Top 10 Election Petition Advocates in Nigeria – Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN)

Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu is principal partner, Ikpeazu Chambers, a US-trained lawyer, who was called to the Nigerian Bar as barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1984. He has made some of the most outstanding contributions in the development of the electoral and constitutional advocacy in Nigeria.

The globally acclaimed lawyer is the lead attorney for Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party in the grand battle against APC and INEC in the 2023 presidential election petition seeking to nullify INEC’s declaration of Mr. Bola Tinubu as the winner of the election.

It is an election petition that could have significant impact on Nigeria’s democracy with a seasoned legal expert, who has on numerous occasions, battled for and against INEC leading the way. By the existing law, his task at the tribunal is to convince the court that the electoral law was violated at the polls and that the violation affected the outcome of the election.

Beyond that, the petitions in the 2023 election will unearth new compliance issues that revolve around the use of technology, specifically card readers, BVAS and IReV with the Osun governorship petition in 2022 being a prelude to this new era.

Ikpeazu successfully defended Governor Adeleke’s mandate at the tribunal and final at the Supreme Court in a case that centered on the use of electronic devices at the polling boots.

The Ikpeazu-led team presents quite a formidable legal force for the petitioner to convince the presidential election tribunal on grounds of non-compliance in the use of technologies provided by the Electoral Act 2022.

Expertise and innovations will be required on the part of the legal team to be able to lead to new understandings of the innovations introduced by the new electoral act such as mandatory use of BVAS and pave the way for further improvement of the law on electronic results transmission and the use of IReV.

Some other landmark cases that Ikpeazu has handled include Anambra State governorship election petition of Ngige v Obi where he led the court to the decision that brought Mr. Peter Obi to office as the duly elected governor of Anambra State.

He further put on display his rare forensic advocacy skills that led to the trail-blazing decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of Obi v INEC, which case effectively re-calibrated the election metric rule in the hitherto uniform quadrennial elections into the office of state governors in Nigeria.

Following the new rule thus established, a candidate who was wrongly kept out of office after an election he rightly won, would still start and finish un-interrupted four-year tenure guaranteed under the extant Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with effect from the date he took oath of office as the governor of the state, barring such other circumstances as death and impeachment.

Ikpeazu conducted the defence of INEC in several election petitions, including the presidential election petition that arose from the general election in 2011. He also led the defence of the electoral body in several governorship election petitions arising from the 2015 general election, including Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Abia States. Also included are Ebony, Enugu, Bayelsa and Edo States.

He equally led the team of lawyers that represented Senator Ademola Adeleke in the Osun State governorship election petition.  He also was the lead counsel in several state governorship election petitions and appeals arising from the 2019 general elections. The states include Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Enugu and Ebonyi States. Others are Abia, Cross Rriver, Oyo and Imo States.

He headed the legal team of governor Adeleke in the Osun State governorship election petition where his argument that INEC’s returning officer lacked the locus to cancel a concluded state governorship election was accepted by the tribunal.

Ikpeazu is also leading the counsels for APC in the 2023 Ogun State governorship election petition filed by the PDP’s candidate against the victory of Dapo Abiodun.

The Onitsha-born election petition specialist is also actively engaged in several senatorial and national assembly election petition cases across the country. His renowned legal expertise is equally felt beyond electoral disputes and constitutional advocacy to make waves in international arbitrations across several jurisdictions.

In criminal cases, Ikpeazu successfully defended notable individuals facing allegations of crimes, including Hon. Justice Adeniyi Ademola, former Judge of the federal high court and Late Justice Umezulike, former chief judge of Enugu State.

In recognition of his exceptional advocacy skills, he was conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 2002 and later in 2007, he was honoured by the Federal Republic of Nigeria under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua with the National Honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON). He is a fellow at the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and is also a member of the Nigerian Body of Benchers.

Ikpeazu attended Evanston College, Lake Forest College and Oklahoma City University in the United States of America where he obtained Doctor of Juridical Science degree in 1982. He attended the Nigeria Law School in 1983, served in the law firm of Victor Aghayere Esq as a youth corper and completed his pupilage at the chambers of Mr. S E Oputa.

He established his law chambers in Onitsha and has since expanded his practice to Abuja. The law firm has produced more than five senior advocates, judges and magistrates. He has served as chairman of the Onitsha branch of the Nigerian Bar Association and a National Executive Council member of the national body.