Umahi backtracks on comments against judge, files eight grounds of appeal against sack by cour
Apparently fearing a backlash from his unsavoury comments against Federal High Court judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, that booted him, his deputy, Mr. Kelechi Igwe, and 16 other state lawmakers from their seats for defecting the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Ebonyi State Governor, Engineer Dave Umahi, has eaten his words and no longer blames the judge he verbally assaulted 24 hours earlier.
He spoke in Ebonyi just as details of his eight grounds of appeal at the Court of Appeal emerged.
At a solidarity rally at Udensi Roundabout in the state capital on Wednesday, while addressing thousands APC members, he boasted that he has mobilised over seventeen (17) SANs to appeal the High Court judgement that sacked him and others.
He declared that he had no regrets in defecting to the ruling APC and threatened to engage in battle with the opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Ebonyi State, especially for trying to distract his administration.
“I’m still the Governor of Ebonyi State and I’m still working. I said the lawyers of PDP are the ones doing forum-shopping and I’m going to write against the lawyers to NBA to discipline them because the judge was misled. The blame was not on the judge. The blame is on the PDP lawyers who misled the judge.
“And I’m using the opportunity to let Nigerians know that nobody castigated the judge and we will not and because the matter was not before any judge.
“Today, we have appealed the judgement. We have done three things; we have done the appeal at Enugu, and when I say that, we have two judgements, I say that the judgement in Ebonyi state, which has equal powers with that of Abuja. We said we will obey the judgement in Ebonyi State. We will appeal the judgement of Abuja. We didn’t say we will disobey otherwise we would have not appealed.
“We are before the Appeal of Enugu state and that of Abuja. We have also filed a stay of execution. So, we are still the Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State” he stated.
Everyday.ng reports that on Tuesday, Umahi had castigated Justice Ekwo describing him as a hatchet man, adding, “Ekwo was charged and needed to discharge.”
At a press conference in Abakaliki, after his sack, on Tuesday, he alleged that Justice Ekwo was on a mission to embarrass the APC and the Federal Government, saying, “I feel sorry for the Nigerian judiciary.”
Governor Umahi, who described the judgement as a ‘sham’, accused the Presiding Judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo of doing a hatchet job.
“Nobody can remove me as the governor of the state as we know where the judgement came from.
“Justice Ekwo has more than 10 cases against the state government and we will see where this leads him,”.
“We have petitioned Ekwo before the National Judicial Council (NJC) as his continued stay on the bench is disaster for the country.
“People should not panic as I, the governor, is not distracted at all,” he said.
“The constitution stipulates that the only way a governor can be removed from office is through death, resignation or impeachment by the state House of Assembly.
“There is no constitutional provision that empowers a hatchet man to turn the constitution or law of the land on its head.
“The Supreme Court’s recent judgement on Zamfara among others attests to this fact as I remain the governor of the state.
“I have listened to the judgement of Inyang Ekwo and it’s very obvious that he was on a mission. He was making all efforts to upturn the rulings of the appeal and supreme courts, on issues like this.
“We heard the rumours before now that he was determined to give judgement against all known laws and the constitution, first to embarrass the APC, and to equally embarrass the Federal Government.
“We have petitioned the NJC (National Judicial Commission) and we will follow it up to the end to ensure that this man (Ekwo) is brought to justice. I want you to disregard the judgement, because it’s null and void.”
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in a statement, swiftly condemned the governor’s comments describing it as impunity taken too far and executive rascality.
The association demanded that he apologises for the comments against the judge and the judiciary.
The NBA 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 Judgment and Hon. 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, Engr. Umahi accused the Court of “murdering justice” and also arrogated to himself the judicial powers and magisterial authority to declare the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction as null and void while unashamedly declaring his intention to disregard the Judgment 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. Indeed, the leadership of the NBA has been inundated with calls from a cross-section of well-meaning Nigerians who are understandably outraged by the utterances of Engr. Dave Umahi and who have rightly demanded that appropriate action be taken to protect the sanctity of the Judiciary.
“It is for this reason that we condemn without equivocation, Engr. 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 the wake of the Judgment, one would have expected Engr. Umahi to sue for calm from his supporters and to assure them that all legal and constitutional avenues would be explored to challenge the judgment. For H.E. Engr. Umahi to instead resort to attacking and denigrating the high office of a Judge in this unprecedented manner is disgraceful, undemocratic and completely unacceptable.
“As Kayode Eso, JSC of blessed memory famously noted, “the essence of the rule of law is that it should never operate under the rule of force or fear.” We view Engr. Umahi’s reaction to this Judgment as being consistent with the current penchant, on the part of those in the executive arm of government, for intimidating the Judiciary whilst taking advantage of the historical reluctance of that arm of government to rise to its own defence.
“In light of the foregoing, the NBA hereby demands an immediate apology from H.E. Engr. Dave Umahi and a retraction of the comments he made against the person and Judgment of the Hon. Justice Inyang 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.”
