The Senator representing Ebonyi South Senatorial District, Sonni Ogbuoji, has been ordered to vacate his seat at the National Assembly by a Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki.
The court handed down the order, saying the senator committed an ‘unholy political flirtation and coquetry’ when he defected from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The presiding judge, Justice Akintola Aluko, consequently ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct a fresh election with immediate effect in the senatorial district and withdraw the certificate of return issued Ogbuoji in 2015.
Senator Ogbuoji was also ordered to refund all the monies he received in the form of salaries, allowances and others since the date of his defection to government coffers.
According to Justice Aluko, by defecting from the party under which platform he was elected to another party, Ogbuoji flouted section 68(1)g of the 1999 constitution.
The judge 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.
“The person shall vacate his seat if he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which he 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 was ruling on a case brought before him by Ogbonnaya Anegu, Oti Ude, Richard Ajali, Sunday Okoro and Simon Ogbadu for themselves and on behalf of the members of PDP in Ebonyi south.
The plaintiffs had prayed the court to order the first defendant (Ogbuoji) to vacate his seat and refund all monies he might have been paid since January 2018, when he defected from PDP to APC.
The plaintiffs contended that Ogbuoji’s conduct, if not condemned and upturned, would encourage political prostitution and legislative rascality.
Ogbuoji claimed that he resigned his membership of the PDP and defected to APC on Jan. 27, 2017 and not January 2018 as claimed by the plaintiffs.
He also said 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, Mrs Ragina Agwu on Jan. 27, 2017.
The plaintiffs countered him by providing evidence that the said Agwu was not the secretary of the ward at the time the said letter was allegedly given to her. She was said to have been expelled by the party on January 23, 2017.
They also argued that Ogbuoji, who claimed to have defected from PDP to APC in January 2017 took active part in the non-elective and elective congresses of PDP in August and December 2017 as a delegate.
The court, however said there were discrepancies in the pieces of evidence provided by Ogbuoji which, it maintained, 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 inconsistencies, contradictions and suspicion,” the judge said.
The court held that the plaintiffs proved their case beyond reasonable doubt, providing credible evidence to establish that Ogbuoji defected to the APC in January 2018 and not January 2017 as he claimed in his defence.
“It is also said that at the time of defection, there was no division or faction in 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.
“He is therefore to refund 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 beginning from the date of his unconstitutional defection to date.
“Consequently, I hold that the case of the plaintiffs has merit and hereby succeeds”, Justice Aluko ruled.
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