By Ononye VC
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Monday declared that the embattled Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief David Nweze Umahi remains the state chief executive.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Barrister Festus Okoye made the position known while speaking on Channels Television Breakfast Programme —Sunrise Daily, on the topic: ‘INEC and Court Judgments.’
Okoye revealed that though he was aware and in custody of last week judgment of the Abuja Federal high court which ordered him to vacate his seat over defection to another political party, he however said INEC has not received the Certified True Copy of Justice Ekwo’s judgment which went against Umahi.
He argued that as far as they were concerned in INEC, nothing has happened.
A Federal High Court, Abuja presided over by Honourable Justice Inyang Ekwo had last week in a controversial judgment had declared the seats of Governor Umahi, his Deputy, Dr. Eric Kelechi Igwe and the 15 lawmakers who defected with them to APC vacant following two suits brought against them by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The Judge also ordered the INEC to issue a fresh Certificate of Return to the PDP nominees for the vacant Executive positions in Ebonyi state without delay.
But nearly one week after the order of Justice Ekwo, INEC is yet to comply with the order, although Governor Umahi and the affected members of Ebonyi House of Assembly have since appealed the judgment at the Appeal Court of Nigeria.
Also, a High Court in Abakiliki, Ebonyi state has asked Governor Umahi to stay put as the Governor of Ebonyi state.
However, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Barrister Festus Okoye on Monday said the Commission will during the week sit over the available court judgments.
According to him: “the Commission has not been served the judgment of the Federal High Court Abuja in relation to the disputed Ebonyi state governorship seat.
As at close of work last Friday, INEC has not been served the Certified True Copy of the judgment of the Federal High Court Abuja”.
Okoye also disclosed that as at Friday last week INEC has received the Abakiliki High Court judgment and that of the Appeal Court but denied receiving the Federal High Court Abuja which came earlier.
Asked if it’s not strange that the Abakiliki High Court and Appeal Court judgements which happened later last week have been received by the Commission while the judgment delivered in Abuja are yet to get to INEC, he said it’s not the duty of the Commission to go looking for the Certified True Copy of the judgements.
Said he: “Let me say that the judgment of the Federal High Court Abuja has been in the public domain and I have obtained it in my private capacity as a lawyer but the truth is that INEC as a body has not been served”.
The INEC top official however said that he was sure that the Commission will be duly served during the week and the relevant department in the INEC will advise the Commission on the appropriate stand to take on the matter.
“I am sure the Commission will receive the Certified True Copy of the judgments and the Legal Department of INEC which has about three Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) and other experienced lawyers will meet to deliberate on the way forward”, Okoye concluded.
The Federal High Court Abuja which sacked Umahi, his Deputy and 15 lawmakers posited that the defectors who were elected on the PDP platform have lost their seats the day they dumped the party for the APC.
The Judge stated categorically that: “the votes in any election in Nigeria belong to political parties, and not candidates,” even as Justice Ekwo agreed with the PDP that “by defecting from the party on which they were sponsored and elected, they had resigned or deemed to have resigned from office”.
The 15 lawmakers whose seats the court declared vacant include Odefa Odefa, Victor Uchukwu, Kingsley Ikoro, Benjamin Jununu, Nkemka Okoro, Anthony Nwegede, and Chinwe Nwachukwu.
The rest are Onu Nwonye, Friday Nwuhuo, Moses Odunwa, Chinedu Awo, Chinedu Onah, Chukwuma Igwe, Chukwu Lucas and Francis Nwifuru.