March 23, 2023

 By Don-Greg E

It all came as a rude shock to many when a Fed. High Court Judgement found the Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, guilty of political impunity and sacked him and his Deputy, Dr. Kelechi Igwe from their offices. Their sin was obvious, they had taken the electorate, their party, PDP all for granted when they defected to the ruling APC. The affront was that the same party, APC the voters had rejected at the polls in favor of another, PDP, is now the happy inheritor of the people’s mandate. 

It was possible that Umahi had nursed even before the 2019 election the ambition to cross over to the APC, but equally knew that the APC vehicle would not carry him across as governor. So, he tarried in the PDP and used it to achieve that desire and then felt he had nothing to lose thereafter by crossing to the APC.

Morally, this is reprehensible, but the governor never gave heed to the moral aspect of his action. He had read the Constitution of the Fed. Republic and was fulfilled that the only conditions that would warrant his losing his seat as a governor were death, impeachment, or resignation like Shakespeare’s Macbeth to whom the witches had prophesied that none bone of a woman could bring to harm. The letter of the Constitution had prophesied to the Governor that cross-carpeting with a party’s mandate tied around his neck would not bring him to ruin. But he never consulted with the spirit of the same Constitution.

Not so fast, Hon. Justice Ekwo of the Fed High Court has declared. In the governor’s reaction to the ruling, apart from the outpour of invectives and inciting of his party against the learned Justice, he acknowledged that he knew that defecting while in the office is a capital political offense but the Constitution that granted governors immunity shielded them from the punishment due to the offense.

Now I dare ask, since the governor knows that only governors and their deputies at the state level have the licenses to defect why did he encourage the members of the State House of Assembly to join him, knowing that when the rat joins the lizard under the rain, the lizard will go scot-free while the cat gets drenched? The Gov had intimidated the members of the House many of whom believed otherwise to undertake this perfidious journey and the very few who resisted were daily living under the threat of losing their seats. Even now, the governor thinks he can get a favorable judgment at the appellant court or supreme court but spares no thought for the fate that awaits members of HoA whom he forced to join the bandwagon.

The PDP did the right thing by approaching the court to query why the Ebonyi Chief Executive, his Deputy, and 17 out of a 24-member House should hibernate to a rival party without, first, dropping the mandate gotten via the party?

The Hon. Justice Inyang Ekwo has set new judicial precedence and it is to the fact that the spirit of the Constitution is higher than its letters. That politics without morality is an invitation back to the state of nature, the state of anarchy. Again, the judgment of the Court is to the effect that though a political party is a vehicle, the winner of an election cannot divorce his mandate to an office from the party. This is very clear as even the certificate of return issued by INEC to governors for instance in the case of the governor of Ebonyi State reads “David Nweze Umahi of PDP.” Here the governor represents the party as a part represents the whole. Can any governor decamp from one party to another and then approach INEC for issuance of a new CoR that will now indicate her new party? The extent that issuance of a new CoR is not possible is to the extent the first one is irrevocable. 

If to defect in this manner is an offense for legislators who by law are bound to lose their mandates why will the same not apply to those on the executive divide when the offense is the same? 

On the part of the members of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, one would ask as follows: does it mean that even as lawmakers they didn’t know the implication of defecting to another party which is a constitutional matter, or they preferred to obey the governor than the Constitution?

The truth of the entire story is that governors in Nigeria have held our practice of democracy at the jugular. They are laws onto themselves. They manipulate everybody and the Constitution. The executive arm of governance in Nigeria thinks and acts as if the legislature and the judiciary is there to do its bidding. This is why a governor in Nigeria cannot understand why a judge can oppose his will. When a judge gives a contrary ruling to the one expected by a governor, the governor in question not only thinks another governor or a higher person in the executive has manipulated the judge and they make the people believe such, organizing the impoverished masses into protest but will also publicly pronounce that he will not obey the ruling. The thinking that no judge can act freely without the ordering of the executive only means that democracy and the rule of law have not taken roots in Nigeria. 

This judgment may not be welcomed by those affected by it, but it marks a watershed in our nascent democracy. Already unverified news is making the rounds that 5 among the members of the Cross-River State who left PDP with their governor to the APC have returned as prodigal sons back to the PDP. The warning has been sounded and it is no longer time to throw caution to the wind.

 It’s high time those who occupy public positions understand that they are not higher than the law; that they are accountable for their actions and inactions and that they as individuals are not to be feared or obeyed more than institutions in this country.

There may be no judicial precedence to this judgment but that does not vitiate the judgment as it sets a new road map for intercourse between our fledgling democracy and politicians. It speaks to the fact that the game of politics has rules and should be played according to the rules. There is a need for politicians as leaders to be men/women of honor and character, not rascals and that is what the verdict of the Justice Ekwo court has demonstrated. What motivates politicians who are still serving in one public office to jump from one party to another is the over-vaulting personal ambition to ascend from one political office to another. They are wrongly pre-occupied with thoughts about the next election instead of becoming statesmen who are pre-occupied with thoughts about the next generation. Nigeria is at the moment facing the brinks due to the overbearing weight of the political class and there is a need to call the actors to order and that is the position of this judicial pronouncement.

Whether this judgment stands appellant scrutiny or not, Hon. Justice Ekwo has played his part in healing our insane democracy. There lies the import of this verdict.

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