By Oginyi Ruth
A Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital has sacked Senator Sonni Ogbuoji, representing Ebonyi South Senatorial District at the National Assembly vacant for defecting to the All Progressives Congress (APC) from his former party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In a judgement delivered by Justice Akintola Aluko on Tuesday, the court ruled that the defection of Senator Ogbuoji negates section 68 (1) (G) of the 1999 Constitution ruled that the APC lawmaker should immediately vacate his seat.
The court stated that at the time Ogbuoji dumped PDP for APC, there was no crisis or division in the party on whose platform he was elected to the senate thus upon his defection ceased to be the senator representing Ebonyi South Senatorial District.
The applicants, Evo Ogbonnaya Anegu, Oti Ama Ude, Uche Richard Ajali, Una Sunday Okoro and Simon Ajali Ogbadu for themselves and for the Ebonyi South PDP in a suit marked FHC/AI/CS/44/2018 had approached the court seeking its order to declare the seat vacant.
The suit had Senator Ogbuoji and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as first and second defendants.
Ruling on the case, Justice Aluko declared the seat vacant and ordered the INEC to immediately withdraw the certificate of return issued to the senator.
The court also INEC to conduct fresh election to fill the vacant seat.
The senator was also ordered to refund all 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.
The plaintiffs in their postulations through their counsel, Barr 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 of resignation 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, 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.
For example, the court noted that some of the documentary exhibits presented by the defence like signatures of Ukpo Regina Agwu, the erstwhile Ebunwana Ward Secretary, were found to be materially different in the various documents provided to the court .
“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 agreed with the Plaintiff’s claims that most of the documents provided by the 1st Defendant were concocted for the purpose of the suit only.
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.
“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”, Justice Aluko declared.
The Judge further held that having defected to another party when there was no crisis in his original party, Mr Ogbuoji ought to have vacated his seat.
“Consequently I hold that the case of the plaintiffs has merit and same hereby succeeds”, Justice Aluko stated
The Court also awarded the sum of N500, 000 in favour of the plaintiff and against the 1st defendant.
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