Meanwhile, the governor and his deputy, Dr. Igwe, have appealed the High Court ruling, which ordered their sack from office.
The duo according to the notice of appeal in suit no:FHC/ABJ/CS/920/2021,
filed at the Abuja Judicial Division of the Appellate Court, disagreed with the entire judgement of the lower court which ordered their sack for defecting to the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
They listed eight grounds of appeal against the lower court’s judgment.
Messrs Umahi and Igwe, in ground one, argued that the lower court erred in law and misdirected itself when it held that “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 Honourable trial court was virtually setting aside the Supreme court of Nigeria’s decision in AG Federation v. Atiku Abubakar & 3 ORS (2007) LCN/3799(SC), to the effect that there is no constitutional provisions prohibiting President or Vice and invariably the Governor and or deputy Governor from defecting to another Political Party.
“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”, they argued.
The appellants also averred that the trial court erred in law and misdirected itself when it relied on Sections 68 and 109 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) in holding that the Appellants having defected from the PDP to the APC offended the provisions of the Constitution and must vacate their offices as Governor and Deputy Governor respectively.
While Section 68 deals with grounds for vacation of seats by National Assembly lawmakers (Senate and House of Representatives), Section 109 lists grounds for vacation of seats of State Lawmakers.
The appellants thus argued that ‘there is no specific mention of Governor and deputy Governor in the provisions of Section 68 and 109 respectively of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“By relying on Sections 68 and 109 of the Constitution the Hon. trial court assumed the role of the legislator and arrogated to itself the powers of amendment of the Constitution”
They further submitted that there was no provision in the 1999 Constitution, (as amended), which states that Governor or deputy Governor will vacate his office, if he defects from his political party to another political party.
The appellants in Ground 3 argued that the lower court erred in law and overruled the decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria when it held that ownership of votes cast during the Governorship Election of 2019 belongs to the 1st Respondent and ….
“The Hon trial court relied on AMAECHI v. INEC and FALEKE v. INEC when same are no longer the law on the ownership of votes cast in an election. Ngige v. Akunyile (2012) 15 NWLR Pt.1323-343 (CA) the court held: “the above provisions show that a political party canvasses for votes on behalf of the candidate. In other words a political party is nothing more than agent of the candidate in gathering votes to an election”
“In INEC vs. Action Congress (2009) 2 NWLR Pt. 1126 – 524 (CA) the Court held: “…the participation of a political party does not exceed campaigning for the candidate….”, they argued.
On Ground Four, the appellants avvered that the lower court erred in law when it held that the Appellants are deemed to have resigned from their Offices as Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State upon their defection to another party
They argued that Section 180(1)( c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) never contemplated, implied resignation but resignation signed by the Appellants and tendered to the Speaker of the House of Assembly of Ebonyi State
“The trial court had no evidence before it of Appellants’ resigning from their Offices”, they further submitted
The governor and his deputy further argued that the lower court erred when it ruled that the duo are not covered by the immunity clause in the matter.
“the Hon trial court erred in law when it held that the provision of the Public Officers Protection Act cannot avail the Appellants”.
They argued that there is no constitutional breach committed by the Appellants as to deny the Appellants of the provisions of the Public Officers Protection Act
“The reliefs sought by the 1st Respondent are grounded on decisions taken by the Appellants while in their respective Offices as Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State”, they argued.
The appellants further submitted that the Hon trial court erred in law when it restrained the Appellants from carrying on the duties in their offices as Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State on the basis that the Appellants offended the provisions of Sections 177(c) and 221 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)
They argued that “Section 221 of the Constitution is not to the effect that votes cast during the Governorship election of March 9, 2019 belonged to the 1st Respondent but rather to the Appellants”.
“Section 177 of the Constitution is all about qualification for a candidate to the Governorship election and has anything to do with punishment for defection”, they argued
On Grounds Seven, the appellants argued that the trial Court erred in law when it ordered Appellants to vacate their respective offices as Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State.
They also averred that the court was wrong to order 1st Respondent (PDP) to submit to 2nd Respondent (INEC) names of its candidates to replace Appellants as Governors and Deputy Governors of Ebonyi State.
They argued that the law bars the court from declaring anybody who did not take part in all stages of the election as winner of the said election.
“Section. 141 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) states that: An election tribunal or court shall not under any circumstance declare any person a winner at an election in which such a person has not fully participated in all the stages of the said election.”
“Section. 285(13) of the Constitution, restated: An election tribunal or court shall not declare any person a winner at an election in which such a person has not fully participated in all stages of the elections.”, they quoted.
The appellants further argued that the trial court erred in law when it not only refused to be persuaded by but rather overruled the decisions of an Ebonyi state high court and a Federal High Court Gusau, Zamfara State on similar matters.
The apellants prayed the court to set aside the judgement of the High Court delivered by the Hon Justice Inyang Ekwo on 8th March 2022 and all orders made therein by the Hon. trial court