A constitutional crisis is brewing in Ebonyi State with a Federal High Court earlier Tuesday ordering the replacement of the Governor and his deputy, while the main beneficiary of the judgement, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) announce the replacements for the top seats in the face of defiance of the order by Governor David Umahi.
At a media briefing in Abakaliki, Umahi vowed that he remained the Governor and urged the people of the state to remain calm as he was sure of quashing the ruling at the Appeal Court.
Justice Inyang Ekwo’s ruling against Governor Umahi, and his Deputy, Dr Eric Kelechi Igwe was on the ground of their defection from the PDP to the All Progressive Congress (APC).
He held that the total number of 393,042 votes Umahi secured at the 9th March 2019 governorship election belonged to the PDP, hence they could not be legally transferred to the APC.
The court noted that both Umahi and Igwe’s defection to the APC, not only threw out the PDP, but also the votes that belonged to the party.
However, Umahi alleged that the judgment was purchased.
He said, ‘I am still the Governor of Ebonyi State and there is no tension at all. In the first place, there is no constitutional provision for any hatchet man to remove a Governor. There are three ways whereby a Governor can vacate his office: it’s either by death, resignation and impeachment.
‘There is no other constitutional provision that empowers a hatchet man to turn the Constitution upside down.
‘We have heard the rumours before now that he (Justice Ekwo) was determined to give judgment against all known laws and the Constitution, first to embarrass the APC, and to equally embarrass the Federal Government’.
The Governor, who described the judgment as jungle justice, said he has forwarded a petition against against Justice Ekwo to Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC).
He noted the court lacked the powers to remove him as Governor as he is covered by immunity clause which protects him from any form of litigation that is not pre-election and tribunal matter.
Umahi also noted that there are two other similar cases on defection of a Governor by an Ebonyi High Court and another in Zamfara State, which ruled in favour of the Governor.
He said: ‘I have listened to the judgement of Ekwo and it is 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.p⁰
‘For me, I do not feel worried but I feel so sorry for the judiciary. The executive may have problem, the legislature may have problem but the moment justice could be purchased, then we are in trouble in this country. And the ruling this afternoon is a clear evidence that this country is in trouble.
‘And let me tell you that this same judge has over 10 cases against the Ebonyi State Government with him and you can imagine what he is going to rule. We have petitioned him to NJC and we will follow it up to ensure that this man is brought to justice.
‘I want you to disregard the judgment; it is null and void. There is a subsisting judgment in Ebonyi and Zamfara States. So we have chosen the one to obey. We will not obey his ruling. We will obey the ruling of a competent court of coordinate jurisdiction that says you cannot sue a Governor.
‘The sections of the Constitution are very clear; no civil or criminal proceedings could be brought against a sitting Governor. This is not a pre-election matter, this is not a tribunal matter. So he has murdered justice in this country and he and his generation will be remembered for this jungle justice which has no leg to stand.
‘I am still the Governor of Ebonyi State and he has no powers to remove me’, Umahi said
The Governor also argued that the Judge lacked the powers to declare the seats of the House of Assembly members vacant.
He said previous judgments had made it clear that it is only the presiding officer of the House of Assembly or the National Assembly.
The PDP however said it had submitted the names of its nominees for Governor and Deputy Governor to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The party’s National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu said at a media briefing on Tuesday that the party nominated Iduma Igariwe and Fred Udogwu to replace Umahi and Igwe.
Elected on PDP’s platform in 2015 and reelected for a second term four years after, Governor Umahi jumped ship to the APC in November 2020. His deputy and many other elected officers in the state joined him in the mass exodus.