Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
The Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi State has sacked the senator representing Ebonyi South senatorial zone in the National Assembly, Senator Sonni Ogbuoji.
The court, in a judgment, delivered by Justice Akintola Aluko, declared the seat occupied by the lawmaker vacant and ordered him to vacate it immediately.
This came barely 38 days after the lawmaker who contested the governorship election in the March 9 poll on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was defeated by the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Governor David Umahi.
Ogbuoji had in 2018 dumped his former party, the PDP, on which platform he went to the Senate, citing crisis in the party as a reason for his exit.
But pissed by his move, some of his constituents who are also members of the PDP approached the court to seek interpretation to the relevant sections of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which deal with such issues.
The plaintiffs: Evo Ogbonnaya Anegu, Oti Ama Ude, Uche Richard Ajali, Una Sunday Okoro and Simon Ajali Ogbadu who acted for themselves and other members of the PDP in a suit number FHC/AI/CS/44/2018, sought among others, the declaration of the Ebonyi South senatorial seat vacant.
Joined in the suit as the second defendant was the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The court held that Ogbuoji by defecting from the PDP to the APC, violated Section 68(1)g of the 1999 constitution (as amended) and therefore ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return issued to the Senator and conduct a fresh election immediately to fill the now vacant seat.
The court also ordered the lawmaker to refund all monies be it salaries, allowances or any order form of payment he might have received as benefits from the position of Senator from the date of his defection to the coffers of government.
The plaintiffs, represented by their counsel, Roy Umahi, stated that if Ogbuoji’s conduct was not condemned and upturned, it would encourage political prostitution and legislative rascality.
Roy maintained that such was capable of destroying the reasons for the laws made to regulate defections of National Assembly members by the constitution.
The first defendant, 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.
According to him, the crisis in his the former 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.
The plaintiffs, however, countered by providing evidence that the said Regina Ukpo was not the secretary of the ward as at the time the said letter was allegedly given to her as she had already been reportedly expelled by the party on January 23, 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.
“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 in a 70-page judgment further held that having defected to another party when there was no crisis in his original party, Ogbuoji ought to have vacated his seat.
“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, 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 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria beginning from the date of his unconstitutional defection till date,” Justice Aluko held.
“Consequently I hold that the case of the plaintiffs has merit and same hereby succeeds,” the judge declared.
The court also awarded the sum of N500,000 in favour of the plaintiff and against the 1st defendant.
Meanwhile, all efforts to get the reaction of the embattled lawmaker, Ogbuoji, proved abortive as he did not take calls to his mobile phone.