• Monday, June 24, 2024
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The landmark judgment on Governor Umahi and Ebonyi lawmakers

The landmark judgment on Governor Umahi and Ebonyi lawmakers

The Federal High Court in Abuja appeared to have reshuffled the cards in Ebonyi and Cross River states when it sacked the public office holders in those states for defecting to another party. The first case affected the incumbent governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, and his deputy, Eric Kelechi Igwe, as well as 16 other members of the state house of assembly.

The court ordered them to vacate their offices following their defection from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC). The second and most recent case affected lawmakers in Cross River State who also defected to another political party.

In that landmark judgment involving the incumbent Ebonyi governor, the presiding judge, Justice Inyand Ekwo, argued that, having defected from the PDP, on which platform they came to power, the defendants were deemed to have resigned from office and hence no longer entitled to be called the governor and deputy governor, respectively.

However, we are comforted by the fact that a judicious resolution of these issues on the platform of the judiciary will go a long way to extend the frontiers of our democratic momentum

Consequently, the votes received by the embattled governor and other affected individuals were PDP votes and not those of APC. The judge immediately ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to receive their replacements from the PDP.

Predictably, that judgment has set in motion legal fireworks, and it appears there is no end in sight to the case until the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, makes a definitive statement.

First, the embattled governor has appealed the case just as he simultaneously sought relief for a stay of execution of the judgment. Presently, legal opinions are diverse as to the position, the Appeal and Supreme courts will take on the matter.

In the views of the embattled governor and his legal representatives, a sitting governor can only be removed through three paths as stated in the Nigerian Constitution. Governor David Umahi and other political office holders affected in the judgment pinned their hope on the Supreme Court decision in AG Federation vs Atiku Abubakar and 3 others (2007) LNC/3799/(SC), where the judges of the most prominent court in the country said there was no constitutional provision that prohibited the president or his vice from defecting to another political party. And by extension, the same judgment applies to governors and their deputies.

Read also: I’m Ebonyi governor by law, Umahi is only parading -; Igariwey

Meanwhile, before the former vice president’s case, there was another Supreme Court judgment involving the current minister of aviation, Rotimi Amaechi, which established that votes belong to political parties and not candidates.

In short, there are two views on the court judgment on the present governor of Ebonyi State. One, there is no provision for the removal of a governor as a result of defection, while the other view is that votes belong to political party.

From the viewpoint of the first argument, we may be forced to conclude that both the appellate and supreme courts will overrule the high court judgment in favour of the embattled governor, and other affected political office holders. On the other hand and going by the second argument that votes belong to political parties, then we could say that the embattled governor has lost the case.

The Ebonyi governor’s case has raised a lot of issues, both good and bad. The good thing about it is the strengthening of the democratic processes. This is in the sense that disgruntled political office holders and political parties see Nigerian courts as objective arbiters in cases they could not resolve among themselves. What is more, the ongoing legal battle also tests the comprehensiveness and absorptive capacity of the 1999 Constitution.

But there are some other issues that require urgent attention, which the ongoing legal battle must address. The AG Federation vs Atiku Abubakar’s case highlighted some of the weaknesses in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution in the sense that its writers might not have imagined a point in time a president, vice president, governor or deputy governor will leave the political part on whose platforms they came to power and then leave for another political party.

Addressing this case is so important because, during electioneering periods, political parties always make available their platforms and resources to support their candidates, so that they can triumph in elections. Party stalwarts have sustained injuries while some have even lost their lives while mobilising for their candidates during elections.

On the other hand, in Nigeria, while any aspiring politicians must use political parties to win elective offices, the truth is that a significant amount of the resources that will be deployed for mass mobilisation of the electorate, payment of party and INEC fees usually come from the aspirants.

The ball is now in the appellate courts to address the concerns of all the stakeholders and come to a conclusions that will be equitable to all the stakeholders. Under the circumstances, what the judiciary has on its hands is a tough call.

However, we are comforted by the fact that a judicious resolution of these issues on the platform of the judiciary will go a long way to extend the frontiers of our democratic momentum.