AN Abuja Federal High Court on Tuesday ordered the removal of Ebonyi State governor Dave Umahi for defecting from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
But Umahi, in his reaction to the development, said he would appeal the judgment and insisted that he remains the governor of Ebonyi State.
The Abuja Federal High Court, in a judgment delivered by Justice Inyang Ekwo, also sacked Eric Kelechi Igwe as the state’s deputy governor.
The judge held that the votes Umahi secured during the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi State belonged to the PDP and the APC.
According to the court, having defected to the APC, both Umahi and his deputy, not only jettisoned the PDP, but also the votes that belonged to the party.
The judge further held that going by the outcome of the governorship election, the office of the governor and deputy governor in Ebonyi State belongs to the PDP and not the APC.
“There is no constitutional provision that made the ballot transferrable from one party to the other,” Justice Ekwo stated.
He added that the PDP was bound to retain the votes and mandate that was given to it by voters in Ebonyi State, as both governor Umahi and his Deputy could not validly transfer same to the APC.
The court therefore ordered both Umahi and Igwe to immediately vacate their positions.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was ordered to immediately receive from the PDP, names of persons to replace Umahi and his deputy, or in the alternative, conduct a fresh gubernatorial election in Ebonyi State in line with Section 177(c) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The court also restrained Umahi and Igwe from further parading themselves as governor or deputy governor of Ebonyi State.
The judgement followed a suit by the PDP shortly after the defection of the governor in 2020.
In the suit, PDP had asked the court to make a declaration that by defecting from the party on which they were sponsored and elected as governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi State, to the APC, a political party that did not win the election, Umahi and Igwe have resigned, or are deemed to have resigned from office.
The PDP argued that Umahi and Igwe defected and relinquished their membership of the party on which platform they contested and won the governorship election, and by so doing are deemed to have lost the majority votes scored at the election and consequently should be ordered by the court to vacate their respective offices as governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi state, respectively.
Umahi to appeal sack, insists he remains governor
Meanwhile, addressing journalists in Abakiliki shortly after the court delivered the verdict, Umahi alleged that the judgment was purchased by the PDP.
He accused the judge of being on a mission to embarrass the APC and the Federal Government.
Stressing that he will appeal the judgment, Umahi declared that he is still the governor of Ebonyi State.
“I am still the governor of Ebonyi State and there is no tension at all. In the first place, there is no constitutional provision for any hatchet man to remove a governor.
“There are three ways whereby a governor can vacate his office. It is either by death, resignation and impeachment. There is no other constitutional provision that empowers a hatchet man to turn the Constitution upside down.
“For me, I do not feel worried but I feel so bad for the judiciary in Nigeria. The executives may have problems, the legislature may have problems, but the moment justice could be purchased, then we are in trouble in Nigeria. It is obvious that the ruling this afternoon is clear evidence that this country is in trouble.”
The embattled governor claimed that Justice Ekwo is handling over 10 cases against the Ebonyi State government.
He insinuated that the judge was bent on ruling against the state government in all the cases.
Umahi added that the Ebonyi State government had asked the National Judicial Council (NJC) to sanction the judge.
The NJC is the body that is vested with powers to discipline judicial officers.
“We have petitioned him (Justice Ekwo) to NJC and we will follow it up to the end to ensure that this man is brought to justice. I want you to disregard the judgement because it’s null and void.”
With Umahi deciding to appeal the Abuja Federal High Court judgment which ordered his removal from office, the case is likely to get to the Supreme Court for final determination.
Until then, the governor will hang on to his position.
Ebonyi State high court earlier upheld Umahi’s defection
The judgment of the Abuja Federal High Court on Umahi’s defection differed from an earlier verdict delivered on the same subject by an Ebonyi State High Court.
The Ebonyi State High Court in Abakaliki had on February 28 dismissed a suit challenging Umahi’s defection from the PDP to the APC.
The suit was filed by a member of the PDP in Ebonyi State, Sunny Ogbuoji, who asked the court to install him as governor to replace Umahi.
Ogbuoji had asked the court to declare that Umahi having defected to the APC from the PDP, the party through which he was elected, ought to vacate the office of the governor upon defection.
In his judgment, Justice Henry Njoku of the Ebonyi State High Court dismissed the suit filed by Ogbuoji for lacking in merit and awarded N500, 000 as damages against him.
The Ebonyi State chapter of the PDP had also said it would appeal the Ebonyi State High Court ruling which upheld Umahi’s defection.
And just like Umahi did in his reaction to the judgment delivered by Justice Ekwo of the Abuja Federal High Court, the Ebonyi State PDP accused the Ebonyi State High Court judge, Justice Njoku, of bias and vowed to report him to the NJC for dismissing the suit against Umahi’s defection to the APC.