Following their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the governing All Progressive Congress, APC, the Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday discharged Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State and his Deputy, Dr. Eric Kelechi Igwe, from their respective positions.
The court also ordered 16 members of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly to resign their seats and repay any wages and funds earned from the day they defected to the APC on November 17, 2020.
Odefa Obasi Odefa, Victor Uzoma Chukwu, Kingsley Ikoro, Benjamin Uzoma, Joseph Unuhu, Nkemka Okoro, Anthony Nwegede, and Chinwe Nwachukwu are among the legislators.
Onu Nwonye, Friday Nwuhuo, Moses Odunwa, Chinedu Awo, Chinedu Ona, Chukwuma Igwe, Chukwu Lucas, Francis Nwifuru, and Onu Nwonye are among the others.
The rulings came after the PDP filed two lawsuits with the court, entitled FHC/ABJ/CS/920/21 and FHC/ABJ/CS/104/21.
PDP received a majority of the votes — Judge
Justice Inyang Ekwo ruled that the complete number of 393, 343 votes obtained by Governor Umahi at the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi State belonged to the PDP and that the votes could not be lawfully transferred to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Following their defection to the APC, both Umahi and his deputy, according to the court, not only abandoned the PDP, but they also abandoned the votes that belonged to the party.
Following the conclusion of the governorship election, it was ruled that the posts of the governor and deputy governor in Ebonyi State belonged to the Plaintiff and no other political party.
It was also stated by Justice Ekwo that “there is no constitutional provision that makes the ballot transferable from one political party to another.”
He maintained that the PDP was obligated to retain the votes and mandate given to it by the people in Ebonyi State since both Governor Umahi and his deputy were unable to legitimately transfer the votes and mandate to the All Progressives Congress.
“The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Defendants have not refuted the Plaintiff’s statement that the 3rd and 4th Defendants were elected governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi State, respectively, by the Plaintiff’s vote in 2015 and 2019.”
“In conclusion, let me put it this way: the 3rd and 4th Defendants did not win the elections on March 9th, 2019, to become governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi State, respectively, on their own.
According to Section 221 of the 1999 constitution, as modified, they were sponsored by Plaintiff. As a result, the Plaintiff (PDP) was the candidate who received the most votes.
“They are unable to continue in their positions as governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi State following their defection without the Plaintiff (PDP) who was elected by the public,” the court stated.
“On the other hand, the 2nd Defendant (APC) was not the party that was voted by the public to govern Ebonyi State in the election held on March 9, 2019. Consequently, the 2nd Defendant (APC) cannot administer Ebonyi state via the 3rd and 4th Defendants since it did not win the election that resulted in the election that produced the Governor and Deputy Governor.
In a situation where the will of electorates, expressed through their support for a political party, maybe openly manipulated by politicians without penalty, the Constitution is jeopardized.”
“In this matter, the act of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Defendants, as well as the stance of their respective counsel, is directed at the political demolition of the 1999 constitution, as modified. “It must be stopped as soon as possible,” Justice Ekwo said.
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His declaration was in accordance with Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the democratic system of governance in operation in Nigeria, according to which votes are cast and election results are won by political parties rather than their candidates or those who are sponsored by political parties at elections.
As a result, the court declared that “votes gained or scored by a political party at an election are kept by the political party irrespective of the death or withdrawal of the candidate it sponsored for the election from the political party.”
An injunction prohibiting the transfer or utilization of votes acquired during the election for the advantage of the 2nd Defendant” (APC).
After leaving a political party that had won the majority of votes in an election, a candidate of that political party is not entitled to retain or maintain any claims to the votes won by that political party after joining a new political party; rather, the candidate is bound to inherit, utilize, or appropriate the votes won by the new political party that he has joined.”
As a result of the APC receiving only 81,703 votes at the governorship election, as opposed to the majority lawful votes of 393 343 obtained by the Plaintiff, the court ruled that the Plaintiff is required to retain its votes “for the duration of or tenure of office for which the election was held, and the 2nd Defendant is prohibited from taking or using the votes of the Plaintiff in any way.”
Apart from ordering the PDP to submit the names of its candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to fill the positions of the 3rd and 4th Defendants, the court issued an order of perpetual injunction prohibiting Governor Umahi and his deputy from putting themselves out or parading themselves as Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State, respectively.
