Defection: Court dismisses PDP’s suit against Ayade
A Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday dismissed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) suit seeking the removal of Gov. Ben Ayade of Cross River.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo, in a judgment, said he was bound by the decision of a higher court which delivered a judgment on April 1 in a similar case in Enugu.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that an Appeal Court sitting in Enugu on Friday affirmed the ruling of the Ebonyi State High Court, which declared that Gov. David Umahi and his Deputy, Dr Kelechi Igwe, did not offend any provision of the constitution or the Electoral Act by defecting from the PDP to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.
Chief Mike Ozekhome, who was counsel for Ayade and his deputy, Prof. Ivara Esu, had written to Justice Taiwo on the Enugu judgement.
Lawyers to all the parties were, however, directed to address the court on Wednesday and the judgment shifted to Thursday.
Taiwo, while delivering the judgment, held that going by “the principle of stare decisis (judicial precedence),” he was bound by the earlier judgment of the appellant court.
judge said that though there were constitutional provisions for the removal of a governor or his deputy from office, defection was not part of the grounds.
Taiwo said that Sections 180, 188, and 189 had already stipulated how an executive head could be removed from office.
The judge, therefore, raised 10 questions for determination.
“Are votes cast in an election transferable to another party? Is defection tantamount to the transfer of votes? Does the law permit such transfer? Can such transfer count or be disallowed with attendant consequence? etc,” he asked.
According to him, it is not the function of the court to make law, but it is the duty of the legislature while the court interprets the law.
“Therefore, defection from a political party is not one of the grounds for removing a governor or deputy from office,” he said.
Taiwo, who said that the role of the judiciary is limited in the removal of a president or governor and their deputies, said it was the duty of the legislature to do this.
The 3rd and 4th defendants (Ayade and Esu) cannot be removed except by constitutional provisions.
“Hence, this court has no power to declare their seats vacate except by constitutional provisions. I so hold,” he said.
Speaking with newsmen shortly after the judgment, Ozekhome said Sections 180, 188, and 189 gave guidelines as to how a governor could be removed from office.
He said: “these include when a governor dies, resigns from office, his tenure expires, by impeachment or if he is incapacitated.”
According to him, the Supreme Court had once pronounced that though an act of defection might be painful, immoral, and unquestionable, it is not illegal.
NAN reports that the PDP, through its counsel Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, had filed the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/975/2021 before Justice Taiwo to seek for an order sacking the governor and his deputy over their defection to the APC, among others.
NAN reports that Taiwo had, on March 21, ordered two House of Representatives members representing Cross River and 18 lawmakers from the state’s House of Assembly to vacate their seats over their defection to APC.
The judge gave the order following a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/971/2021 filed on Aug. 27, 2021, by the PDP to challenge the 20 lawmakers’ defection to APC, alongside the governor on May 20, 2021.
Justice Taiwo, in the judgment, dismissed the defence argument that the PDP (plaintiff) had no locus standi (legal rights) to institute the case.
He also dismissed other preliminary objections raised by the sacked lawmakers.