The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division on Friday, reversed the March 8, 2022 judgment of a Federal High Court, Abuja which sacked Ebonyi Governor, David Umahi and his deputy for defecting from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
A three-member panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal held a unanimous that the nation’s Constitution did not provide any punishment for a Governor or Deputy Governor who defected from the party on which platform he or she got into office.
In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Haruna Tsanami, the appellate court held that the only option opened to a political party, aggrieved by the defection of a Governor or Deputy Governor, is to explore the impeachment option provided in the constitution.
Consequently, the appellate court voided the Judgement of Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja that removed Umahi and his deputy from office and ordered the PDP to submit names of their replacement to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
It will be recalled that Justice IEkwo had, in the judgement held that the total number of 393, 343 votes governor Umahi secured during the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi state, belonged to the PDP, which sponsored his election.
The trial court held that the said votes were not legally transferrable to the APC which the 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.
Justice Ekwo declared 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.
The Judge further declared 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.
“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”.
Aside from directing the 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.
Dissatisfied with the judgement, both Umahi and his deputy took the matter to the appellate court where they won on Friday.
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) and 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 the Governor and Deputy Governor in the provisions of both sections 68 and 109 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended and 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.
According to them, “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 and further 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 State.
They argued that no law gave the court the power to declare anyone that did not participate in all stages of the election, as the winner of the said election.
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