Defection : Umahi, Igwe Wins as Appeal Court upholds move to APC

By Chinwe Imo-Eze Onwosi

Appeal Court sitting in Enugu, 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 they were elected to the APC, citing injustice by the PDP against the South-East zone.

The suit which was filed by Senator Sonnie 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 to hold that the defendant, Governor 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 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 7th March 2022, filed an appeal against the judgement, at Enugu judicial division of the Appeal Court

But the Appeal Court on Friday affirmed the ruling of the Abakaliki High Court, saying, Governor Umahi and his deputy did not offend any provision of the constitution or the Electoral Act, as there is 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.

The Appellate Court in a unanimous judgement delivered by a three-man panel led by Justice J O K Oyowole held that the defection of a political office holder may 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 further held that 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

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

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

Reacting to the judgement, Counsel to the Defendants, Barrister Roy O. U Nweze, applauded the judgement, saying, it will be a reference point all over the country.

Also, the Appellant’s Counsel, Ogbonnaya Okorie appreciated the industry of the court in delivering the judgement, adding that he would study the judgement and advice his clients

Also, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Barrister 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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