From Ahmad Ibrahim, Gusau
The Court of Appeal in Sokoto has affirmed the earlier verdict of the Federal High Court in Gusau, dismissing the suit seeking Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle’s removal from office over his last year’s defection from the Peoples Democracy Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC).
Alhaji Matawalle’s lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, shared the details of the court judgement.
A panel of three justices of the Court of Appeal led by A. A. Gumel, held in its unanimous judgement that a governor cannot lose his seat on the ground of defection from one party to another.
It cited provisions of section 40 of the constitution, saying that a governor could defect from one party to another without losing his office.
The court held that the Nigerian constitution does not provide punishment for a governor who defects to another party.
It said Alhaji Matawalle could not vacate his seat because of his defection to another political party of his choice in the exercise of his constitutional right of freedom of association.
The court added that once a governor is sworn in, he ceases to be under the control of the political party which sponsored him, adding that he could only be removed from office in line with the provisions of sections 180, 188 and 189 of the 1999 Constitution.
“All the issues having been resolved in favour of Governor Matawalle, the appeal was dismissed and the judgment of the Federal High Court, Gusau, delivered on the 7th of February, 2022 was affirmed,” Mr. Ozekhome’s statement said.
In addition to the N1 million cost earlier awarded in favour of each of the respondents by the trial court, the court awarded another cost of N1 million against the appellants in favour of the governor and his former deputy governor, the first and second respondents, Mahadi Ali, respectively.
The court similarly dismissed the cross-appeal filed by Mahadi Ali Gusau, the impeached deputy governor of the state, seeking to be declared the governor following Alhaji Matawalle’s defection to the APC.
The court held that Alhaji Ali could not succeed Alhaji Matawalle on account of the governor’s defection from the PDP to APC.
Alhaji Matawalle, at a grand ceremony in Gusau, the Zamfara State capital, defected to the ruling APC in June last year after months of speculation and denial.
But his deputy, Alhaji Ali, who refused to defect from the PDP, on whose platform the duo were elected, was later removed from office by the state House of Assembly.
Following Alhaji Matawalle’s defection, some aggrieved members of the PDP – Bashir Saleh, Abduhamid Haruna and Ibrahim Turaki – approached the Federal High Court in Gusau, praying the court to sack the governor.
However, the court declined jurisdiction and held that the nation’s constitution does not provide for the removal of a governor on account of defecting from one political party to the other.
Subsequently, the plaintiffs filed an appeal to challenge the High Court’s decision.