Popular human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) has thrown his weight behind the court decision to sack David Umahi as the Governor of Ebonyi State.
According to Falana, the votes of the people were not for Umahi as a person but were for the party he represented during the governorship elections in 2019.
He argued further that it was the name and logo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that appeared on the ballot papers and not that of Umahi or his deputy.
The lawyer added that after the election victory, the certificate of return issued by INEC reads David Umahi of the PDP and not of the APC, further buttressing his position that the votes are for PDP as a party and not Umahi as an individual.
Falana made the submissions on Tuesday while reacting to a March 8 Abuja federal high court order presided over by Justice Inyang Ekwo which sacked David Umahi, governor of Ebonyi, and Eric Igwe, his deputy, over their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The judge in his ruling held that the votes from the 2019 polls were for the PDP and could not be transferred to the All Progressives Congress (APC) upon the defection by Umahi and his deputy.
Justice Ekwo, therefore, ordered the PDP to present candidates to take over from Umahi and Igwe as the Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi state respectively or for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh poll within 90 days.
Stating his position on the matter, Falana in an article on Tuesday said “Those who have placed uncritical reliance on Atiku’s case have failed to appreciate that the validity of the votes scored by the PDP in the presidential election did not arise for determination.”
“To that extent, the case cannot be a justification for the subversion of the democratic rights of voters by political defectors.
“Whereas in the 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi State, the PDP garnered 393,343 votes across the 13 local governments areas of the state, its closest challenger, the APC, got 81,703 votes.
After the PDP had emerged the winner of the election, the certificate of return was issued in the name of its flagbearer by the INEC Chairman, Professor Yakubu Mahmood, who stated that ‘I hereby certify that Nweze David Umahi of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been elected to the office of Governor of Ebonyi State…’
“Even though Governor Umahi has decamped from the PDP to APC, neither the INEC nor the high court of Ebonyi state has amended the certificate of return to read ‘Nweze David Umahi of the All Progressives Congress.’
“It is interesting to note that some lawyers have maintained that Governor Umahi has exercised his freedom of association by decamping from PDP to APC.
“While the governor’s freedom of association is constitutionally protected, he cannot be permitted to infringe on the democratic rights of the 393,343 citizens who voted for him as the governorship candidate of the PDP.
“Or are we to believe that the votes scored by the PDP have been merged with those of the APC since the PDP candidate decamped to APC?
“Curiously, in making a mockery of the democratic rights of the people of Ebonyi State, the critics of the judgment of Justice Egwu have failed to advert their minds to the undeniable fact that the majority of the voters actually exercised their franchise in favour of the PDP. After all, the names of the candidate David Umahi and his deputy were not on the ballot papers.”
Falana also went ahead to make reference to the Supreme Court judgment of 2019 to argue his position that elections are won by political parties and not candidates.
In his view, without a political party, a candidate can’t contest.
He said: “In the leading judgment of the Supreme Court in All Progressives Congress v. Marafa, LOR (24/05/2019) SC, Justice Paul Adamu Galinji declared that all the votes cast for the APC were ‘wasted votes’ on the grounds that the party failed to conduct a proper primary,” Falana said.
“The court added that all political parties with the second highest votes in the elections and the required spread, are elected to the various elections.
“In the instant case, the votes credited to the PDP in the 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi State cannot be said to have been wasted based on the decision of Governor Umahi to decamp to the ruling party.
“Since the said votes are not wasted, it is inconceivable that they have been legally transferred from the PDP to the APC. Under no law in Nigeria can the exercise of the right of Governor Umahi to defect from the PDP to APC extinguish the 4-year mandate freely given to him on the platform of the PDP during the 2019 general election.
“We wish to submit, without any fear of contradiction, that elections are won by political parties and not by candidates.
“In Amaechi v. INEC & Ors (2008) LCN/3642 (SC), the Supreme Court held that ‘The above provision (i.e. section 221) effectually removes the possibility of independent candidacy in our elections; and places emphasis and responsibility in elections on political parties. Without a political party a candidate cannot contest’.”
Meanwhile, the Ebonyi State High Court has granted an interim order to Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State and his Deputy, Kelechi Igwe, stopping their removal from office.
The order was secured following the ex-parte motion filed by counsel to the duo, Roy Umahi, pursuant to rule 3(3) of the High Court rules of Ebonyi state in suit no HAB/13/22.
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