It also granted an order of perpetual injunction prohibiting the APC from presenting itself as the political party whose members now hold the positions of Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi state, respectively.
Specifically, in the instance of the lawmakers, the court determined that section 109(1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution was purposefully drafted to guarantee that defectors were not permitted to maintain their seats in the House unless such defectors could demonstrate that their actions were justified.
The court ruled that the lawsuit presented by the PDP against them was successful.
As a result, it ordered the lawmakers to immediately resign from their seats, while also prohibiting them from representing themselves or acting in the capacity as members of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly in the future.
Court offers INEC alternatives
Also issued was a mandatory injunction ordering INEC to accept from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a list of candidates to replace the fired legislators, as well as to give Certificates of Return to those who have been reinstated.
If that is not possible, the court ordered INEC to hold a new election in Ebonyi State within 90 days to fill the vacant slots.
Some previous court rulings on defections
AGF vs Atiku
It was established by the Supreme Court in the well-known case of the Attorney-General of the Federation Atiku Abubakar (2007) that a governor, deputy governor, president, or vice president can only be removed from office in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and nothing else. At the time, Atiku Abubakar was the Vice President of Nigeria and had a running battle with the President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
To pursue his ambition of running for President and succeeding his boss, Atiku defected to the Action Congress, which prompted the then President to convene an Executive Council Meeting, at which the office of Atiku Abubakar as Vice-President of Nigeria was declared vacant. Atiku Abubakar is currently the Vice-President of Nigeria.
According to the Supreme Court’s decision in his action contesting his putative removal from office, the Vice-President of Nigeria can only be removed from office under the conditions outlined by Sections 143-144 of the 1999 Constitution.
Walter Onnoghen JSC, retd, in his concurring judgment, summarized the Court’s position by holding, among other things, that “there is nowhere in the 1999 Constitution that it is stated that the President or Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be removed or is removable from that office if he defected from the political party on whose platform he was elected to that office and joined another political party.”
Defection as a result of a rift in the party
Ifedayo vs LP, on the other hand, established that an elective seat may be declared vacant when the incumbent of such office defects to another political party where there is no division within the party through which he or she was elected to the position in question.
In line with this precedent, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, in 2015, ordered the removal from office of Ifedayo Abegunde, a member of the House of Representatives representing the Akure South/North Federal Constituency of Ondo State, for defecting from the Labour Party, which sponsored him for election in 2011, to the now-defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria, in a unanimous decision by a seven-member panel led by Justice Mahmud Mohammed, then Chief Justice of Nigeria, held that Abegunde’s defection could not be justified because his excuse of purported division in the LP did not exist in the “national structure” of the party.
By virtue of Section 68(1)(g) of the constitution, Justice Musa Muhammad, who delivered the lead judgment, held that only a “division” that makes it “impossible or impracticable” for the party to function justifies a person’s defection to another party. Justice Musa Muhammad’s opinion was read aloud in the courtroom.
I’m still the governor of Ebonyi State, according to Umahi.
Governor David Umahi, in response to the court decision, stated that he will continue to serve as governor of the state, regardless of the verdict by the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Governor Umahi, speaking to reporters in his office at the new Government House in Abakaliki, branded the verdict as “jungle justice that was purchased,” and stated that it was not a positive step for the judiciary.
“I am still the governor of Ebonyi State, and there is absolutely no tension at all,” he stated. First and foremost, there is no constitutional provision that allows anybody to remove a governor through a sham election.
“There are three methods in which a governor can be removed from office: death, resignation, or impeachment.” There is no other clause in the Constitution that gives a hatchet-man the authority to flip the entire document on its head.
“I have listened to Inyang Ekwo’s judgment, and it is clear that he was on a mission when he made his decision. He was making all effort to upturn the rulings of the Appeal and Supreme Courts, on issues like this.
He was rumored to be resolved to rule against all known laws and the constitution, first to disgrace the APC and then to embarrass the Federal Government, and we had heard rumors like this previously.
“As for me, I have no reason to be concerned, but I feel terrible for the Nigerian courts.” The president may be having difficulties, and the legislature may be experiencing difficulties, but the moment justice can be purchased, Nigeria is in serious danger, as we have seen in other parts of the world.
