Human rights lawyer Femi Falana says the sacking of Governor David Umahi, and Deputy Governor Eric Igwe is valid and incontestable because election votes belong to political parties and not the candidates running for office.
Mr Falana agreed with Justice Iyang Ekwo who held that votes garnered in 2019 gubernatorial elections on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Part (PDP) could not be legally transferred to the All Progressives Congress (APC) thus ordering the PDP to present another candidate or that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) alternatively conduct a fresh poll within 90 days
The judgment also automated the sack of the speaker of the Ebonyi House of Assembly and 15 other lawmakers who defected to APC from the PDP.
“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,” Mr Falana argued.
He further stressed that the certificates of return issued to Messrs Umahi and Igwe carried the emblem of the PDP and neither INEC nor the high court had amended them.
“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,” the lawyer explained. “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, Prof. 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.”
He also countered the argument that Mr Umahi’s defection is an exercise of his freedom of association.
“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,” Mr Falana pointed out. “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?”
According to Mr Falana, in making a mockery of the democratic rights of the people of Ebonyi, the critics of the judgment of the court failed to “advert their minds to the undeniable fact that the majority of the voters actually exercised their franchise in favour of the PDP.”
“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. 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,” Mr Falana stated.
Continuing, he said, “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 four-year mandate freely given to him on the platform of the PDP during the 2019 general election.”
He added, “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.”