The Abia State Government has decried attempts by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state to “fraudulently use the court to stop the work of the Judicial Panel on the Recovery of Government Properties and Funds belonging to the state.”
Abians woke up Tuesday morning to the news that the former governor of the state, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, had through an exparte court order allegedly issued by a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, temporarily stopped the work of the panel, inaugurated on June 27, 2023, by the state Governor, Dr. Alex Otti, OFR.
The panel, chaired by Hon Justice Ikwuoma Duruoha-Igwe (rtd.), is charged with the responsibility to, among other things, “receive and examine complaints and memoranda from individuals and corporate entities on the looting and or conversion of Government Properties, Funds and Related Matters”, between May 2015 to May 2023.
The Abia State Government had recently raised an alarm that the former governor had embarked on a surreptitious shopping of court order to restrain the panel from carrying out its lawful assignment.
On two occasions, Dr. Ikpeazu approached the Federal High Court, Abuja, to grant him his wish and on those two occasions he was rebuffed by the judges because he failed to put the Abia State Government on notice as directed by the courts.
In a statement issued Tuesday, August 1, 2023, by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ikechukwu Uwanna, the government described Ikpeazu’s attempts at stopping the work of the Judicial Panel as “an affront and an attack on the administration of justice and the principles of accountability”.
The statement reads in part: “The attention of the Government of Abia State has been drawn to a purported Exparte Court Order of injunction issued by the Hon. Justice E. Okpe of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, sitting at Maitama on the 28th July, 2023, against the Abia State Government, the Attorney General of Abia State, the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on the Recovery of Government Properties and Funds, Abia State and its constituted members; sued as the 2nd-9th Defendants/Respondents in SUIT NO: FCT/HC/CV/6989/2023 between SIR GABRIEL ONYENDILEFU, DR OKEZIE VICTOR IKPEAZU & 2 ORS VS INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE, ABIA STATE GOVERNMENT & 7 ORS restraining the Respondents from carrying out the functions and duties of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry, which alleged order has been making rounds in the media.
“Shortly after the constitution of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu (the former Executive Governor of Abia State) proceeded to file several applications before the Federal High Court Abuja Division, seeking for an Exparte injunctive order of the Court to restrain the Judicial Panel of Inquiry from conducting the task for which the panel was constituted.
“The applications sought by Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu in SUIT NO: FHC/ABJ/CS/907/2023 DR. OKEZIE IKPEAZU & 3 ORS VS GOVERNOR OF ABIA STATE & 8 ORS; and SUIT NO: FHC/ABJ/CS/945/2023 OKEZIE VICTOR IKPEAZU Ph.D (Immediate Past Governor of Abia State) VS INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE (IGP) & 8 ORS; were both refused by the learned Judges of the Honourable Court who ordered him to put all other parties on notice.
“Pursuant to the unsuccessful attempt to obtain the injunctive orders at the Federal High Court, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu discontinued the substantive suit and embarked on “Forum Shopping”, proceeding to file yet another matter at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory and by an Ex-Parte application sought to restrain the Judicial Panel of Inquiry from conducting the duties and functions for which it was constituted.
“There is an Ex-parte order making the rounds in the social media purportedly granted in favour of the former Governor on 31.07.2023 which order has not been served on the Abia State Government.
“The Government of Abia State unequivocally states that if such an order was actually granted, it condemns the action of the applicants to use the machinery/instrumentality of the law to subdue the will of the good people of Abia State, and subvert the democratic process devised to restore competence and accountability of governance in Abia State.
“The provisions of Section 270 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is crystal clear as to the territorial jurisdictions of High Courts of the various states of the Federation, and a Judge of the High Court Sitting at FCT, Abuja, does not have the requisite jurisdiction to hear and determine issues emanating from Abia State, and is estopped from granting any form of injunctive orders which affects institutions and persons domiciled in Abia State.
“Granting an Exparte injunctive order by the Judge of the High Court of FCT, Abuja, amounts to a gross abuse of judicial power and is unconstitutional.
“The Judicial Panel of Inquiry has the duty of conducting investigation into allegations of looting against the past government of the state, and this is of significant public interest, and the several attempts to undermine and impede the work of the Panel is an affront and an attack on the administration of justice and the principles of accountability.
“It is unethical and stifles the fight against corruption in Abia State, and subverting the will of the good people of Abia State.”
Uwanna declared that the government would take steps to set aside the court order once it is served.