The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Thursday delivered a stringent rebuke of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court for his ruling annulling the election of Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, accusing the judge of “raping democracy”.
Gov. Ikpeazu was “sacked” on June 27. Justice Abang said he had falsified his tax certificates, and must lose his seat to Samson Ogah, also a member of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Mr. Ogah received the certificate of return from the Independent National Commission, but was not sworn in.
At the Court of Appeal on Thursday, a five-member panel led by Justice Morenike Ogunwumiju said Mr. Abang “raped democracy” when he ordered INEC to issue a certificate of return to Mr. Ogah without evidence of forgery against Mr. Ikpeazu.
According to the court, the judgement was erroneously based on the inadequacy of tax receipt which Mr. Ikpeazu cannot be blamed for.
“After reading through the judgement several times, I was amazed at how the trial Judge arrived at his conclusion of forgery against the appellant when there was no evidence of forgery. To say the least, his findings are ridiculous,” said Justice Ogunwumiju.
The court said Mr. Abang embarked on a “wild goose chase” when he attempted to help the plaintiff.
Ms. Ogunwunmiju said the case was not properly filed in the first instance.
While the law says only an identifiable legal practitioner can attest to a motion instituting a case before the lower court, three lawyers signed for the plaintiff.
“But on the motion which led to this appeal three people indicated themselves as lawyers and signed the document. It is not the business of the court to embark on a voyage of helping a litigant decide who filed his case,” the court said.
“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.
“The trial judge spoke from both sides of his mouth when in one breadth, 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 court further said.
Ms. Ogunwumiju also said that Justice Abang turned the head of the law upside down in his conclusion that it was Mr. Ikpeazu that should bear the burden of proof for an allegation made by Mr. Ogah.
“With respect, we disagree with him in this conclusion because it is the person that makes allegation of falsehood that must prove it,” she said.
The Appeal Court also argued that Mr. Abang erred when he imported the phrase “as at when due” into the PDP 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, he violated the PDP guideline.
“From whatever angle one looks at the judgement 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,” the court held.