It was victory for Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State yesterday as the Appeal Court sitting in Abuja set aside the judgment that removed him from office.
The panel, which comprised Justices Helen Ogunwumiju, Abubakar Datti Yahaya, Philomina Ekpe, Ibrahim Shatta Bdliya and Saidu Tanko Hussaini, set aside the judgment delivered by Justice Okon Abang in its entirety.
The court held that the originating summons which led to the judgment that removed Ikpeazu was not properly constituted, and as such, the lower court lacked jurisdiction to hear it, and consequently, any decision that flowed from it was null and void.
Aside from not signing the originating summons, the court held that the suit filed by Dr. Samson Ogah did not disclose any cause of action because it was filed even before the appellant (Ikpeazu) submitted his documents to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Justice Shatta agreed with the counsel to the governor, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) that it was not the duty of the court to begin to search for the signatory to the originating summons to authenticate it as required by law.
The court also held that although the originating summons was later amended, an amended summons has no capacity to cure a defective and incurably bad originating summons being the foundation of the suit.
According to the appellate court, “the law has laid down principles by which a case can be instituted, but on the motion which led to this appeal, three people indicated themselves as lawyers and signed the document while the law states that only an identifiable legal practitioner can do so.”
The court ruled that it was not its business to embark on a voyage of helping a litigant decide who filed his case, and by so doing, the lower court erred in deciding for the litigants.
In another pronouncement by Justice Ogunwumiju, the appellate court held that Justice Abang raped democracy in his order that the INEC should issue a certificate of return to Ogah when there was no evidence of forgery or criminality against Ikpeazu.
According to the court, the judgment of Justice Abang was grossly erroneous because it was based on inadequacy of tax receipt that cannot be visited on the appellant.
“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. 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 has done in the instant case.
“In another breath, the trial judge spoke from both sides of his mouth when in one breath, he claimed that he based his findings on supply of false information and in another breadth, 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.”
The Appeal Court also held that the Federal High Court judge turned the head of the law upside down in his conclusion that it was the appellant that should bear the burden of proof on the allegation made by Ogah.
“With respect, we disagree with him in this conclusion because it is the person that makes an allegation of falsehood that must prove it,” the court said.
“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 election as doing so will amount to a rape of democracy.”
In his reaction to the judgment yesterday, Governor Ikpeazu told journalists: “This victory is for those that voted for us to continue to serve Abia State. We are grateful to the judiciary, the hope of the common man. Without the judiciary, what would have been my fate, a son of a poor teacher?”