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Court sacks Abia Gov over tax payment lapses

Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday ordered the Governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu, to leave office for submitting a false tax clearance certificate to his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for the party’s governorship primary in December 2014. The court, consequently ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue a certificate of return to Samson Ogah, a member of the PDP, who came second in the December 8, 2014 Primary election. However, in a swift reaction to the judgment on Monday, Governor Ikpeazu called on the people of Abia state not to panic as he was still in charge of affairs of the state.

Two members of the party, Obasi Eke and Chukwuemeka Mba had in a pre-election suit marked FHC/ ABJ/ CS/1086/2014, dated December 22, 2014 filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja asked the PDP and INEC to disqualify Mr. Ikpeazu from contesting the governorship election. The plaintiffs had accused Mr. Ikpeazu of failing to pay personal income tax promptly as and when due for 2010 and 2011 in line with Section 24(f) of the 1999 Constitution, which states that “It shall be the duty of every citizen to … declare his income honestly to appropriate and lawful agencies and pay his tax promptly.” Delivering a judgment in the preelection suit on Monday, Justice Okon ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately issue a certificate of return to the plaintiff, Samson Uche Ogah, who polled the second highest number of votes in the PDP primary election that held on December 8, 2014.

He also ordered the PDP to forward Ogah’s name to INEC as the lawfull candidate for the state’s governorship election that held in April 2015. The court held that Ikpeazu did not pay tax as at when due between 2011 and 2013, and that the governor was issued with tax receipt on the same day for the various years he defaulted on the same day. Justice Abang ruled that Ikpeazu did not qualify for PDP Primary election as false information was presented to INEC. “According to Section 31 (6) of Electoral Act, Court has the authority to disqualify him”, the Judge held. He added that if he was a Civil Servant as he claimed, Ikpeazu would have forwarded “his monthly Pay Slip to INEC as a proof that he paid tax as and when due.”

The Court also faulted the amount of tax paid by Ikpeazu, noting that going by the document before the court, “it is either that the defendant received salary for 12 months without working or that he paid tax for the period without working.” Justice Abang also noted some inconsistencies in the payment of said tax, which he held was contrary to the law. According to him, “tax receipts showed that the tax payment was lumped.” He added that if it was paid as and when due, “the serial numbers should not have been so close to one another.” According to Justice Abang, “the tax payment for 2011 was issued in arrears.”

The Court further stated that “the tax receipt issued for the year 2011 was issued on December 31, 2011, which was on a Saturday.” Since he did not participate lawfully in the Primaries, the Judge ruled that votes cast in favour of Ikpeazu “were wasted and nulified.” He therefore ruled that the Plaintiff, Samson Uche Ogah, who scored the second highest votes in the Primaries be taken as the right candidate for the Party in the governorship election.

“Therefore, PDP, Abia State should forward the name of the aspirant who scored the second highest votes to INEC”, the Judge stated. Reacting to the judgement in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Enyinnaya Appolos, the governor said he had faith in the judiciary and rule of law, adding that he would appeal the judgment. The statement reads in part: The Governor of Abia State, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu has called on Abians not to panic, but remain clam over the judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court Abuja delivered today in favor of Mr. Uche Oga against him, in the case of alleged falsification of tax receipts. “Governor Ikpeazu, who said that he has faith in the judiciary and rule of law, added that he will appeal the ruling as he has instructed his lawyers to file an appeal immediately against the said judgment.

“The Governor noted as an appointee of the Abia State Government from 2011 to 2014, when he served as the General Manager, Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest and Safety Scheme (ASPIMSS), and first Deputy General Manager, Abia State Environmental Protection Agency (ASEPA) Aba and Environs respectively, before his resignation in October 2014 to contest the Governorship election in the state, that within the period his taxes were deducted at source, and when he had need of his tax clearance in 2014, he applied to the Abia State Board of Internal Revenue, and was duly issued with his tax receipts for the period in question. “He maintained that he remains the Governor of the state according to law and will await the final determination of the matter by the appellate courts.”

 

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