Defection: Court Dismisses Suit Seeking Governor Ayade’s Sack

Defection: Court Dismisses Suit Seeking Governor Ayade’s Sack

The federal high court in Abuja on Thursday dismissed a suit seeking to sack Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State.

Justice Taiwo held that the removal of a sitting governor and his deputy can only be done in line with constitutional provisions.

Citing the Enugu court of appeal judgement, Justice Taiwo held that with the constitutional provisions, the judiciary lacks the power to remove an elected officer.

“The 3rd and 4th Defendant cannot be removed except by Constitutional provision. This court has no power to declare vacant the seat of the 3rd and 4th Defendants,” Justice Ekwo held.

Back story

  • In May 2021, Mr Ayade had officially announced his defection from PDP, the political party which brought him to power in 2015.
  • In a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/975/2021, PDP had instituted the matter against Mr Ayade seeking an order sacking the governor and his deputy over their defection.
  • On March 21, Justice Taiwo had ordered 18 lawmakers from the Cross River State’s House of Assembly and two House of Representatives members to vacate their seats over their defection to APC.
  • At the last adjourned date which was yesterday, Justice Taiwo rescheduled the judgement for today to enable him to consider the implication of an Enugu court of Appeal judgement that recently ruled on a defection.
  • The appellate court held that defection does not constitute any known offence but constitutional rights of freedom of association as enshrined under section 40 of the 1999 Constitution.

What happened in court

Mr Ayade’s Counsel, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, brought the attention of the judge to the recent judgement by the appellate court through an application.

He prayed the court to abide by the decision of the court of appeal regarding defection and dismiss the suit.

Ozekhome submitted that the court of appeal held that votes casted in any election belong to individuals and not political parties.

Ozekhome argued that sections 180, 188 and 189 of the 1999 Constitution can only be invoked by the court to remove an elected governor only where such governor resigns, dies or is impeached by a State House of Assembly.

“My Lord, I humbly urge you to bow and respect the latest Court of Appeal judgment as a judicial precedent to resolve the instant case in favour of governor Ayade and his deputy.

“Supreme Court has in a plethora of authorities said that a lower court not applying judicial precedent of a higher court is nothing but judicial rascality that can lead to anarchy and I urge Your Lordship not to fall into that category.” Mr Ozekhome said.

In response, Counsel to PDP, Emmanuel Ukala SAN contended that the facts of the case which led to the Court of Appeal’s new judgment are fundamentally different from this very one.

Mr Ukala told the court that the decision of the appellate court was based on a suit by APC against APC whereas this suit is PDP against APC.

Mr Ukala prayed the court to hold that defection constitutes an offence as it is tantamount to abdication of duties as a party with minority votes should not be allowed to rule over the party with majority votes.

He averred that PDP was not a party in the Court of Appeal decision and the new judgment is not binding on it.

He said, “The core issues we are asking this court to interpret were absent in that case of the Appeal Court.”

“My Lord, a defection constitutes a vacation of office by the governor and his deputy. This decision cannot stand as a judicial precedent in deciding this matter.

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