The Nigerian Bar Association on Wednesday lambasted the Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, for attacking Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court who sacked him and his deputy, Kelechi Igwe, on Tuesday.
Justice Ekwo had, in a judgment on Tuesday, restrained Umahi and Igwe from parading themselves as governor and deputy governor of the state on the grounds that they contested the 2019 governorship poll on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party.
He said by defecting to the APC, they could not transfer the votes in the governorship poll to the PDP.
Among other allegations, the governor had alleged that the judgment by Ekwo was bought.
While criticising the adjectives used on the judge, the NBA said Umahi’s outburst amounted to impunity and executive rascality taken too far.
The association which stated this in a statement by its President, Olumide Akpata, demanded an apology and retraction from the governor.
The NBA said, “We noted with utter dismay, the unfortunate and totally unacceptable reaction of Dave Umahi to the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja delivered on March 8, 2022 by Honourable Justice Inyang Ekwo which inter-alia ordered him and H.E. Mr. Eric Kelechi Igwe to vacate the offices of Governor and Deputy Governor, respectively, of Ebonyi State on grounds of their defection from the PDP to the APC.
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 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 Dave Umahi and who have rightly demanded that appropriate action be taken to protect the sanctity of the judiciary.”
The NBA demanded an apology from 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.”
Umahi engages 18 SANs, says I will never insult judiciary
Umahi, on Wednesday, said he had engaged the services of no fewer than 18 SANs.
The governor also denied attacking the judiciary, pointing out that the lawyers of the PDP did the ‘hatchet job’, and not Justice Ekwo.
Umahi stated this, in Abakaliki, during a solidarity rally in his support, on Wednesday.
“There is no need to entertain any fear. Go about your business very peacefully and let me assure the NBA Chairman that he is a perfect gentleman and that we will never insult the judiciary, we have confidence in the judiciary and I know they will do the right thing and we have engaged eight SANs to proceed to Abuja, we have engaged 10 SANs to produce to Enugu,” Umahi stated.
Meanwhile Umahi and Igwe, have appealed the judgment of the Federal High Court.
In the notice of appeal dated March 9, and filed by Chukwuma Machukwu Ume (SAN), at the Court of Appeal Abuja, the appellants asked the court to set aside the judgment.
The appeal was predicated on 11 grounds.
The 16 All Progressives Congress members of the state House of Assembly who were also sacked on Tuesday by a judgment of the FHC Abuja presided over Justice Inyang Ekwo, also asked the appellate court to set aside the judgment.
In the first ground of their appeal, Umahi and Igwe contended that Ekwo erred in law and misdirected himself when he 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.”
The appellants submitted that the trial court set aside the Supreme Court’s decision in “AG Federation v. Atiku Abubakar & 3 ORS (2007) LCN/3799(SC) to the effect that there is no constitutional provision prohibiting President or vice and invariably the governor and or deputy governor from defecting to another political party or meting out punishment for doing same.”
“The trial court was also virtually setting aside the decision of the Supreme Court in Global Excellence Communications Ltd v. Duke (2007) LPELR — 1323 to the effect that state governors and their deputies have immunity against being sued while in office”, the appellants argued.
The appellants maintained that there is no section of the 1999 constitution (as amended) that provides for their removal as governor and deputy governor respectively for reason of defection.
Among other grounds, the appellants argued that the lower court erred in law when it assumed jurisdiction on issue of defection of appellants when it had no jurisdiction over same.
The error, according to Umahi and Igwe, was that the trial court’s interpretation of what amounts to the Federal High Court having the powers of State High Court under the constitution was wrong.
The appellants argued that they were state officers and not federal officers.
The appellants also faulted Justice Ekwo for relying on Sections 68 and 109 of the Constitution in holding that having defected from the PDP to the APC, they have offended the provisions of the Constitution and must vacate their offices.
Judgment to curb cross carpeting among politicians- SANs
Some Senior Advocates of Nigeria said the judgement would prevent cross carpeting among Nigerian politicians who had always sought defections from parties which got them elected to power.
In an interview with one of our correspondents, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said the constitution empowered judges to make proclamations, adding that any dissatisfied person could approach an appeal court.
Another Senior Advocate, Chief Yomi Aliyu, said, “The judgment will indeed curb the high rate of cross carpeting among politicians in the country. The judgment has been appealed and definitely, the appeal judge will take a position. However, it speaks a lot of volume.”
On his part, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said the judgment cannot stand the text of time.
“I am of the firm belief that the judgment, shredded of all legal and factual details, cannot stand the acid test of constitutionalism, nor pass the furnace of appellate courts scrutiny.
“This is because the tenure of office of a governor and his deputy are constitutional matters,” he said.