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Appeal Court dismisses suit against Umahi, deputy

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The Court of Appeal Enugu Division, on Friday, affirmed the judgement of Ebonyi 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.

Governor Umahi and his Deputy had on November 2020 left the PDP, a platform on which they were elected, to the APC, citing injustice by the PDP against the South East zone.

But the court in a unanimous judgement delivered by Justice A. O Belgore, held that Governor Umahi and his deputy had the right to move to any political party they so wished, adding that there was nowhere in the constitution, the supreme law of the land, that barred a sitting governor from defecting to any political party.

Other members of the three-man panel of Justices are Justice J.O.K Oyewole and Justice S.N Gbagi.

Recall that the governorship flag bearers of the APC in 2019 in Ebonyi State, Senator Suny Ogbuoji and his running mate, Mr Justin Mbam Ogodo, had through originating summons filed a suit at the state High Court asking it to hold that the defendant, David Umahi, having defected to the APC from the PDP, ought to vacate the office, so that they would be sworn-in, having come second in the election.

But Justice Henry Njoku of the Ebonyi State High Court dismissed the suit for lacking in merit.

Njoku ruled that, having regard to section 188 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the defendants, Governor Umahi and his 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.

Dissatisfied with the judgement, the plaintiffs, Mr Suny Ogbuoji and his running mate, Justin Mbam Ogodo, on March 7, 2022, filed an appeal against the judgement, at the Enugu judicial division of the Appeal Court.

But the Appeal Court, in affirming the ruling of the Abakaliki High Court, said that Governor Umahi and his deputy did not offend any provision of the Constitution or the Electoral Act, as there was no consequence under the law against the defection of the 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.

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

The Appellate Court further held that there was no provision in sections 180, 188 or 189 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, that empowered the Court to remove either a sitting governor or the deputy.

According to the learned Justices, “defection of an office holder is not novel to Nigeria’s judicial jurisprudence.”

While dismissing the appeal, the court awarded the sum of N200,000 against the appellants.

Reacting to the judgement, Counsel for the defendants, Roy O. U Nweze, applauded the judgement, saying, it would be a reference point across the country.

Also, the appellants’ Counsel, Ogbonnaya Okorie, thanked the Justices in delivering the judgement, adding that he would study the judgement and advice his clients properly.

Also, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Uchenna Orji, said the judgement was a demonstration of the capacity of the Appellate Court to protect the rule of law as well as the principles of separation of powers.

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