faith. As an organisation belonging to the reputable profession of journalism, it is occupying a sacred position in society, and owes this country a duty of care. It is unacceptable to have them continue to profit from peddling information that is detrimental to society.
This Day News Papers jobbers failed to understand that nations defined by law and rules of engagement make progress, while those that pay lip service to issues of character and pander to cheap profiteering ends up doing battle with the same old enemies which titters them to underdevelopment. History of successful economies and institutions in human society had always been based on respect for ethics and value systems which in actual fact act as the oil that lubricate the engine of progressive development.
The whole essence of law is to uphold character and to insist that every member of society, especially leaders lead by example worthy of emulation for the sustainable moulding of a nation. Resources alone cannot build a nation, character and the rule of law does. Where there is disorder, only a few who operate outside the law benefit and where there is order, not only is there hope and lawful expectation of benefit, the lesson of history is that many more people find an opportunity for benefit and the realization of their expectation.
Maintenance of law is the defining essence of leadership, where it is lost there is no morality to uphold justice on behalf the people. Especially, leaders amongst members of the society must stand on high moral ground and have the confidence of purity to administer the people and to issue punishments and grant reward when they are merited.
This Day Editorial team must understand that those who hold public office are trustees of legacies of hope created by the sacrifices of others. And that good governance and leadership are hinged on the ability to uphold moral values and the passion to render selfless services.
Although we seek leadership, we do not seek any type of leadership. We seek leadership that is defined by the highest values and that can help us fulfil our aspirations as nation. And they must first be driven by the pursuit of the highest values that can produce sanity in the polity.
Especially in this era of anti corruption fight, and when non oil revenue is the focus, those who determine who gets what cannot afford to be dodgy about their tax history notwithstanding our sentiment. And whereby Ikpeazu has been found wanting the law must be applied, no technicalities should be entertained. This case is going to serve as precedence for the nation; it will determine whether tax evaders and irresponsible citizens will continue to take charge of our resources. And it will be a lesson for the future generations of Nigeria.
Enough of This Day News Paper’s editorial absurdity.
Great Imo Jonathan is a Public Relations, Business and Personal Development Consultant, writes from Lagos.