News Investigators/ A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday, ordered Gov. David Umahi of Ebonyi to vacate office after his defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Delivering judgment, Justice Inyang Ekwo, also ordered Dr Eric Kelechi Igwe to stop parading himself as deputy governor of the state.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the PDP had asked the court to sack Umahi, alongside his deputy, Dr Igwe, from office on account of their defection from the party to the APC.
The PDP, in an originating summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/920/2021, urged the court to declare that by defecting from the party on which they were sponsored and elected as governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi to the APC, a political party that did not win the election, they had resigned or deemed to have resigned from office.
The plaintiff stated that the defendants purportedly defected and relinquished their membership of the PDP on which platform they contested and won the governorship election.
It said “by so doing, the defendants are deemed to have lost the majority votes scored at the election and consequently should be ordered by the court to vacate their respective offices as Governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi State.”
Other parties in the suit are the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the APC as 1st and 2nd defendants respectively.
Mr Umahi had announced his defection to APC on Nov. 17, 2020, citing “injustice” as basis of his action.
Also, Justice Ekwo declared the seats of the16 lawmakers of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly vacant, having defected from the party on which platform they were elected to APC.
NAN also reports that the PDP had, in another suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/ 1041/21, asked the court to declare the seats of the 16 lawmakers vacant having dumped the party for another.
Delivering judgment in the first suit, Justice Ekwo declared that having defected from the PDP, under which platform they came into power, the duo are deemed to have resigned from the office and, hence, no longer entitled to be called governor and deputy governor.
The judge held that it was constitutionally wrong for a candidate elected into an office on a platform of a political party to defect to another political while still holding office.
He said the votes gotten by Mr Umahi and Igwe on March 9, 2019 were PDP votes and not APC.
Mr Ekwo ordered INEC to receive names of candidates from the PDP to replace Umahi and Igwe.
“The votes in any election in Nigeria are to political parties, and not candidates,” the judge held.
He said that the governor and and his deputy failed to adequately defend the substantive issues concerning their defection.
“It would be constitutionally wrong for a person who was not sponsored by one political party, to defect and become a member of another political party before the expiration of the period he was elected,” he said.
He said that the “constitution does not treat the issue of defection lightly,” citing Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution.
According to him, the constitution is put in jeopardy when the will of the electorate who voted for a political party can be brazenly merchandised by candidates without consequence.
“The APC cannot govern Ebonyi State through the 3rd and 4th defendants (Umahi and Igwe) when it did not win the election that produced them,” he said.
He said Mr Umahi and his deputy could not have claimed to be unaware of the “consequences of their act of defection.”
“Having defected to another party, they cannot hold onto the votes of the plaintiff (PDP) to remain in office,” he said.
Mr Ekwo declared the continued stay in office by the duo as unconstitutional, saying it was in “breach of the provisions of Section 179 (2) (a) and (b) of the 1999 constitution.”
He ordered that the PDP “is entitled to submit to 1st defendant (INEC), the names of candidates to replace” Umahi and Igwe, “for the purposes of utilising the lawful votes cast in favour of the plaintiff (PDP)” at the March 9, 2019 Governorship Poll.
“An order is hereby made directing the 1st defendant (INEC) to immediately receive from the plaintiff, the names of its candidates to replace the 3rd and 4th defendants (Umahi and Igwe) for the purpose of utilising the lawful votes cast in favour of the plaintiff.
“Or in the alternative, the 1st defendant is hereby to hold a gubernatorial election for Ebonyi State in accordance with Section 177(c) of the Constitution (excluding the 3rd and 4th defendants who are disqualified from participating in the election by virtue of Section 182 (1)(b) of the Constitution).
“An order is hereby made directing the 1st defendant to immediately declare the persons nominated or to be nominated to it by the plaintiff as governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi State,” he ruled.
The judge, who made an order to injunction restraining INEC from recognising Umahi and Igwe as governor and deputy governor, also made an order of perpetual injunction restraining Umahi and Igwe forthwith from parading themselves as governor and deputy governor.
In a related development, Mr Ekwo also ordered the lawmakers, who were 5th to 20th defendant in the suit, to vacate their seats in the state’s assembly, having defected from the party that brought them into office to another party.
The judge, who ordered the INEC to receive a fresh list of names of candidates from the PDP to fill the vacant seats, also directed that in the alternative, the electoral umpire should conduct a fresh election within 90 days to fill the vacancies occasioned by the 16 lawmakers’ defection.
He held that their seats “are now vacant by operation of Section 109 (1g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The judge also made an order the clerk of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly (4th defendant) to recover from the sacked lawmakers and pay into the account of the House of Assembly (3rd defendant) all salaries, emoluments, remunerations, allowances or any money or property given to or received by the lawmakers (5th to 20th defendants).
NAN reports that the affected lawmakers include: Odefa Odefa, Victor Chukwu, Kingsley Ikoro, Benjamin Jununu, Nkemka Okoro, Anthony Nwegede, Chinwe Nwachukwu and Onu Nwonye.
Others are Friday Neuhuo, Moses Odunwa, Chinedu Awo, Chinedu Onah, Chukwuma Igwe, Chukwu Lucas and Francis Nwifuru.
Meanwhile, the Ebonyi Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Orji Orji, has described the verdict as a “travesty of justice,” assuring that they would appeal the decision.
He faulted the court’s reliance on provisions of the Electoral Act dealing with pre-election and election matters.
“The Court of Appeal decision in Amaechi Vs INEC shows that today’s judgement was a clear case of an error in law and we must challenge it at the appellate court,” he said.
He said a court of coordinate jurisdiction had pronounced on the matter, saying that the constitution had no provision on defection for governors or had not made it an offence for a governor to defect from one party to another.
“We can also test the veracity of the Federal High Court decision today at the Court of Appeal.
“I want to tell Ebonyi people that there is no cause for alarm,” Orji said.(NAN)