The Court of Appeal, on Friday, vacated the High Court judgment sacking Gov. David Umahi of Ebonyi and his Deputy, Dr Eric Igwe, following their defection to the All Progressive Congress (APC).
The appellate court, in a unanimous decision by a three-man panel led by Justice Haruna Tsanami, held that there was no constitutional provision for the removal of a serving governor or deputy governor that dumped the political party that sponsored them to power.
The court held that the only option available to a political party aggrieved by the defection of a governor or deputy it sponsored to power, was for such party to explore the option of impeachment as provided in the Constitution.
Consequently, the appellate court, voided the high court judgement that removed Umahi and his deputy from office.
The appellate court further ordered the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to submit names of their replacement to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja in his judgment on March 8, held that the total number of 393, 343 votes governor Umahi secured during the March 9, 2019 governorship contest in Ebonyi state, belonged to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which sponsored his election.
The trial court held that the said votes was not legally transferrable to the APC which governor and his deputy decamped to, stressing that the duo not only jettisoned the PDP, but also the votes that belonged to it.
It held that the PDP was bound to retain the votes and mandate that was given to it by electorates in Ebonyi state.
Ekwo held that having regard to section 221 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and the democratic system of governance operated in Nigeria, votes at the election and elections are won by political parties and not their candidates or the candidates sponsored at the election by the political parties.
He further made a declaration, that “votes won or scored by a political party at an election is retained by the political party irrespective of the death or exit of the candidate it sponsored for the election, from the political party.
“A declaration that candidate of a political party that won the majority votes at an election is not entitled to retain or continue to lay claims to the votes won by the political party after moving to another political party, rather, the candidate is bound to inherit, utilize or appropriate the votes won by the new political party he has adopted”.
He directed PDP to submit to the INEC, the name of its candidates to replace the 3rd and 4th Defendants, the court, issued an order of perpetual injunction, restraining governor Umahi and his deputy from putting themselves out or parading themselves as Governor and Deputy Governor respectively of Ebonyi state.
The trial court issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining APC from parading itself as the political party whose members occupy the offices of Governor and Deputy Governor respectively of Ebonyi state.
However, dissatisfied with the judgement, both Umahi and his deputy took the matter to the appellate court.
The appellants had argued that the trial court, in ordering them to vacate their offices based on the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/920/2021, which was brought against them by the PDP, attempted to overrule a subsisting decision of the Supreme Court in AG Federation v. Atiku Abubakar & 3 ORS (2007) LCN/3799 (SC).
They contended that the apex court had in its decision, held that no constitutional provision prohibited a sitting President or Vice President, and invariably, the Governor or Deputy Governor, from defecting to another political party.
Umahi and his deputy argued that there is no specific mention of Governor and Deputy Governor in the provisions of both sections 68 and 109 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
They further argued that the trial court erred in law, when it restrained them from carrying on the duties in their offices as Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State, on the premise that they acted in breach of sections 177(c) and 221 of the Constitution.
“Section 221 of the Constitution is not to the effect that votes cast during the Governorship election of March 9, 2019 belonged to the 1st Respondent (PDP), but rather to the Appellants.
“Section 177 of the Constitution is all about qualification for a candidate to the Governorship election and has anything to do with punishment for defection,” they argued.
They averred that the trial court erred in law, when it ordered the 1st Respondent (PDP) to submit to the 2nd Respondent (INEC), names of its candidates to replace the Appellants as Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi.
They argued that no law gave the court the power to declare anyone that did not participate in all stages of the election, as winner of the said election.