By Benjamin Nworie in Abakaliki
A Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki has sacked the senator representing Ebonyi South Senatorial District Sonni Ogbuoji from his position and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election with immediate effect.
The presiding judge, Justice Akintola Aluko, ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return issued to the senator in 2015 immediately and to conduct a fresh election to fill the seat.
The court held that Ogbuoji by defecting from the party under whose platform he was elected to another party flouted section 68(1)g of the 1999 constitution.
The justice also ordered the lawmaker to refund all monies — be it salaries, allowances or any order form of payment — he may have received as benefits from the position of senator from the date of his defection to the coffers of government.
He said: “Section 68(1)g says that a member of Senate or House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House if being a person whose election to the house was sponsored by another political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that house was elected. Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored.
“In other words, any lawmaker who defects to another political party when the party under whose platform he was elected was not undergoing any form of crisis or was not part of a merger with two or more political parties shall vacate his seat.”
Justice Aluko in the 71-page judgment held that Ogbuoji, who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2018, flouted the above section of the constitution.
The judgment was in respect of suit number FHC/AI/CS/44/2018 filed by Evo Ogbonnaya Anegu, Oti Ama Ude, Uche Richard Ajali, Una Sunday Okoro and Simon Ajali Ogbadu for themselves and on behalf of the teeming members of the PDP in Ebonyi South Senatorial District.
The petitioners had sued Ogbuoji and INEC (second defendant) asking the court to declare Ogbuoji’s seat vacant for defecting to the APC when there was no crisis or division in the PDP.
They also prayed the court to order the first defendant (Ogbuoji) to refund all monies he may have been paid to him since January 2018 when he defected from the PDP to the APC.
The plaintiffs in their postulations through their counsel, Mr Roy Umahi, expressed worry that Ogbuoji’s conduct if not condemned and upturned would encourage political prostitution and legislative rascality and destroy the reasons for the laws made to regulate defections of National Assembly members by the constitution.
But Ogbuoji in his defence claimed that he resigned his membership of the PDP and defected to the APC on January 27, 2017 and not January 2018 as claimed by the applicants.
He noted that the crisis in the party was finally resolved in July 2017 by the Supreme Court but that before then, he had resigned his membership of the party via a letter he submitted to the PDP Secretary of his Ebunwana Ward, one Ukpo Regina Agwu in January 27, 2017.
But the plaintiffs countered by providing evidence that the said Regina Ukpo was not the Secretary of the Ward at the time the said letter was allegedly given to her as she had already been by expelled by the party on 23 January 2017.
They also argued with incontrovertible evidence that Ogbuoji who claimed to have defected from the PDP to APC in January 2017 took active participation in the non elective and elective congresses of the PDP which held on August and December 2017 as a delegate.
The court, in its findings, said there were discrepancies in the evidences provided by Ogbuoji which rendered them unreliable and doubtful.
“There is no basis to attach any probative or evidential value to the said exhibits. What that means is that the defendant’s claim of resignation ( on January 2017) is shrouded in inconsistency, contradiction and suspicion,” the judge said.
The court, in conclusion, said that it has been tremendously and sufficiently established by credible evidence that Ogbuoji defected to the APC in January 2018 and not January 2017 as he claimed in his defence.
It also said that at the time of his defection, there was no division or faction in the PDP to warrant such defection as permitted by section 68 (1)g of the constitution.
“By the evidence before me, I find that the 1st defendant is guilty of unholy political flirtation and coquetry which the makers and drafters of the constitution resolved to outlaw by the enactment of section 68(1)g of the constitution.
“Having failed to vacate his seat in the Senate following his unconstitutional defection in a manner that suggests that he ate his cake and still wanted to have it, he is liable to be forced out and refund to the National Assembly all monies in form of salaries, allowances, or whatsoever paid to him by virtue of his unconstitutional holding on to the position as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria beginning from the date of his unconstitutional defection till date.
“Consequently, I hold that the case of the plaintiffs has merit and same hereby succeeds,” Justice Akintayo stated
The judge further ordered INEC to withdraw Ogbuoji’s certificate of return and immediately conduct a fresh election to fill the vacant seat created by his unconstitutional defection.
The court also awarded the sum of N500,000 in favour of the plaintiff and against the first defendant.
Ogbuoji had contested the 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi State against the incumbent Governor David Umahi.
He lost the election to the governor, who was on Tuesday issued a certificate of return and is expected to be sworn in on May 29 for a second term in office.