Renowned Constitutional lawyer and counsel to Senator Kabiru Marafa of APC who won the case at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court for Marafa’s faction of the APC that enthroned Bello Matawalle as Governor of Zamfara State in 2019, has also been engaged by the APC and Governor Bello Matawalle to defend the Governor in the PDP’s legal onslaught led by Kanu Agabi, SAN, and Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, against the Governor’s defection from PDP to APC on June 29, 2021.
It was gathered that Chief Ozekhome will be be leading a crack team of seasoned Senior Advocates that include Ahmed Raji, SAN, Y.C. Maikyau, SAN, Emeka Okpoko, SAN, and others, to challenge PDP’s contention that Governor Matawalle has lost his seat by his act of defecting from the PDP to the APC.
It is believed that the lawyers have since got cracking, contending that Matawalle’s defection may only be criticised on moral grounds, but certainly not on legal or constitutional grounds, since a Governor, once elected, becomes a Governor of his State and not of his political party.
APC is also wondering why the PDP which benefitted from the defection of Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State and Godwin Obaseki of Edo State from APC to PDP, did not see anything wrong with such defections. It also wonders why the PDP which did not challenge the earlier defections of Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State and Ben Ayade of Cross River State is suddenly waking up from its deep slumber to isolate Governor Matawalle’s defection for litigation, wondering why they did nothing to stop Matawalle from defecting after his known grievance over the last one year.
Legal pundits state categorically that the PDP suit is dead on arrival for many reasons. First, it does not have any reasonable cause of action because the suit was prematurely filed on 17th June, 2021, as Matawalle who finally defected 12 days later on 29th June, 2021, was still firmly in the PDP at that time.
Second, some senior lawyers who were contacted emphasised that Governor Matawalle is fully protected by section 308 of the 1999 Constitution which grants him constitutional immunity from being sued in any civil or criminal proceeding. A similar case as this had come up in the case of EJURA V. IDRIS & ORS (2006) LPELR-5827, and the Court of Appeal held that a Governor once elected can only be removed by an election petition tribunal and not a regular court such as the Federal High Court. The court also held that the provisions of the Electoral Act can only operate to remove an elected Governor if the provisions are invoked before an election tribunal. The Court of Appeal therefore held that the trial Judge was right to have declined jurisdiction to remove Governor Idris by an Originating Summons filed before the Federal High Court (as in this case), since the Governor was absolutely protected by immunity in section 308 of the Constitution.
The legal experts also argue that the Supreme Court decision that enthroned Governor Matawalle into office was a pre-election matter between two factions of the APC (not PDP), and that the time to have challenged Governor Matawalle expired over two years ago. More significantly, section 180 of the Constitution provides the only situations in which a validly elected Governor can cease to hold office; not by removal through an Originating Summons filed before a Federal High Court. Section 180(1) states: