Justice Akintola Aluko of the Federal High Court in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, has sacked Senator Sonni Ogbuoji (Ebonyi South) and ordered him to vacate the seat immediately.
The court held that Ogbuoji, by defecting from the party on whose platform he was elected, flouted Section 68(1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution.
The court also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw his Certificate of Return and to immediately conduct a fresh election to fill the seat.
Ogbuoji was also ordered to refund all monies – salaries, allowances or any order form of payment he may have received as benefits from the date of his defection to the coffers of government.
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”.
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In other words, any lawmaker who defects to another party when the party on whose platform he was elected was not undergoing any form of crisis, or was not part of a merger with two or more 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 suit was filed by Evo Ogbonnaya Anegu, Oti Ama Ude, Uche Richard Ajali, Una Sunday Okoro and Simon Ajali Ogbadu for themselves and on behalf of members of the PDP in Ebonyi South.
They sued Ogbuoji and INEC, 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 Ogbuoji to refund all monies paid to him since January 2018 when he defected to the APC.
But Ogbuoji, in his defence, claimed that he resigned his membership of the PDP 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 he had resigned his membership via a letter submitted to the PDP Secretary of his Ebunwana Ward, Ukpo Regina Agwu, in January 27, 2017.
But the plaintiffs countered by providing evidence that Regina Ukpo was not the Secretary of the Ward at the time the letter was allegedly given to her, as she had been by expelled by the party on January 23, 2017.
They also argued with evidence that Ogbuoji, who claimed to have left the PDP in January 2017, participated in the non-elective and elective congresses in 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.