Nigeria 2023: Will the case of Ebonyi Governor Umahi boost or break APC’s chances?

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Wednesday, 23 March 2022 17:58

Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi (rights reserved)

Who rules Ebonyi State in Nigeria? Previously a bastion of the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP), the serving Governor David Umahi chose to defect to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In the short run it boosts the APC's 2023 chances... but some see trouble ahead.

Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is expected to give its judgement on the case concerning the sacking of the governor of Ebonyi state, David Umahi, his deputy Eric Igwe, as well as 15 members of the state’s house of assembly over defection to the ruling APC over a year ago.

The defection took place in 2020 and was quickly followed by a lawsuit by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the party the governor had just left. The PDP claims that by defecting from the very party that the governor and deputy ran under and won (the PDP), when they decided to defect to the APC, they effectively resigned from office.

The Federal High Court in Abuja has also agreed to the sacking of the politicians involved. Justice Inyang Ekwo has ordered INEC to receive the names of the replacements from the PDP, as Umahi cannot transfer the votes that got him into power under the PDP to the APC.

Legal eagles fight

INEC has not yet made a decision, saying it has been served with at least “nine separate orders and motions from various courts.”

As a result, Governor Umahi remains in office although the PDP has called for him to step aside.

Spokesman Debo Ologunagba said: “Messers Umahi and Igwe can no longer exercise the functions of the office of Governor and Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State pursuant to the Order of the Federal High Court which removed them from office on March 8, 2022.”

The PDP submitted the names Iduma Igariwey, a member of the House of Representatives, and Fred Udogwu as replacements for Umahi and Igwe respectively.

Umahi appealed for a stay of execution, but the application was refused by the Federal High Court.

Inconsistent justice?

The case has divided legal circles.

“The constitution is put in jeopardy when the will of the electorate who voted for a political party can be brazenly merchandised by candidates without consequence,” ruled justice Inyang Ekwo. But previous rulings on governors defecting have gone in favour of those defecting, such as Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, who left the PDP for the APC last year.

If Umahi is successful, most political analysts see the move being positive for the APC in the run up to the 2023 elections.

In particular, it will give the party greater geographical diversity – Ebonyi would be another state in the South East to be controlled by the ruling party, in a region where the PDP are strong.

The caveat is that the APC is now seen as the party of defectors. It was the decision of Governor Rotimi Amaechi from near-neighbour Rivers State to leave the PDP to join the APC that launched the ruling party’s rise.

Strategists in the PDP believe their only route to the presidency is a breakup of the APC, and may well use the Umahi defection to add pressure.

Bottom line

Until INEC makes a decision, Ebonyi state is being run by a governor and deputy that many believe are now illegitimate.

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