From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Abuja division of the Federal High Court has fixed March 8 and 14 to deliver judgments in the multiple suits filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seeking the removal of Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, and his deputy, Kelechi Igwe, from office on account of their defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Justice Inyang Ekwo fixed the dates after counsel in the suits marked FHC/ABJ/CS/ 920/21 and FHC/ABJ/CS/ 1041/21 had adopted their briefs of arguments.
In an originating summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/920/2021, PDP urged the court to make a declaration that by defecting from the party on which they were sponsored and elected to a political party that did not win the election, they have resigned or deemed to have resigned from office.
The crux of the plaintiff’s case is that the defendants purportedly defected and relinquished their PDP membership on which platform they contested and won the governorship election, and, by so doing, are deemed to have lost the majority votes scored at the election and consequently should be ordered by the court to vacate their respective offices as governor and deputy governor of Ebonyi State.
Other defendants in the suit are the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the APC.
However, Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former attorney general of Imo State, who is counsel to Governor Umahi and his deputy, urged the court to decline jurisdiction and transfer the case to Ebonyi State. He particularly drew the attention of the court to the fact that Nigeria is a federation with 36 states, including Ebonyi State.
Ume argued that since Governor Umahi was sworn in by the chief judge of Ebonyi State and not by the chief judge of the Federal High Court, his removal from office can only be pursued through the state House of Assembly and the state High Court.
Meanwhile, Umahi and Igwe have approached the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal for the interpretation of some constitutional issues arising from the suit filed by PDP challenging their defection. The applicants in their motion requested the appellate court to restore the powers of state high courts as the only courts vested with the exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine the question as to whether the term of office of a member of the House of Assembly of a state, a governor or deputy governor has ceased or become vacant.
Counsel to the applicants consequently filed a motion seeking the declaration by the court that Section 272 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, which vested such powers on the Federal High Court as a scrivener’s error.
The motion, which was brought pursuant to Sections 295 (2); 272(3); 6(2) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 20 and 29 of the Interpretation Act, has requested the order of the Federal High Court for an order referring some constitutional questions to the Court of Appeal for its opinion.
The affected constitutional provisions are sections 2; 4(6); 5 (2); 6 (1) & (2); 6(5) (a) -(e); 186; Chapter VII; Chapter VII Part II; sections 270 (1) and 272 (1); (2) and(3).
The applicants request the opinion of the Court of Appeal as to “Whether by the community reading of the above provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) more particularly by the express provisions in sections 232(1) 239(1) (a) – (c) and 251(4) each vesting original jurisdiction on the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Court on matters on the exclusive legislative list and federal political office holders, the phrase Federal High Court as found in Section 272 (3) (aka Section 28, Act No 1 of 2010) is not a mere or should not be read scrivener’s error or devil’s printer?
“Whether the Court should not order the phrase Federal High Court as found in Section 272 (3) (aka section 28, Act No 1 of 2010) to be read and understood as state High Court which rightly conforms with the spirit of the federal system of government as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) vesting exclusive original jurisdiction on the High Court of the states of the federation to “hear and determine the question as to whether the term of office of a member of the House of Assembly of a state, a governor or deputy governor has ceased or become vacant?
Before the trial court, the applicants had filed a notice of preliminary objection challenging the suit by the PDP, wherein, they argued hat Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution has provided immunity to them from the plaintiff’s suit and that votes cast during the said elections are by the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) an recent Supreme Court pronouncements belong to them and recent Supreme Court pronouncement belongs to them and not the plaintiff/respondent.
Furthermore, they contested that being Ebonyi State governor and deputy governor sworn into offices by the chief judge of Ebonyi State they cannot be liable to be removed from their offices by a Federal High Court.