More lawyers fault court as Umahi, others appeal judgment

From Magnus Eze, Enugu, Godwin Tsa, Fred Itua, Okwe Obi, Abuja, and Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki

Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, his deputy, Eric Igwe and 16 lawmakers, have asked the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment of a Federal High Court, which ordered them to vacate their respective offices.

He also tendered unreserved apology to the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and the judiciary over his verbal attack on Justice Ekwo of Federal High Court, Abuja, and the judiciary.

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On Tuesday, Inyang Ekwo, the judge, in sacking the governor and his deputy, held that the 393,042 votes they polled in the March 2019 governorship election belonged to the PDP and cannot be legally transferred to the APC.

Responding to the verdict, Umahi had described the judge as a “hatchet man” saying “nobody can remove me as the governor of the state as we know where the judgment came from.”

But Olumide Apata, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president, in a statement, yesterday, flayed the governor’s comment as “impunity of the highest order and executive rascality taken too far” and demanded an immediate retraction and apology to the judiciary.

Umahi who addressed his supporters who were on solidarity protest in Abakaliki, yesterday, said his comments believed to be against the respected jurist and the judiciary were actually targeted at the PDP legal team who he accused of misleading the judge to deliver the Tuesday judgment. Reiterating his total confidence in the nation’s judiciary, the governor appealed to his supporters to desist from making disparaging remarks against the judge and the judiciary as he had filed a stay of execution on the judgment.

Umahi and others, in a notice of appeal filed by their counsel, Chukwuma Ma-Chukwu Ume (SAN), challenged the entire judgment delivered on Tuesday by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Abuja High Court.

Ume equally filed a separate notice of appeal on behalf of the 16 state lawmakers that were removed by the judgment of the Federal High Court.

In the appeal predicated on 11 grounds, Ume said the judge erred in law in arriving at its decision as “there is no provision of the 1999 Constitution that provides for the removal of the appellants as sitting governor and deputy governor respectively of Ebonyi state for reason of defection.”

He submitted that the trial judge set aside the Supreme Court decision in AG Federation Vs Atiku Abubakar & 3 ors (2007) LCN/3799/(SC), to the effect that there was no constitutional provisions prohibiting the president or vice and invariably the governor and or deputy from defecting to another political party or meting out punishment for doing same.

Ume urged the appellate court to hold that the trial judge erred in law by holding that “I have not seen any authority which propounds that where a governor or deputy governor defects his political party on which platform he was selected into office, he cannot be sued by that political party to reclaim its mandate….section 308 of the 1999 constitution did not envisage such a situation.”

In addition, it is the contention of the appellants that the trial court erred in law when it assumed jurisdiction on the issue of defection when it had no such jurisdiction.

The appellants equally argued that the court erred in law and overruled as well as set aside the decisions of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal when it held that ownership of vote cast during the governorship election belonged to the PDP and not the appellants.

They noted that the trial court relied on Ameachi Vs INEC and Faleke Vs INEC when same are no longer the law on the ownership of votes cast in an election.

Meanwhile, legal luminary, Chief Mike Ozekhome, has stated that a governor already sworn in cannot be removed by the Federal High Court through an originating summons.

“I am of the firm belief that the judgment, shredded of all legal and factual details, cannot stand the acid test of constitutionalism, nor pass the furnace of appellate courts scrutiny. This is because the tenure of office of a Governor and his Deputy are constitutional matters.”

In a well-circulated position after the judgment, he noted that more poignantly, the apex court has since laid to rest the question of whether the president and vice president (and by parity, governor and deputy) can defect from the original party that sponsored them during election to another party.

This w as the case of AG, Federation v. Atiku Abubakar (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt.1041) 1, 29.

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Yet, many commentators have urged Umahi not to be distracted in his Presidential bid by the recent judicial development. Igbo Rights Agenda (IRA) alleged that the judgment might be part of a grand plot to whittle the chances of the South East to produce a Nigerian President from the region next year.

It then asked Umahi to be relentless in his pursuit of the Presidential ticket of his party; the APC.

