The Federal High Court, Abuja Division, on Monday declared that the 37 members of the House of Representatives who defected from People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC) had no basis to retain their seats having dumped the party which sponsored them.
The court also barred the House of Representatives from changing its principal officers as it held that the defecting lawmakers were not competent to vote to remove the leadership of the House or even sponsor a motion to that end.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola, in his judgment in a suit filed by the PDP, stated that since their defection was illegal, they could not validly function as members of the House.
Ademola also held that the defected legislators were not competent to sponsor, contribute or vote on any motion calling for a change in the leadership of the House, including the election of its principal officers.
He consequently made an order of perpetual injunction restraining the 42 lawmakers from taking part in any step to alter the leadership of the House.
Following the defection of the lawmakers , PDP had on January 7 approached the court, asking that the legislators be restrained from altering or changing the leadership of the House, or taking any steps to do so.
The PDP however did not ask the court to order the defected lawmakers to vacate their seats.
The ruling party, through its lawyer, Yunus Usman (SAN), had argued that the defection of the lawmakers was unconstitutional, as it did not comply with the provisions of Section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The section allows elected public office holders to defect to another political party and retain their seats in situations where there is a division within their political parties.
The PDP had in the suit insisted that there was no division within its ranks to warrant the lawmakers to defect and continue to hold on to their seats.
But the 42 legislators, who were listed as the 12th to 53rd defendants in the suit, argued that there was a division in the PDP.
But Ademola stated that his verdict was informed by the court’s interpretation of Section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution, which reads, “ A member of the Senate or the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if –
“Being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a 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 of 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.”
Stressing the court’s decision, the judge said, “The above constitutional provision is clear and unambiguous and must be given its literal meaning.
“From the facts admitted by the parties, the 12th to 53rd defendants (defected lawmakers) were sponsored by the PDP in the 2011 elections and their terms are yet to expire.
“It is the court’s opinion from the evidence before it that there is no division in the PDP.”
Ademola pointed to a related judgment by Justice Evoh Chukwu, also of the Abuja FHC, which restrained the then Abubakar Baraje-led New PDP from having another national executive of the PDP, to justify his belief that there was no division in the PDP.
He noted that no appeal had been filed against Chukwu’s judgment since it was delivered on October 18, 2013.
The judge stated that the PDP had, through its submissions, proved that there was no division within its ranks.
He said, “The plaintiff (PDP) has discharged the onus of proof and the defendants have failed to do so.
“There is no division in the PDP, yet they (42 lawmakers) defected to another political party, the APC; they should either resign their seats or relinquish their seats honourably; they have no business in the House of Representatives a day longer.”
Quoting the late eminent jurist, Justice Kayode Eso, Ademola condemned what he called “political carpet crossers and unscrupulous politicians.”
The House of Representatives was cited as the 1st defendant, while the principal officers, including the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal; his deputy, Emeka Ihedioha, and the Majority Leader, Mulikat Akande-Adeola, were listed as some of the defendants.
Counsel for the defected lawmakers Mamoud Magaji (SAN), announced after the verdict, that his clients had given him the permission to test the judgment at a higher court.
Expectedly, the 42 lawmakers’ vow to appeal the judgment was welcomed by the APC which said it would subject it to legal test up to the Supreme Court.
“We are going to appeal the judgment. We will pursue this matter up to the Supreme Court. That is all I can say for now,” the Interim National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, told one of our correspondents in Abuja.
In the House of Representatives, the PDP Caucus and its APC counterpart, differed on the judgment.
While the PDP Caucus said it had been vindicated by the judgment, the APC Caucus described it as “strange.”
The Deputy House Majority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, said, “The PDP has been vindicated because we believe in the rule of law.
“The judiciary, as the arm of government vested with the power to interpret our laws, has clearly spoken what is the correct position.
“We went to court because the defection had no basis in law and we thank the court for interpreting the law correctly.”
Ogor argued that “being a declaratory judgment,” he expected the defected lawmakers to return to the PDP.
He added, “We advise those who wanted to take over the leadership of the House through the back door to have a rethink and come back to where they belong.
“The judgment has shown that they are PDP members; they should return home to their party because they have no other party.”
But, House Minority Leader and Leader of the APC Caucus, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, disagreed with Ogor.
He said the judgment was strange to democracy, adding that it would be against the fundamental human rights of the defectors to insist that they remained members of a party they no longer wanted to associate with.
Gbajabiamila noted that the APC and the affected lawmakers would “definitely” appeal the judgment.
Part of an electronic mail he sent to our correspondent reads, “The judgment is strange and will be appealed.
“No person can be compelled by law to stay in an association against his or her wishes.
“It negates a fundamental right of association of every citizen that is inalienable.
Section 68 of the Constitution (as amended) has been turned on its head and the error of the court is manifest.” – Punch.