By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
The greatest want of the world is the want of men – men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.”-Ellen G. White.
Abians were treated to another round of shock last Monday when Justice Okon Efreti Abang of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court delivered a judgment which ordered that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu vacate office on account of allegedly giving false information in the form submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), nominating the governor as the party’s candidate in the April 11, 2015 governorship election.
The judgment has generated widespread controversy , and like Glamis in Shakespeare “Macbeth” has murdered sleep and shall sleep no more until justice is done. The judgment has agitated minds in several quarters, especially prominent legal minds, and have generated widespread criticisms. Just like the December 31, 2015 Appeal Court ruling on Abia Governorship election where over 300,000 voters were disenfranchised and Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu’s mandate which was initially upheld by a lower tribunal nullified, salient legal issues have been advanced against the judgment.
One of the prominent issues which even formed the basis of the five- grounds appeal filed by the Gov. Ikpeazu is who issued the tax certificates? The issue is seeking to address the following questions: Did the issuing authorities, Abia State Board of Internal Revenue Services declared the certificates forged? Did the trial court invite the issuing authorities to give evidence in the course of the trial?
A position advanced by one of the legal minds states that the proof of forgery must be beyond reasonable doubt, adding that when a a crime is allegedly committed, the police must investigate and submit their report. “There has to be a complainant. Of course, it’s a no brainer that the institution that is supposed to issue the document will be heard. Take for instance, a case of alleged forgery of a university degree certificate. The issuing University must indeed verify whether the document emanated from them or not”.
” Tax clearance certificates in Abia State, just like other states emanate from the State Board of Internal Revenue. They only are in a position to state whether any tax clearance document is fake or not. In the absence of any direct evidence from the issuing authority denouncing the document, then the case of forgery cannot be sustained .I am not aware that the Abia State Board of Internal Revenue complained to anyone that the tax papers of Governor Ikpeazu did not emanate from them. I am not also aware that the police did any investigation on that issue”.
In the argument of a socio- political group, South East Progressive Assembly(SEPA),”the onus of proving whether Gov. Ikpeazu forged his tax documents or evaded payment unarguably lies on the shoulders of the Board of Internal Revenue of the state. Gov. Ikpeazu before contesting his party’s nomination ticket couldn’t have personally raised nor produced his tax documents. This obvious fact morally but legally absolves the governor from the culpability of forgery as alleged by the sponsors of the case”.
Another issue begging for attention is “Does the Federal High Court possess the jurisdiction to remove the governor. According to the Notice of Appeal,”the trial judge erred in law when he ordered as a consequential order that the appellant vacates his office as the Governor of Abia state immediately when there was no jurisdiction in the Federal High Court to remove, vacate the occupier of the office of the governor of a state or order the removal of such officer after the unsuccessful challenge of the result of the election at the Tribunal and swearing in of the appellant as the governor”.
It is a common knowledge that the tax of a public officer is under Pay As You Earn (PAYE) scheme where tax deductions are from the source of his monthly salary by the tax authorities who issued all the tax receipts and certificates. Also, Section 141 of the Electoral Act 2014 ( as amended) stipulates that somebody cannot be declared winner when he did not participate in all stages of the election yet, the judgment in contravention of the said provision, declared the plaintiff, Dr. Sampson Uchechukwu Ogah, who no evidence was led participated in the 2015 Governorship Election in Abia State, winner.
These and other issues captured in the notice of appeal ,such as the accusation that Justice Okon Abang violated the right to fair hearing of Gov. Ikpeazu by embarking on judicial investigation without giving him (Ikpeazu) the opportunity to address the court on the issue, are warming up for a crucial legal scrutiny when the fireworks begin at the appelate court.
For now, Abians are not bothered about the judgment but are rather bothered by the distractions these judgments tend to generate. The overwhelming opinion of Abians is that Gov. Ikpeazu should be left alone by these detractors to continue with the good works he has set in motion. No wonder the judgment has provoked Abians to march on the streets of Aba on a peaceful protest calling for justice.
These trials are indeed subjecting Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu to a more refined leader, and Abians are aligning with the quote by Haruki Murakami:”And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about,” to urge him not to relent in his good works. ENOUGH OF THESE DISTRACTIONS.
Ukegbu, a public policy analyst, writes from Umuahia, Abia State.