Sunday, 2nd October 2022
Breaking News:

The Umahi saga

By AbduRafiu
10 March 2022   |   2:47 am
Predictably, legal works have begun over whether Justice Inyang Ekwo was right or wrong in his judgment ordering Dave Umahi to vacate


Predictably, legal works have begun over whether Justice Inyang Ekwo was right or wrong in his judgment ordering Dave Umahi to vacate office as Governor of Ebonyi State on grounds of defection from the PDP to APC. His deputy, Eric Kelechi Igwe, is to go with him.

Umahi has reacted angrily to the judgment, describing it as jungle justice, fearing that it must have been purchased. He said nobody can remove him from office. Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide is on the same page with him.

In a statement issued to the media, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, secretary-general of the organisation, indeed, dismissed the ruling as a miscarriage of justice and “a black market judgment.” He believes that the ruling was aimed at creating havoc and chaos in Ebonyi State and an attempt to take over the reins of power in the state through the back door.

“We are alarmed at how misery and desperation could navigate some politicians to offer themselves as willing tools to enemies of Ndigbo, just to destabilise Ebonyi State and set the state on fire. This court judgment will not see the light of day.”

However, on the streets of Abakaliki, the judgment is seen differently. According to reports, they see it as victory for democracy. The truth will always come from simple and uncomplicated people. One of the residents whose name I am keeping away believes that the judgment would deepen democracy and curtail the excesses of politicians especially, “the elected representatives who jumped from one party to another. The judgment is a true reflection of the Constitution and Electoral Act. The governor unlawfully defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)) that sponsored him in 2015 and 2019 elections.”

Is there anyone who believes honour should underpin the conduct of political office holders who is not embarrassed at the spate of defections by leaders who are looked upon for examples in decency? The judge said the total number of votes, 393, 042, that the Umahi garnered during the March 9, 2019 governorship election belonged to PDP and same could not be legally transferred to APC. He went on: Having defected to the APC, both Umahi and his deputy, not only jettisoned the PDP, but also the votes that belonged to it.

On occasions like this, trust them, the lawyers are in their elements. Are there precedents? They wade through Law Reports to find authorities. And they have started. In the process they bring in all manner of legal engineering and technicalities until a matter becomes complicated. When I am faced with a case of this nature which touches on justice and public morality, I ask myself as I have done on a few occasions on this page, what would be the position of Justice Candide Ademola Johnson, Justice Andrew Obaseki, a Justice of the Supreme Court, and Justice John Conrad Idowu Taylor. Justices Kayode Eso and Oputa, Socrates, were renowned for their rigour? The pronouncements of Candide Johnson were often laced with a great deal of wisdom. This is why I am intrigued by Justice Inyang Ekwo.

What does the Constitution, the grundnorm, say on whether Umahi and his deputy should vacate their offices or not? The constitution is not as specific in what happens to a governor when he deflects the party that gave him the platform to stand election as it is on what happens to parliamentarians who similarly deflect. I believe what the document says is enough to determine what should happen to a governors should he deflect from his party. Section 177, Part 2 on qualification for election as governor says:
“A person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a State IF (emphasis mine):
he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth;
he has attained the age of thirty-five years;
he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party;
he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”

What is germane to this discussion is (c). It states that a person can only contest for the office of governor only if he is a member of a political party and more importantly if he is sponsored by that political party. My take is that Umahi and Kelechi Igwe were not independent candidates. They climbed to power on the platform of PDP; they were in fact sponsored by the PDP. There must have been others who were equally qualified which the party must have noted but decided to field Umahi and his deputy. As we have just witnessed in the Osun primaries, the candidate must be endorsed by a majority votes of members of the party. In other words, members of the party were solidly behind Umahi and his deputy to trust him with their mandate. If he deflects from the party, he has abandoned the platform. Nothing has happened to the mandate the generality of the voters gave to the party to govern them. Therefore, the mandate should go back to the owners, the PDP. It is Umahi, therefore, who has disqualified himself from continuing in office. APC was not given the trust and mandate by the people of Ebonyi State. The judge is, therefore, right in ordering that Dave Umahi and his deputy should vacate office. For him to remain in office on the platform of APC amounts to stolen mandate and a betrayal of trust. The judgment is profound.

Umahi has appealed the judgment. He argues in the paper he has filed that:
“The Respondents cause of action at the court below was defection of the Appellants from the PDP on which platform they were voted into office;

“There is no provision of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that provides for the removal of the 3rd and 4th Appellants as sitting Governor and Deputy Governor respectively of Ebonyi State for reason of defection.”

“The provisions of Section 308 are specific. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject sub-section (2) of this section, no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against 3rd and 4th Appellants during their mandate in office as governor and deputy governor respectively.”

This is similarly stated by Dr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN) in his reaction to the Abuja judgment. What I find missing in his accustomed scholarly contributions to public issues this time which is the kernel of the issue is whether the framers of the constitution envisaged that dishonor would be brought to the lofty office of a governor such that the occupant of the office would betray the trust of his party members who sponsored him and the voters to be the embodiment of their aspirations and run away to another party. The country will get to nowhere if activities of our senior public functionaries are not undergirded by honour and morality, and impunity is the order of the day.

Umahi and Kelechi Igwe filed eight points of appeal. It will be interesting to see how the case goes.

In this article