The Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, and his deputy, Kelechi Igwe, were fired by the Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday for defecting from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) (APC).
Messrs. Umahi and Igwe switched from the PDP, on whose platform they were elected to office in 2015 and 2019, to the APC in November of last year.
The 15 PDP legislators who were elected on the party’s ticket had also defected to the APC.
The PDP had sued Messrs Umahi and Igwe in one complaint, and the 15 lawmakers in another, with the APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also joining.
In his ruling on the two suits on Tuesday, the judge, Inyang Ekwo, ruled the governor’s and deputy governor’s seats, as well as the seats of the 15 MPs, vacant.
Mr. Ekwo has ordered the governor, his deputy, and the concerned legislators to quit their positions as soon as possible.
In order to replace Messrs Umahi and Igwe, Mr Ekwo directed INEC to solicit names of candidates from the PDP.
“In any Nigerian election, votes are cast for political parties, not candidates,” the judge said.
The judge agreed with the PDP that they had resigned or been deemed to have resigned from office by defecting from the party on which they were sponsored and elected.
The 15 lawmakers whose seats the court declared vacant include Odefa Odefa, Victor Uchukwu, Kingsley Ikoro, Benjamin Jununu, Nkemka Okoro, Anthony Nwegede, and Chinwe Nwachukwu.
The rest are Onu Nwonye, Friday Nwuhuo, Moses Odunwa, Chinedu Awo, Chinedu Onah, Chukwuma Igwe, Chukwu Lucas and Francis Nwifuru.
The judgement is in sharp contrast to last month’s decision of the Gusau Division of the Federal High Court ratifying the defection of Governor Bello Matawalle, who similarly dumped PDP, on whose platform he became governor, for the APC, last year.
The Tuesday’s verdict with the potential of causing a major political change in Ebonyi State is, however, not likely to take immediate effect, as parties to the suits, still have the opportunity to exhaust their rights of appeal up to the Supreme Court level.
Why APC can’t govern Ebonyi through Umahi, deputy – Court
Mr Ekwo, in his judgement, held that the governor and his deputy failed to adequately defend the substantive issues concerning their defection.
“It would be constitutionally wrong for a person who was not sponsored by one political party, to defect and become a member of another political party before the expiration of the period he was elected,” the judge held.
The court noted that the “constitution does not treat the issue of defection lightly,” referencing Section 221 of the 1999 constitution.
Mr Ekwo pointed out that “the constitution is put in jeopardy when the will of the electorate who voted for a political party can be brazenly merchandised by candidates without consequence.”
“The APC cannot rule Ebonyi State through the third and fourth defendants (Messrs Umahi and Igwe), because it lost the election that produced them.”
Mr. Ekwo went on to say that Mr. Umahi and his deputy could not claim ignorance of the “consequences of their defection.”
“They cannot retain the votes of the plaintiff (PDP) to remain in government because they have deserted to another party,” the court declared.
The court declared Messrs Umahi and Igwe’s continuing occupation of office unlawful, saying it is in “breach of the provisions of Section 179 (2) (a) and (b) of the 1999 constitution.”
INEC to receive fresh candidates list from PDP for swearing in
While ordering the governor and his deputy to vacate office, the court said: “The PDP is entitled to submit to INEC, the names of candidates to replace” Messrs Umahi and Igwe, “for the purposes of utilising the lawful votes cast in favour of the PDP” at the March 9, 2019 governorship poll.