National Coordinator of IRA, Dr. Benson Uwaoma said: “Umahi has performed creditably as a governor and is a front runner for the Presidential ticket of his party. We see what is happening as not ordinary; it’s part of a grand plot against Igbo. We see Igbo marginalization playing out; why was the Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle not sacked on same grounds. They had both defected to APC after winning the seats on the platform of the PDP.”

Al-Makura reacts

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Aspirant for the position of the national chairman APC, Senator Tanko Al-Makura, has asked Governor Umahi, as he said he was sure the governor and the party would ultimately prevail.

Al-Makura said from his knowledge of the nation’s political history and several court rulings on the same matter, the PDP lawsuit seeking to remove Umahi from office was an academic exercise, as the appellate courts would not waste time to upturn the ruling of the High Court.

Ebonyi founding fathers back Umahi

Governor Umahi has restated his confidence in the ability of the Nigerian Judiciary to discharge justice to all manner of deserving persons.

Governor Umahi stated this while playing host to the Forum of Ebonyi Founding Fathers led by Former Governor Martin Elechi at his Office Ochoudo Centenary City Abakaliki who came to pay him a solidarity visit following the High Court Judgement on Tuesday.

Governor Umahi who thanked the Founding Fathers for their thoughtfulness assured that his supporters would not allow the provocation to prompt them to cause a breach of order.

“Let me say very honestly that I am very much touched, I was not expecting your coming because to me I didn’t take it to heart at all, but like you said Sir, people received the news differently.”

Leader of the Founding Fathers Forum and former Governor Martin Elechi said the Forum was in the Governor’s office to show solidarity to the Governor in the midst of the unfavourable High Court Judgement.

He advised the governor to remain calm as he seeks redress in the Court of Appeal and ensure that his supporters do not cause breakdown of law and order out of provocation.

Also Speaking, the Secretary of the Founding Fathers Forum, Dr. Boniface Chima urged Governor Umahi to make legitimate efforts to reclaim the mandate entrusted in his care by Ebonyi people during the polls assuring that the Forum would continue support him at all times.

Also, Executive Director, Transparency and Accountability in Governance (TAIG), Success Iwak, in a statement on behalf of Coalition of Civil Society Organisations for Development, counselled people to be mindful of the fact that the governor was yet to exhaust his right of appeal in the courts.

The CSOs were confident that Umahi’s track record would continue to sustain his goodwill even as he survives what they described as “legal hiccups on his journey to the Presidency.”

Regardless, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has condemned Governor Umahi’s utterances against Justice Ekwo, describing it as “executive rascality.”

In a statement, yesterday, its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, also urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to issue certificate of return to the candidates presented to it by the PDP.

Onwubiko said: “It is unfortunate that a man who has worked as a governor of a state for seven years plus to be seen casting aspersions openly against a judge of a competent court of law which is another of the three arms of government via legislature, judiciary and the executive.

“It is the height of executive rascality for the former governor of Ebonyi state Dave Umahi to use unprintable words to describe a judge of a federal high court and indeed one of the finest jurists in Nigeria given his prodigious intellectual output as an author of outstanding legal books.

“This disrespectful attitudes of Umahi demonstrates the truism in what we had said previously that he, Umahi lacks the temperament to be the president of Nigeria.

“If by mistake or accident Mr. Umahi becomes the next president, then he will pocket the judiciary and install his puppets as judges to do his biddings.

“Dave Umahi’s unguarded utterances and his calculated but unwarranted diatribe targeted at the judiciary of Nigeria is to say the least disappointing. It is even sadder that INEC is yet to comply and enforce the judgment of the court.

“Why is INEC also disrespecting the law? Why is a man already stripped legally of the authority of the governor of Ebonyi State still parading about as governor and the law enforcement agencies are aiding and abetting illegality?

“The saddest reality is, if Dave Umahi was in PDP and has lost his position to APC , INEC would have complied with the Judgment of the federal high court because for now there is no superior ruling suspending the enforcement of that judgment .

“So INEC should immediately issue the certificate of return to the nominees sent by the PDP as directed by the court of law pending the determination of the appeal instituted by the former, Mr Dave Umahi challenging the federal high court ruling.”

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