The Federal High Court, Abuja on Wednesday picked March 8 and 14 to deliver verdicts in the multiple suits filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) pursuing the sack of Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi and his Deputy, Dr. Kelechi Igwe from office on account of their desertion from its fold 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 final arguments for and against the suit.
In an originating summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/920/2021, the PDP had principally urged the court to make a declaration that by defecting from the party on which they were sponsored and elected as Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State to the APC, a political party that did not win the election, they have resigned or are deemed to have resigned from office.
The crux of the plaintiff’s case is that the defendants defected and relinquished their membership of the PDP 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 All Progressive Congress (APC).
However, Chief 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
At the trial court, the two respondents had filed a notice of preliminary objection challenging the suit by the PDP, wherein, they argued vehemently that Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended 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) and recent Supreme Court pronouncements belong to them and not the plaintiff/respondent.
They also 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.
In addition, on November 23, 2021, they filed an interlocutory motion praying the Court that, “Considering the Federal System of Government adopted and inherent in the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and that 3rd & 4th Defendants/Applicants have been sworn into office by the Chief Judge of Ebonyi State as constitutionally provided.
That the benefit of a holistic reading of the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) the phrase Federal High Court as found in Section 272 (3) (aka section 28, Act No 1 of 2010) is a mere and should be taken as Scrivener’s Error.
The Applicants, therefore, prayed the Court to by virtue of Sections 20 & 29 of the Interpretation Act etc, purposively interpret and read the phrase Federal High Court as found in Section 272 (3) (aka section 28, Act No 1 of 2010) as State High Court.
Consequently, they prayed the court to transfer the Suit filed by Plaintiff/1st Respondent to the High Court of Ebonyi State for hearing and determination.
However, on December 23, 2021 Plaintiff/1st Respondent (PDP) fired back by filing a Counter Affidavit with Written Address wherein it placed an entirely different interpretation and meaning to the S. 272 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
The plaintiff vehemently submitted that the Federal High Court is stated in the S. 272(3) is in order and this Court has the jurisdiction to hear and determine its Suit.
Ume submitted that “our exhaustive research has shown that all through the history of the judicial adjudication in Nigeria, courts more particularly the Supreme Court of Nigeria have never been called upon and no Court has suo moto heard and determined if the Federal High Court as provided in S. 272 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is a Scrivener’s Error and so should be read as State High Court.