*NBA slams Umahi, describes response to court order as executive rascality
*SANs divided over Umahi’s sack by high court
By Innocent Anaba & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Embattled governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, and his deputy, Dr. Eric Igwe, have approached the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgement that sacked them from their respective offices over defection from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
This came as the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, yesterday lashed out at the governor over his outburst against the judge that gave the judgment, Justice Inyang Ekwo, describing it as “executive rascality.”
It would be recalled that Umahi had, in the aftermath of the judgement on Tuesday, accused the judge of doing a “hatchet job” in his ruling.
This is even as Ebonyi State government, yesterday, described the verdict against the governor and his deputy as an attempt to heat up the polity in the state.
Governor Umahi and his deputy, through their team of lawyers, led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Chukwuma Ume, in their eight grounds of appeal, maintained that Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja, erred in law in his judgement and caused a grave miscarriage of justice against them.
They argued that the trial court, in ordering them to vacate their offices, based on the suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/920/2021, attempted to overrule a subsisting decision of the Supreme Court in AG Federation v. Atiku Abubakar & 3 ORS (2007) LCN/3799 (SC).
They contended that the apex court had in its decision, held that no constitutional provision prohibited a sitting president or vice president, and invariably, governor or deputy governor, from defecting to another political party.
They maintained that the trial high court judge erred, when he held thus: “I have not seen any authority which propounds that where a governor or deputy governor defects his political party on which platform he was elected into office, he cannot be sued by that political party to reclaim its mandate… Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution did not envisage such a situation.”
They argued that the trial court ought to have dismissed the case of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in view of the clear provision of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“The provisions of Section 308 are specific, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution, but subject to subsection (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.
“There is no provision of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that provides for the removal of 3rd and 4th appellants as sitting governor and deputy governor respectively of Ebonyi State for reason of defection.”
NBA slams Umahi, describes response to court order as executive rascality
Reacting to the governor’s outburst against the trial judge, yesterday, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, called on him to immediately render an apology for his attack on Justice Inyang Ekwo, describing the outburst as executive rascality.
NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata, while reacting in a statement, said: “The NBA has noted with utter dismay, the unfortunate and totally unacceptable reaction of Dave Umahi to the judgement of the Federal High Court, Abuja, delivered on March 8, 2022, by Justice Inyang Ekwo, which, inter-alia, ordered him and Mr. Eric Igwe to vacate the offices of governor and deputy governor, respectively, of Ebonyi State on grounds of their defection from Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The statement read: “Following the judgment, Umahi, in the course of a press conference —video evidence of which is currently making the rounds on both new and mainstream media — threw caution to the wind and deployed very uncomplimentary adjectives and intemperate language in characterising both the judgement and Justice Ekwo, including but not limited to describing the judgment as ‘jungle justice’ and His Lordship as ‘a hatchet man.’
“As if these were not enough, Umahi accused the court of ‘murdering justice’ and also arrogated to himself the judicial powers and magisterial authority to declare the judgement of a court of competent jurisdiction as null and void, while unashamedly declaring his intention to disregard the judgement in favour of another.
“To put it plainly, this is impunity of the highest order and executive rascality taken too far. While the NBA has absolutely no interest in the outcome of the case in question and will continue to stay away from partisan politics, it is inconceivable that this association that is charged with upholding the rule of law and defending the judiciary would sit idly by in the face of this unprovoked and totally unwarranted attack on the judiciary.
‘’It is for this reason that we condemn without equivocation, Umahi’s unfortunate diatribe which, if it had emanated from an average litigant, would still have been regarded as shocking but coming from one who occupies the exalted office of a state governor, is nothing short of a national embarrassment.
“In light of the foregoing, the NBA, hereby, demands an immediate apology from Umahi and a retraction of the comments he made against the person and Judgment of Justice Ekwo of the Federal High Court.
“It is also our demand that this apology and retraction be given as much media coverage as the press conference where the unfortunate comments were made.”
SANs divided over Umahi’s sack by high court
Meanwhile, some Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, remained divided, yesterday, over the sacking of the governor and his deputy by the court.
While some of them hailed the decision of Justice Inyang Ekwo, others maintained that the high court lacked the powers to order the governor and his deputy to vacate their respective offices.
In his reaction, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, said: “Based on the Supreme Court decision in Amaechi vs Celestine Omehia and PDP, the candidate who wins political office holds the office in trust for the party.
“The party is the only legally permissible entity under the constitution and the Electoral Act, who canvasses for votes. As a result, the political office to which a candidate runs, say for president or Senate etc, is to the benefit of the party exclusively.”
Prof. Epiphany Azinge, SAN, in his reaction, said: “There are many dimensions to the issue. First is, can an action be brought against a sitting governor regardless of the provision of Section 308 of the Constitution on immunity?
“The court answered in the affirmative and I respectfully agree. Second is, whether earlier decisions of the Supreme Court on the subject of defections as it affected the legislature can by parity of reasoning be stretched to the executive?
“Again, the court answered in the affirmative. I am not sufficiently persuaded. First is that the constitution is silent in that regard. But can the judiciary not engage in judicial lawmaking to fill the gap when there is obvious lacunae?
Adding his voice to the debate, Dayo Akinlaja, SAN, said: “The reality on ground is that the court that gave this judgment is a court of first instance.
“There is as such a window of opportunity for an aggrieved party to appeal against the judgement. Having regards to the all important nature of the matter, it is certain that there will be an appeal.
“My own attitude is that the Court of Appeal should be allowed to decide the matter in a way and manner considered proper by that appellate court.”
While disagreeing with the judgement, Jubrin Okutepa, SAN, said: “This judgment, on the superficial level, seems very attractive and well intentioned to instill political sanity in our otherwise reckless political terrains.
“But beyond this and also scoring political debates, is there jurisdiction in the Federal High Court to make the orders it made, in the light of, and upon a dispassionate construction and interpretation of Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended)? I do not think so.”
“There is no power and jurisdiction in the Federal High Court to determine and declare that by constitutional misconduct of defecting to another political party other that the party upon which the governor and the deputy governor were elected, their seats had become vacant and to order the conduct of election to their offices.”
Similarly, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said: “I am of the firm belief that the judgement, shredded of all legal and factual details, cannot stand the acid test of constitutionalism, nor pass the furnace of appellate courts scrutiny. This is because the tenure of office of a governor and his deputy are constitutional matters.
“Perhaps, the jurist’s learned attention was not drawn to appellate decisions on this type of matter, which under the doctrine of stare decisis and judicial precedent, he ought to have followed meticulously.
“I humbly submit that a governor already sworn in cannot be removed by the Federal High Court through an originating summons. It will surely be set aside on appeal. Mark my words.”