THE Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, on Thursday, upturned the judgment by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which sacked the Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu from office.
The court, in an unanimous decisionn vacated the June 27 judgment of Justice Abang and held that the trial court erred in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice against Ikpeazu.
Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, who delivered the lead judgment, held that Justice Abang “committed a grave violence against one of the pillars of Justice” relating to fair hearing.
The court said Justice Abang placed the law on its head when it directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue fresh Certificate of Return to Samson Ogah.
While upholding Ikpeazu’s appeal, the court awarded N100, 000 cost against Ogah and resolved all the five issues raised in the appeal in favour of Ikpeazu.
The appellate court held that Justice Abang raped democracy in his order that the electoral body should issue a certificate of return to Ogah when there was no evidence of forgery of criminality against Ikpeazu.
According to the court, the judgment of Justice Abang was grossly erroneous, because it was based on inadequacy of tax receipts that cannot be visited on the appellant (Ikpeazu) and added that “after reading through the judgment several times, I was amazed at how the trial judge arrived at his conclusion of perjury against the appellant, when there was no evidence of forgery against him.
“To say the least, his findings are ridiculous. The judge must have sat in his chamber, unilaterally assessed and computed the tax of the appellant and came to the conclusion that he did not pay the required tax.
“But let me say that courts are not allowed to speculate as the trial judge had done in the instant case. The trail judge spoke from both sides of his mouth when on one hand, he claimed that he based his findings on supply of false information and on the other, he came to the conclusion that the appellant in this matter committed perjury, even when there was no allegation of forgery and no allegation that he did not pay tax,” Justice Ogunwumiju stated.
She also held that the trial judge turned the head of the law upside down by his conclusion that it was the appellant that should bear the burden of proof on the allegation made by Ogah, adding that “we disagree with him in this conclusion, because it is the person that makes allegation of falsehood that must prove it.”
The Appeal Court also held that Justice Abang erred when he imported the phrase ‘as at when due’ into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s 2014 guidelines.
“The judge would not have imported the phrase into his findings if he had seen the copy of the PDP guideline. In this case, as he violated the PDP guideline.
“From whatever angle one looks at the judgment of the trial judge, the decision of his court was grossly erroneous. The inadequacies of the tax receipt cannot be visited on Ikpeazu, who scored the highest votes in the 2015 governorship elections, as doing so will amount to rape of democracy,” she held.
Besides, the court held that the suit was wrongly commenced by way of originating summons in view of the fact that the subject matter of the case was contentious.
The court held that the case should have commenced by a way of writ of summons to enable parties invite witnesses to prove their cases, particularly when the allegation on valid tax certificate was criminal in nature.
The court also dismissed all the other appeals that emanated from the June 27 judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and awarded a cost of N100, 000 each against the respondents.
Justice Abang had, in his judgments delivered on June 27, sacked Ikpeazu for allegedly disclosing false information in relation to his tax clearance details to INEC in his form nominating him as the candidate of the PDP for the last year’s governorship election in the state.
The judge, also in the said judgment, ordered the governor’s rival, who was the first runner-up in the primaries that produced Ikpeazu as the candidate of the PDP, Ogah, to take over.
The judge held that Ikpeazu was not qualified to be PDP’s candidate, having disclosed false information to INEC in violation of his party’s Article 14(a) of the PDP Electoral Guidelines and Section 31 of the Electoral Act.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, Governor Ikpeazu approached the Court of Appeal, praying it to set aside Justice Abang’s judgment which sacked him from the Abia State Government House.
Meanwhile, Governor Ikpeazu has said his victory at the Appeal Court will reinvigorate him to render more service to Abians.
Reacting to the judgmnt in his favour at the Government House, Umuahia, the governor described the
judgment as victory for the common man who voted him into power, thanking God and the judiciary for affirming his victory.
“We are grateful to the judiciary that has stood as the last hope for the common man. Without the judiciary, what would have been the hope of the son of a poor teacher, who became governor by the mercy of God and Abia people? It would have been difficult,” he said.
The governor enjoined the press to rise to the occasion in defense of the country’s democracy.