Femi Falana, Human Rights Lawyer, has argued that political parties own the votes cast in any election in the country and not candidates.
Mr Falana made this known in an article on Tuesday while weighing in the sacking of Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State by a federal high court sitting in Abuja.
Justice Inyang Ekwo had last week Tuesday fired the governor, his deputy Eric Kelechi Igwe and 15 state lawmakers for defecting from the platform with which they were elected.
The decampees had dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the All Progressive Congress (APC) in 2020, prompting the former to approach the court to reclaim its mandate.
The judge ordered the PDP to nominate the replacement of the governor and his deputy while declaring the seats of the lawmakers vacant. Those affected have approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the verdict of the lower court.
In his submission, Mr Falana argued that critics of the judge failed to acknowledge that the majority of votes in the Ebonyi 2019 governorship poll were in favour of PDP that presented Umahi as flagbearer.
“Those who have placed uncritical reliance on Atiku’s case have failed to appreciate that the validity of the votes scored by the PDP in the presidential election did not arise for determination,” the lawyer explained.
“To that extent, the case cannot be a justification for the subversion of the democratic rights of voters by political defectors.
“Whereas in the 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi State, the PDP garnered 393,343 votes across the 13 local governments areas of the state, its closest challenger, the APC, got 81,703 votes.
“After the PDP had emerged the winner of the election, the certificate of return was issued in the name of its flagbearer by the INEC Chairman, Professor Yakubu Mahmood, who stated that ‘I hereby certify that Nweze David Umahi of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been elected to the office of Governor of Ebonyi State…’
“Even though Governor Umahi has decamped from the PDP to APC, neither the INEC nor the high court of Ebonyi state has amended the certificate of return to read ‘Nweze David Umahi of the All Progressives Congress.’
“It is interesting to note that some lawyers have maintained that Governor Umahi has exercised his freedom of association by decamping from PDP to APC.
“While the governor’s freedom of association is constitutionally protected, he cannot be permitted to infringe on the democratic rights of the 393,343 citizens who voted for him as the governorship candidate of the PDP.
“Or are we to believe that the votes scored by the PDP have been merged with those of the APC since the PDP candidate decamped to APC?
“Curiously, in making a mockery of the democratic rights of the people of Ebonyi State, the critics of the judgment of Justice Egwu have failed to advert their minds to the undeniable fact that the majority of the voters actually exercised their franchise in favour of the PDP. After all, the names of the candidate David Umahi and his deputy were not on the ballot papers.”
Falana also cited a reference to the case of Zamfara in which the votes of the All Progressives Congress (APC) were nullified in 2019 by the supreme court over issues arising from the party’s failure to conduct a valid primary.
“In the leading judgment of the Supreme Court in All Progressives Congress v. Marafa, LOR (24/05/2019) SC, Justice Paul Adamu Galinji declared that all the votes cast for the APC were ‘wasted votes’ on the grounds that the party failed to conduct a proper primary,” Falana said.
“The court added that all political parties with the second highest votes in the elections and the required spread, are elected to the various elections.
“In the instant case, the votes credited to the PDP in the 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi State cannot be said to have been wasted based on the decision of Governor Umahi to decamp to the ruling party.
“Since the said votes are not wasted, it is inconceivable that they have been legally transferred from the PDP to the APC. Under no law in Nigeria can the exercise of the right of Governor Umahi to defect from the PDP to APC extinguish the 4-year mandate freely given to him on the platform of the PDP during the 2019 general election.
“We wish to submit, without any fear of contradiction, that elections are won by political parties and not by candidates.
“In Amaechi v. INEC & Ors (2008) LCN/3642 (SC), the Supreme Court held that ‘The above provision (i.e. section 221) effectually removes the possibility of independent candidacy in our elections; and places emphasis and responsibility in elections on political parties. Without a political party a candidate cannot contest’.”