Politics

Defection: Gov Umahi, deputy know fate March 8

The Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday, slated March 8 and 14, 2022 to deliver judgments in the multiple suits filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seeking the removal of Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi and his deputy, Dr Kelechi Igwe from office on account of their defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The trial Judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo fixed the dates after counsel to the suits marked FHC/ABJ/CS/ 920/21 and FHC/ABJ/CS/ 1041/21 had adopted their briefs of arguments for and against the suit.

In an originating summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/920/2021, the PDP urged the court to make a declaration that by defecting from the party on which they were sponsored and elected as Governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi State, to the APC, a political party that did not win the election, they have resigned or deemed to have resigned from office.

The crux of the plaintiff’s case is that the defendants purportedly defected and relinquished their membership of the PDP on which platform they contested and won the governorship election, and by so doing 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 like Governor and the Deputy governor of Ebonyi State.

Other defendants in the suit are the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the APC.

However, Chief Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume (SAN), a former Attorney General of Imo state, who is counsel to Governor Umahi and his deputy, has urged the court to declined jurisdiction and transfer the case to Ebonyi State High Court, adding that Nigeria is a federation with 36 states including Ebonyi state.

Ume strongly argued that since Governor Umahi was sworn in by the Chief Judge of Ebonyi State and not by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, his removal from office can only be pursued through the State House of Assembly and the state High Court.

He said the suit was not supposed to be filed in Abuja but before the Federal High Court sitting in Abakiliki in Ebonyi State and added that the trial Judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo has the power to transfer the case to Ebonyi for adjudication.

Meanwhile, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State and his deputy, Dr Eric Igwe have approached the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal for the interpretation of some constitutional issues arising from the suit filed by the PDP challenging their defection to the APC.

The applicants in their motion, have requested the appellate court to restore the powers of state High courts as the only courts vested with the exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine the question as to whether the term of office of a member of the House of Assembly of a State, a Governor or Deputy Governor has ceased or become vacant.

Counsel to the applicants has consequently filed a motion seeking the declaration by the court that section 272 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, which vested such powers on the Federal High Court as a Scrivener’s error.

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The motion which was brought pursuant to sections 295 (2); 272(3); 6(2) of the 1999 constitution and section 20 and 29 of the Interpretation Act, has requested the order of the Federal High Court for an order referring some constitutional questions to the Court of Appeal for its opinion.

The affected constitutional provisions are sections 2; 4(6); 5 (2); 6 (1) & (2); 6(5) (a) -(e); 186; Chapter VII; Chapter VII Part II; sections 270 (1) and 272 (1); (2) and(3).

Before the trial court, the applicants had filed a notice of preliminary objection challenging the suit by the PDP, wherein, they argued vehemently that Section 308 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended has provided immunity to them from the plaintiff’s suit and that votes cast during the said Elections are by the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and recent Supreme Court pronouncements belong to them and not the Plaintiff/Respondent.

Furthermore, they contested that being Ebonyi State Governor and Deputy Governor sworn into Offices by the Chief Judge of Ebonyi State they cannot be liable to be removed from their Offices by a Federal High Court.

The applicants, therefore, prayed the Court to by virtue of Sections 20 and 29 of the Interpretation Act etc, purposively interpret and read the phrase Federal High Court as found in Section 272 (3) (aka section 28, Act No 1 of 2010) as State High Court.
Consequently, they prayed the court to transfer the Suit filed by Plaintiff/1st Respondent to the High Court of Ebonyi State for hearing and determination.

However, on December 23, 2021, Plaintiff/1st Respondent (PDP) fired back by filing a Counter Affidavit with Written Address wherein it placed an entirely different interpretation and meaning to the S. 272 (3) of the Constitution.

The plaintiff vehemently submitted that the Federal High Court stated in the S. 272(3) is in order and this Court have the jurisdiction to hear and determine its suit.

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