The governor of Abia state, Okezie Ikpeazu is in fresh trouble as the Nigerian Supreme Court has ordered the Federal High Court to retry the case challenging the fraudulent payment of taxes that enabled his qualification to contest the governorship election of the state.
Some of his opponents in the People’s Democratic Party led by Obasi Uba Ekagbara and Chukuemeka Mba had dragged him to the Federal High Court via suit FHC/ABJ/ CS/1086/2014 over his eligibility to contest in the primary election conducted for governorship aspirants of the party in the state during the last election in 2015. Even though he won the primary, his opponents alleged that he did not qualify to contest as he did not pay his taxes of years 2011, 2012 and 2013 as at when due.
The plaintiffs dragged Ikpeazu, the People's Democratic Party and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and produced convincing evidence at the Federal High Court that taxes allegedly paid for the three years were paid on the same day and therefore faulted the authenticity of Ikpeazu's tax clearance certificate and the information contained in his INEC "Form CF100". Ikpeazu had no answer to the allegations but challenged the competence of the Federal High Court Abuja to hear the case. The trial court overruled his objection, but the Court of Appeal sided with him and ruled that the case ought to have been filed at the Abia State High Court.
Dissatisfied with the judgment Ikpeazu's opponents took the matter to the Supreme Court. In its judgment handed down last Friday by five Supreme Court justices led by Justice Mohammed Muntaka -Coomassie, the court faulted the decision of the Court of Appeal and affirmed the competence of the Federal High Court Abuja to try the case.The justices then remitted the case back to the Federal High Court for the expedited trial of the tax fraud case challenging the eligibility of Ik[eazu to contest the governorship election. And to ensure that the hearing is not delayed the Supreme Court ordered the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria to ensure that the case is heard and determined expeditiously.
If Gov. Ikpeazu loses the pre-election case at the Federal High Court, he will be ordered to vacate the office of the governor of Abia state since he was not competent to have contested talk less of winning the election. The recent ruling shows that Ikpeazu has not been able to counter the serious allegation from his opponents that he fraudulently and criminally evaded payment of taxes to the federal government until he began running for election.
In another development, the court of appeal, sitting in Owerri has ruled that it was Alex Otti of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and not Ikpeazu won the governorship election conducted in Abia state on April 11, 2015. An appeal filed by the embattled Governor is pending at the Supreme Court for adjudication. If Ikpeazu loses at the Supreme Court, he would also be forced to vacate office.