Appeal Court Upholds Defection Of Ebonyi Governor, Deputy To APC

Ruth Oginyi

Appeal Court sitting in Enugu has affirmed the judgment of Ebonyi State High Court, Abakaliki, which quashed a suit challenging the defection of Governor David Umahi and his deputy, Dr. Kelechi Igwe, to the All Progressives Congress.

The court made the affirmation on Friday in the suit between David Umahi and Senator Sunny Ogbuoji

Governor Umahi and his Deputy had in November 2020 decamped from the PDP, a platform they were elected, to the APC, citing injustice by the PDP against the southeast zone.

The suit which was filed by Senator Suny Ogbuoji and his running mate, Mr. Justin Mbam Ogodo, the governorship flag bearers of the APC in 2019 in Ebonyi State, had through originating summons asked the Court determine to whether the defendant, Governor Umahi, and his deputy, have not vacated their offices or deemed to have vacated their offices, having defected to the APC from the PDP.

The plaintiffs asked the Court to order INEC to swear them in, having come second in the 2019 governorship election.

But Justice Henry Njoku of the Ebonyi State High Court, in his ruling, dismissed the suit for lacking in merit and awarded five hundred thousand nairas against the plaintiffs.

Njoku ruled that having regard to section 188 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the defendants, Governor Umahi and Deputy, had not offended any provision of the Constitution or the Electoral Act in defecting to the APC.

The High Court further held that having regard to section 308 of the Constitution, it was even wrong to institute criminal or civil proceedings against the office of the Governor or Deputy Governor.

The plaintiffs, Mr. Suny Ogbuoji and his running mate, Justin Mbam Ogodo, were dissatisfied with the judgment and had on 7th March 2022, filed at the Enugu judicial division of the Appeal Court.

Delivering judgment on the appeal, on Friday, a three-man panel in their unanimous judgment, affirmed the ruling of the Abakaliki High Court, that Governor Umahi and his deputy did not offend any provision of the constitution or the Electoral Act in defecting to the APC from the PDP.

The judgment was read by Justice J O K Oyowole.

According to the honorable Justices, there is no consequence under the law against the defection of a holder of the office of the President, Vice President, Governor, or Deputy Governor, to another political party from the party that sponsored the election that brought him or her to office.

The Justices further held that the defection of a political office holder might appear immoral, but it was not the duty of the Court to embark on an investigation or probe into the provisions of the laws, warning that judicial activism must not be turned into judicial rascality.

The Appellate Court said there is no provision in sections 180, 188 or 189 of the 1999 constitution as amended, that empowers the Court to remove either a seating governor or the deputy, saying, the issue of defection of an office holder is not novel to Nigeria’s judicial jurisprudence

The Court dismissed the appeal and awarded two hundred thousand (#200,000) naira against the appellants.

The Counsel to the Defendants, Barrister Roy O. U Nweze, applauded the judgment, saying, “it will be a reference judgment all over the country”.

Barr. Nweze said the Appeal Court has substantially rendered nugatory, the Abuja Federal High Court judgment by Justice Inyang Ekwo, which sacked Governor Umahi and his deputy on March 8, 2022.

Counsel to the Appellants, Ogbonnaya Okorie, appreciated the industry of the court and disclosed that he would study the judgment and advice his clients on the way forward.

Reacting, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Barrister Uchenna Orji, said the judgment was a demonstration of the capacity of the appellant’s Court to protect the rule of law and the principles of separation of powers.

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