The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has alleged that there was a “security breach” in the course of preparing the Supreme Court judgment, which yesterday upheld the election of Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu as the governor of Abia State, on the ground that he was properly nominated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as its candidate for the 2015 election.
Justice Onnoghen, in a post-judgment comment, said some politicians attempted to use court officials to bribe the court.
According to the CJN, the said politicians were desperately looking for the Justice that would be assigned to write the judgment.
He, however, assured that the incident would be investigated and those culpable sanctioned.
The CJN warned politicians to allow the judiciary to do its job without interference.
The apex court, in an unanimous judgment written by Justice Musa Dattijo Mohamed and read by Justice Ejembi Eko, held that the appellant failed to prove his allegation that the tax clearance of the governor was forged.
According to the judgment, taxes of civil servants are normally deducted from source, and being a civil servant at the time, Ikpeazu’s tax was deducted from source.
It added that if there were any irregularities, it was not the governor that should be held responsible.
The court in its judgment equally upheld the decision of the lower court (Court of Appeal) that Samson Ogah had failed to make available before the court, the PDP guideline around which his case was built.
It noted that Ikpeazu, as a civil servant then, could hardly be found to have flouted tax payments when his tax deductions were from the source.
The court consequently awarded a cost of N250, 000 in favour of the governor and the PDP.
The legal battle to unseat Ikpeazu started when Ogah challenged his candidacy and secured a Federal High Court judgment delivered by Justice Okon Abang in his favour.
The judgment was later upturned by the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, which in that unanimous judgment, not only vacated the June 27, 2016 judgment of Justice Abang, but also held that the Judge erred in law and that the judgment occasioned a miscarriage of justice against Ikpeazu.
Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, who delivered the lead judgment of the Court of Appeal, held that Justice Abang “committed a grave violence against one of the pillars of justice relating to fair hearing and placed the law on its head when he directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue fresh Certificate of Return to 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.
Justice Abang had in his judgment delivered on June 27, last year, sacked Ikpeazu for allegedly disclosing false information in relation to his tax clearance details to INEC in his nomination form as the candidate of the PDP for the election.
The Judge also in that judgment ordered Ogah, who was the first runner-up in the primary election that produced Ikpeazu, to take over the state apparatus on the ground that Ikpeazu was not qualified to be PDP’s candidate, having declared false information to INEC in violation of his Article 14(a) of the PDP Electoral Guidelines and Section 31 of the Electoral Act.
But dissatisfied with the judgment, Ikpeazu had approached the Court of Appeal, praying it to set aside Justice Abang’s judgment, which sacked him from the Abia State Government House.
But the judgment of the Supreme Court delivered yesterday affirmed the election of Ikpeazu, stating that he was validly nominated by the PDP to fly its flag in the state.
In recent times, the judiciary had come under public scrutiny following the raid on the residences of some Judges and Justices by the Department of State Service (DSS) on allegations of corruption.
Some of the Judges and judicial officers have been charged to court and are undergoing trial at various courts across the country.
Also, some lawyers have been arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and are facing trial for bribing or acting as agents in cases of bribery to influence or pervert justice.
In the past, Judges have equally been accused of taking bribes from politicians, directly of indirectly, to influence judgments in their favour or in favour of their principals, especially in electoral cases.
The CJN, on assumption of office, vowed to sanitise the judiciary and wade off bribe-offering politicians bent on tarnishing the image of the third arm of government.
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