By Kunle Olasanmi and Chibuzo Ukaibe, Abuja
The Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the election of Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, in the 2015 gubernatorial poll in the state.
The apex court dismissed the case filed by Uchechukwu Ogah, challenging the eligibility of the governor to contest the election.
Ogah had earlier obtained a judgment of a Federal High Court in Abuja to replace Ikpeazu. Justice Okon Abang, in his judgments delivered on June 27, 2016 sacked Ikpeazu and directed the Chief Judge of Asia State to swear in Ogah as the state governor.
The Court of Appeal later upturned the judgement. In its judgment delivered on August 18, 2016 a five-man panel of the appellate court led by Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, nullified Justice Abang’s judgment and set aside all the orders, including the one directing INEC to issue a fresh certificate of return to Ogah.
A five-man panel of the apex court led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, yesterday upheld the appellate court verdict and dismissed Ogah’s appeal for lacking in substance.
The Supreme Court, in its lead judgment prepared by Justice Dattijo Mohammed but read by Justice Ejembi Eko, affirmed the substantial decision of the Court of Appeal.
The court held that it was detrimental to Ogah’s case that the Peoples Democratic Party’s guideline around which the suit of the plaintiff was built was not presented before the court.
It also held that Ikpeazu as then a civil servant could hardly be found to have flouted tax payments when his tax deductions were at the source.
The apex court, however, disagreed with the appellate court on one issue, holding that contrary to the lower court’s decision, the suit filed before the Federal High Court in Abuja was rightly commenced by originating summons.
In his post-judgment comment, the CJN noted that there was a “security breach” in the course of preparing the judgment, even as he warned politicians to allow the judiciary to do its job without interference.
According to him, there were attempts by politicians to use court officials to get to know Justices of the Supreme Court that would prepare the lead judgment and what the court’s decision would be.
The CJN said the incident will be investigated and those found culpable sanctioned.
In the appeal, Ogah urged the court to set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which last year upheld the nomination of Ikpeazu.
Meanwhile, The Governor of Abia State, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, yesterday dedicated his victory over Ogah at the Supreme Court to the people of Abia State, who he said stood by him all through the period of litigation.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Enyinnaya Appolos, Governor Ikpeazu stated that the victory is a re-affirmation of the mandate given to him by the people.
He stressed that only God will take glory for the victory and commended the judiciary for standing firm on the side of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The statement reads in part: “The time for politics is long over, and I have forgiven all those that were bent on distracting me. Let all well meaning Abians, including my opponents, come and join us to grow and develop our state without distractions as we ultimately have stakes in the growth and development of our state and people
“Today, there is the work of Abia to do and history will judge us by how much of that work we do, not by how much politics we play. My doors are open to all, my ears are open to hear and my eyes are strong enough to read suggestions on how we can best deliver greater dividends to those who really matter: the great people of Abia State”.
Makarfi Congratulates Governor Ikpeazu
Meanwhile, the Sen Ahmed Makarfi-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday said the affirmation of Okezie Ikpeazu as governor of Abia State at the Supreme Court did not come to them as a surprise.
A statement by national publicity secretary, PDP – NCC, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, said, “It is a plus to our Judiciary and further reaffirms our faith in the third arm of government as the last hope of all Nigerians.
“We congratulate Governor Ikpeazu for this resounding victory and urge him to continue with his people oriented services in Abia State. It is our believe that the Decision of the Supreme Court has finally put an end to all litigation on the Outcome of the Gubernatorial Election of 2015.
“Consequently, we call on all parties in the Case to move forward by working together as members of the PDP family in order to deliver on our mandate and social contract with the people of Abia State.
“To the good people of Abia State, we say congratulations for standing strong with the Governor during this trying times and with our great Party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The National Caretaker Committee believes in your ability to work cordially with the Executive Governor now that the final verdict has been delivered by the Supreme Court”.