There is no doubt that the verdict handed down this afternoon (yesterday) is conclusive proof that our country is in jeopardy. I can tell you that this same judge has over 10 lawsuits against the Ebonyi State administration on his docket, therefore you can understand how he will decide in each of those instances.
“We have filed a petition with the NJC regarding him, and we want to pursue it all the way to the finish to guarantee that this man (Ekwo) is brought to justice.” The judgment is null and invalid, and I urge you to reject it.
The president urged his followers not to be alarmed by the verdict, claiming that he was still in command of the circumstances.
The president joked that his supporters should “laugh it off.”
Ebonyi APC rejects judgment
In the same vein, the All Progressives Congress, APC, chapter in Ebonyi State, disputed the ruling Wednesday, according to reports.
In a reply, the state chairman of the party, Chief Stanley Okoro-Emegha, stated that the sitting judge erred in his decision, which he termed as an abuse of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
He asserted that there was previously a valid judgment of the Abakaliki High Court and another in Zamfara State, which determined that an incumbent governor or his deputy could not be removed from office because they had defected to another political party.
Judge Ekwo, according to the governor, was behaving according to a script written by political opponents with the goal of embarrassing the governor and his deputy in order to score cheap political points.
He urged APC members and supporters of the governor to be calm and abide by the law, noting that the ruling will almost certainly be appealed in the long run.
“The decision was plainly skewed, and that is unacceptable. There is already a ruling from a High Court in Abakaliki, as well as a ruling from the Zamfara State High Court, which states that a governor and his deputy cannot be dismissed from office because they have defected to another political party.
“However, there is no reason to fear because the judgment will very certainly be overturned on appeal.” Members of the APC and supporters of the governor are asked to be calm and adhere to the law, according to him.
PDP chieftain describes the greatest legal pronouncements in Nigeria’s political history.
Meanwhile, Chief Abia Onyike, a senior member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ebonyi State, has hailed the verdict as “the biggest legal statement in Nigeria’s political history.”
“The Federal High Court’s decision is one of the most significant legal statements in Nigeria’s political history,” he remarked. It will reveal Governor Umahi to be a political upstart with a lawless reputation, whose time in government is running out quickly.
“Whether he files an appeal or not, this decision has shrunk him down to size. The reason for his defection was that there was no leadership crisis in the PDP.
PDP nominates Igariwey and Udogwu to be governor and deputy governor, respectively.
Following the event, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has requested that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, recognize Iduma Igariwey and Fred Udogwu as governor and deputy governor, respectively, of the state.
Speaking at a world press conference held at the party’s secretariat, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, said the nomination of Igariwey and Udogwu came as a result of “the removal from office by a Federal High Court of Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, and his deputy, Chief Kelechi Igwe, for defecting to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.”
It was pointed out by Ayu that “in a separate judgment issued by the same court, presided over by Justice Inyang Ekwo, the court also dismissed the resignations of the 17 members of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly who had defected along with the governor and his deputy into the APC.”
With praise for the judiciary in hand, she stated that the verdict will restore order to the political sphere and “put a stop to the issue of political rascality and stolen mandates.” “The court is, without a doubt, the backbone of our democratic system.”
“We also want to pick out Justice Inyang Ekwo for special commendation, notably for his guts and forthrightness in pursuing the content of the law rather than the technicalities,” he continued. In accordance with the court judgment, the PDP would submit the names of its candidates for governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi State to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) forthwith.
According to the Order of the Honourable Court, we are also calling on INEC to give Certificates of Return to the PDP candidates nominated to replace Messrs Umahi and Igwe as soon as possible.”
“Furthermore, we urge on the Chief Judge of Ebonyi State to swear them in as soon as the Independent National Electoral Commission releases the necessary Certificates of Return.”
We further urge the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to promptly revoke the Certificates of Return from the 17 MPs and to begin the process of holding byelections to replace them.”
Ayu stated that while Umahi may opt to take the verdict to the Court of Appeal in an attempt to overturn it, the PDP would not be concerned with whether or not there will be an appeal.
According to him, the party’s primary responsibility is to follow the orders of Justice Ekwo.
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