Talking with Ntufam Mba Ukweni, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, is always very interesting and revealing. This was what we got when we spoke to him on the legal implications and expectations, following the defection of the Cross River State governor, Prof Ben Ayade, to the APC, coming on the heels of the recent court order sacking the governor of Ebonyi state, Dave Umahi. Ukweni spoke with OFONIME UMANAH.
How did you feel when you heard the judgment from Inyang Ekwo, sacking the governor of Ebonyi State?
As a lawyer, as a democrat and a person who believes in due observance of democratic norms, I was elated, I was highly elated. I was elated because it will go a long way to streamlining a lot of the problems that are associated with defections from one party to the other.
It’s against morality, it’s against ethics, it’s against the law for one to contest election on the platform of one political party, only to get into the office maybe because of one perceived issue or problem, to decide to defect to another political party where he feels he doesn’t owe them any obligation, it is not proper.
If you look at the certificate of return of any candidate in an election, the certificate is clearly stated that he is being returned on the platform of a political party, as the candidate of a particular political party, so the vote belongs to the political party that sponsored him. That is why in Nigeria, our constitution and our law does not permit independent candidates; candidates are sponsored by a political party, and the vote belongs to political party.
I have heard a lot of arguments with regards to the issue that the Supreme Court resolved in Atiku Abubakar verses Attorney General of the Federation, when Atiku defected from the PDP to go to a newly formed party then.
The Supreme Court all over the world is a policy court, and we expect the Supreme Court to come out and stamp their authority on what Ekwo decided if they are well intentioned for the country’s democracy and the development of our democratic system, because, you look at the basis for the decision in Atiku’s case, before you now start applying it as an authority for the one presently happening.
How will our constitution say people who are elected to the houses, to the legislative houses, if they defect there will be problem, they should vacate their seat, but those who are elected on the platform of the executive is silent about it. It’s not that there is a provision in the constitution saying they should remain in offices, the constitution is just silent on it.
So people cannot use it to start arguing that no, no, no, that they cannot be declared to leave their offices, no. Like I said, all over the world, the Supreme Court is a policy court. So, they give their decision based on what they feel is what is proper for the development of the legal system at that time. That is why they are not bound by their previous decisions.
It’s only the Supreme Court that is not bound by its previous decision. All other courts are bound by their decisions and decisions of the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court has the powers to depart from its previous decision in appropriate cases and the point I am trying to make is that even if Atiku’s case has some points of relevance, the Supreme Court can rightly in my view, depart from that decision because of the position they themselves have taken over and over.
I’ve been at the Supreme Court when we did the matter involving those five governors, our own state governor then, Liyel Imoke was part of it and we represented Liyel Imoke in what is generally called the tenure elongation matter. And, one of the justices of the Supreme Court after their judgement, said something that gladden us, even though the judgment was not favourable to us but as people who have come to defend the constitution we were happy about it. What did they say? And which they all agreed. They said ‘this country belongs to all of us, that the people who are parading themselves as politicians do not have greater stake in the country than they themselves who are sitting there as judges. So, we continue panel-beating the political system and politicians until they are prepared to act in accordance with the law.’ That was the statement they made. So, if the Supreme Court does not rise up to the situation in the present instance and panel beat the politicians to be able to abide by the law, which says the vote belongs to the political party, then our democracy is still in a very illusive way, manner, illusive form, we will still have no direction because the impunity in the system will continue. So, that is my take on that, and that is why I support the decision Ekwo has taken. I salute his courage that he was able to be firm and took that decision. Everybody should salute him for taking that decision.
And ironically, we have the same scenario in your own state; your governor also defected from the…
(cuts in) We expect him to vacate that place. I have seen him flying on the social media an affidavit that he deposed to, that he is not a registered member of APC, that he merely defected, eh hee, I don’t know what that argument means and what assistance it will have to him. But the fact remains that he has offended the law and having offended the law, the law should take its course. What applies to Ebonyi State should not have exception to him, it should apply with equal force to him.
So, if somebody says he is not a registered member of a political party, that means he is not a member of that political party and so it means that…..
(cuts in) What’s the difference between defection and being a registered member of a political party? When they declared him to be the leader of the party, what does that one mean, eh?
In law, there are certain things the law presumes even by conduct. When last did he attend meeting of PDP? When last did he sit in a meeting of PDP governors? But he has been everywhere with the APC. In fact, what he couldn’t do as a member of PDP, he is doing as a member of APC.
For example, attending meetings of governors of APC. He was not attending meetings of governors of PDP, he was not attending meetings of the NEC of PDP, he did not associate with PDP, even in our state here, PDP meetings were not being held, but he is now holding meetings with APC members. So, how else do you impute membership of a party? Has he not turned our PDP secretariat to APC secretariat and driven away our people from there, using force? So that argument is nonsensical, it’s nonsensical and no reasonable person should be able to countenance that type of argument, it doesn’t make sense, it is a non sequitur, it doesn’t apply to the situation.
As it stands now, Cross River State we are not sure of what will happen, whether the same fate that befell Ebonyi State will also befall Cross River State, we are not sure yet.
Well, we expect that in law, that matter is pending before Federal High Court, there is a decision of Federal High Court even in the conferences of judges, they are being warned not to be giving conflicting decisions. So now that they cannot, any judge who is hearing the matter involving Cross River, if Federal High Court cannot pretend not to know that there is a decision of Federal High Court touching on the same issue, he will have to work very hard to distinguish it before he will refuse to follow it, that is the idea of the law, otherwise, he is bond by the decision of the Federal High Court even though it’s a court of coordinate jurisdiction.
Looks like you will be very, very happy the day the court of competence jurisdiction may pronounce that Ayade is also sacked.
Ah ah, I will throw parties to whoever wants to attend the party because it will make whoever is the next person there to be able to sit up and behave him or herself. Discipline is what we require in our political party. The country is the way it is because there is lack of discipline, high level of indiscipline and impunity in the political parties and who are the ones controlling the political parties? The governors. So if the governors are lawless, as most of them are lawless, with due respect to them, the one in my state is lawless, the governors are dishonest as they are lawless. A governor who used military, operation Akpakwu and masked military people to go and conduct election and will order the military people to shoot at sight in any polling unit where they are not voting APC cannot be said to act lawfully. It’s a lawless person, that is, if your people have rejected you, because that is a rejection of the governor, and anything that is connected with him, he has been rejected, and he says having rejected me, I will govern you by force, that is a coup on the people, it is no more democracy. So, what took place in Yala Ogoja on 26th of February this year is a coup on the people of Cross River State, and the people of the constituency, the governor plotted a coup on the people, when he said any person who does not vote APC shoot him down, it’s a coup. So such a person cannot be considered to be lawful in any respect, that is sheer lawlessness and criminality.
So, where do we go from here?
Where we go from here is that we urge the court to follow the decision of Ekwo and ask our own governor to vacate that seat with immediate effect, and as it stands now, Umahi, that’s Ebonyi State Governor is no more the governor of Ebonyi State, from that moment the pronouncement was made, was supposed to vacate that seat, until things are done.
Some time ago, you granted me an interview and the caption was that Nigeria died with Yar’Adua. Why did I say so? It was because if it were Yar’Adua’s time, the governor of Ebonyi State would have vacated that office immediately. Yar’Adua did not tolerate a situation where the rule of law was not abided by. The governors stood up and started condemning the judgement of court and castigating a judge. I am very happy with the position that the president of the APC has taken, he spoke our mind and the subsequent apology by the Ebonyi State governor exposes him as an irresponsible person, with due respect I say so, exposes him clearly as an irresponsible person, and for that reason alone, he is not supposed to be there.