Barely two weeks after a Federal High Court in Abuja sacked the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, his deputy and 15 members of the House of Assembly, another court has ordered the immediate removal of two House of Representatives members and 18 legislators of the Cross River State House of Assembly.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court yesterday ordered their removal from office on account of their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Taiwo, in his judgement, held that the affected federal and state legislators could not continue to occupy office having dumped the party that brought them into office.
The two House of Representatives members to vacate their office were, Micheal Etaba and Legor Idagbor, those ordered out of the Cross River State House of Assembly included, Eteng William, Joseph Bassey, Odey Agbe, Okon Ephraim, Regina Anyogo, Mathew Olory, Ekpo Bassey, Ogbor Udop, Ekpe Okon, Hillary Bisong, Francis Asuquo, Elvert Ayambem, Davis Etta.
Others included Sunday Achunekan, Cynthia Nkasi, Edward Ajang, Chris Ogar and Maria Akwaji.
The sacked lawmakers had joined the Governor, Prof Ben Ayade, and his deputy to dump the PDP for the APC in May last year.
But the PDP in a suit instituted on its behalf by Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, had approached the court to challenge the legality of the actions of the decampees.
Among the issues it brought before the court for determination were, “Whether upon a proper interpretation of the provisions of Sections 68 (1)(g) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and in view of the decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of ABEGUNDE vs. ONDO STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY (2015), the 6 and 7 Defendants being persons whose election to the House of Representatives was sponsored by the Plaintiff and having become members of another political party, the 26 Defendant, before the expiration of the period for which the House was elected, that is, June 11, 2019 to June 10, 2023, the 6 and 7 defendants have not thereby vacated their seats in the House of Representatives?
“Whether upon a proper interpretation of the provisions of Section 109 (1)(g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and in view of the decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of ABEGUNDE V. ONDO STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY, (2015), the 8 to 25 Defendants being persons whose election to the Cross River State House of Assembly were sponsored by the Plaintiff and having become members of another political party, the 26 defendant, before expiration of the period for which the House was elected, that is, June 11, 2019 to June 10, 2023, the 8 to 25 defendants have not thereby vacated their seats in the Cross River State House of Assembly?”
PDP submitted that if the above questions were answered in its favour, then the court should go ahead to declare their seats vacant on account of their defection to the APC.
PDP then prayed the court for an Order of Injunction restraining the six to the 25 Defendants, respectively or collectively from acting or in any manner howsoever continuing to act as members of House of Representatives and Cross River State House of Assembly haven defected to the APC.
The PDP further sought another order restraining the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Speaker of the House of Representatives, Clerk of the National Assembly, and Clark of the Cross River State House of Assembly, who were the first to fifth defendants, respectively, from continuing to recognise the defectors as legislators on account of their defection.
The main opposition party sought, “An Order of Mandatory Injunction compelling the 1st defendant to accept from the Plaintiff the list of its candidates for the purpose of filling the vacancy created by the exit of the 6 to 25 defendants from the House of Representatives (for the 6th and 7th Defendants), and the Cross River State House of Assembly (for the 8 to 25 defendants) by reason of becoming members of a different political party, (the All Progressives Congress) before the expiration of the term for which they were elected into office and the sponsorship of the Plaintiff and to present certificate of return to the said candidates contained in the Plaintiff List, alternatively for an order compelling the 1st defendant to conduct election (within 90 days) into the offices formerly occupied by the 6th to 25th defendants now vacant by operation of Sections 68(1)(g) and 109 (1g) of the Constitution.
Delivering judgement in the suit, Taiwo held that the case of the plaintiff had merit and accordingly granted the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs.
The court earlier dismissed the submission of the defendants challenging jurisdiction, maintaining, “There is nothing against the law that the suit be heard by this court,” adding that the 6-25th defendants are joined with other defendants who have their offices in Abuja.
“Where there are more than one defendant, the suit can be established anywhere subject to the discretion of the court,” he said.
“I find no merit in the application for transfer.”
Taiwo, similarly, dismissed claims by the sacked lawmakers that there was disagreement in the PDP, which led to their expulsion from the party.
While he held that the defendants were free to belong to or join any political association and assembly of their choice, the court stressed that this freedom or liberty ended where others’ started.
He said, “I consider the attempts of the 6th – 25th defendants to justify their defection, feeble in the circumstances of this case,” adding that the public voted for the lawmakers through the plaintiff who sponsored them and they were not voted for as independent candidates.
“They had a vehicle which conveyed them and that vehicle belongs to the plaintiff. They cannot abandon the vehicle,” he held.
Taiwo further remarked that politicians treated citizens that elected them into power as if they did not matter, adding that a day will come when elected officers must resign their post if they migrate to another party or seek the permission of the people before they decamp.
Having agreed with the plaintiff that the defendants’ continued stay in office amounted to an illegality, having crossed over to another party and also holding that votes belong to a political party and that the electorates voted for the legislators because they contested under the platform of the PDP and not in their individual capacity, the judge, therefore, ordered them to vacate office immediately.
The court also held that the plaintiff could forward names of its candidates to fill the vacant seat or in the alternative INEC should conduct another election within 90 days.
Another judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Inyang Ekwo, had on March 8, sacked 15 lawmakers of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly as well as Governor Dave Umahi and his deputy for defection.
He had held that votes in an election do not only belong to political parties but such votes cannot be transferred from party to party by politicians when they decamped from one party to another.
Judgment was however awaited in a suit filed against Ayade and his deputy.
Imoke: Judgement, Restoration of C’River Democratic Mandates
Former Governor of Cross River State and leader of the PDP in the state, Sen. Liyel Imoke, described the judgement as a restoration of the democratic mandates given to the PDP by citizens of the state. Members of the State House of assembly who decamped from the PDP to the AP) alongside Gov. Ben Ayade last year.
Imoke said, “Since the defection of Governor Ayade and some members of the state assembly; depriving the PDP of its constitutional mandates, I have never been in doubt that the judiciary will intervene and restore those mandates.
“Today’s judgement by the Federal High Court, Abuja is a testimony that the judiciary is a formidable constitutional safeguard for Nigeria’s democracy; the verdict in all accounts is a restoration of the democratic mandates given to the PDP by the voters at the ballot box.
“For Cross River PDP, this judgement is a clear testimony that as a party, our resolve to adhere to the extant laws and the 1999 Constitution has been fruitful and beneficial to our pursuit of truth, and this will continue to guide our activities and operations as party faithfuls.”
He said the judgement would go a long way to fortify the belief of PDP members in Cross River State, and their firm conviction and faith on the party going forward.
The former governor charged party members in the state to remain steadfast and dedicated to strengthening the PDP ahead of the 2023 general elections, and ensure that all efforts are geared towards ensuring a resounding victory for the party in Cross River and nationwide.
Cross River Govt Appeals, Files Motion for State of Execution
Meanwhile, in a statement late yesterday night, the Cross River State government, through the Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to the Governor, Mr Christian Ita, announced that it had filed an appeal against the judgement and a motion to stay the execution of the judgement. The reads; “This is to inform All Progressives Congress (APC) members of the National Assembly from members of the Cross River State House of Assembly and the general public that an appeal against the judgement of the Federal High Court, Abuja has been filed at the Court of Appeal, Abuja.
Also, a motion for a stay of execution of the Federal High Court has been filed. Both processes were filed by renowned constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome.
Following the filing of the two processes, automatically the orders of the lower court are stayed. Consequently, the APC members in both the National Assembly and the Cross River State House of Assembly should go about their duties freely.”