In a landmark verdict, the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, Monday declared that the 37 members of the House of Representatives who defected from People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC) had no basis to retain their seats having dumped the party which sponsored them.
The court also barred the House of Representatives from changing its principal officers as it held that the defecting lawmakers were not competent to vote to remove the leadership of the House or even sponsor a motion to that end.
PDP had sued the House of Representatives and listed as 2nd to 10th defendants all its principal officers of the lower chamber of the National Assembly, including the Speaker (Aminu Tambuwal), Deputy Speaker (Emeka Ihedioha), Mulikat Akande-Adeola (The Majority Leader), Leo Ogor (Deputy Majority Leader), Isiaka Bawa (Chief Whip), Ahmed Mutkar (Deputy Chief Whip), Gbajabiamila (Minority Leader), Samson Osagie (Minority Whip) and Sumaila Kawu (Deputy Minority Leader).
The defecting lawmakers were listed as 12th to 53rd defendants.
Tambuwal had aligned with the APC and its new lawmakers to pray the court to dismiss the action for being unmeritorious and non-justiceable.
Delivering his verdict, the presiding judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, declared the suit as justiceable and therefore within the jurisdiction of the court to entertain as he held that the court had power to intervene where there is a likelihood of a breach of any person’s fundamental rights.
The judge held that the lawmakers no longer had any business, morally and legally, in the National Assembly. He said they should honourably resign from their seats as members of the House of Representatives, having moved to another political party while their tenure was yet to expire.
“Having perused the arguments of the counsel and the constitutional provisions, it is clear and unambiguous that the defendants were sponsored by the PDP and won the election on its platform. It is also the court’s opinion that their tenure has not expired and there is no division in the PDP.
“The defendants are, therefore, not competent to vote or contribute to any proceedings in the House of Representatives. An order of perpetual injunction is, hereby, ordered, restraining them from altering or attempting to change the leadership of the House of Representatives,” Ademola said.
PDP’s counsel, Mr. Yunus Usman Ustaz (SAN), had while arguing the originating summons, faulted the cross-carpeting of the lawmakers, saying that the legislators did so during the pendency of a judgment.
Ustaz submitted that Justice Evoh Chukwu’s ruling of October last year had resolved that there was no division in PDP. He further submitted that by virtue of the provision of Section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as amended, the lawmakers ought to have vacated their seats forthwith.
But the lawmakers’ counsel, Mr. Mahmoud Magaji (SAN), had argued that it was wrong for the PDP to have sought to restrain its former members from activities of the House for defecting.
Other defence counsel, Mr. Niyi Akintola (SAN), Mr. Sebastian Hon (SAN), Mr. James Ocholi (SAN), Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN) and Jibril Okutepa (SAN), aligned with Magaji.
No fewer than 37 members of the House of Representatives belonging to a faction of the ruling PDP, then referred to as new PDP, had on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 defected to All Progressives Congress (APC).
The announcement of their defection by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, was welcomed with a loud ovation by APC members.
In the letter read before the House by Tambuwal, the defectors had alleged that they decamped because of the sharp division in the ruling PDP.
In the letter read by the Speaker to the House, the 37 lawmakers elected under the platform of PDP said they decided to join APC as a result of the problems in the party and “we have merged with APC according to Section 68 of our 1999 Constitution.”
Though a PDP member from Rivers State, Kingsley Chinda, had raised a point of order citing Order 9 Rule 52 of the House which borders on the fact that there was a judicial matter still pending in court over defection of PDP members to APC, he was roundly booed by APC members who shouted him down.
The Speaker had gone ahead to announce the names of all those who defected to the delight of APC members.
Each defecting member received a loud ovation from APC members.
This development had threatened to push the ruling PDP into a minority status in a House of 360 members.
What would have been the Senate version of the defection was thwarted by the Senate President, David Mark, who insisted that the letter presented by 11 senators defecting from the PDP to APC would not be read on the Senate floor pending a court ruling.
The 11 senators had on January 30 protested failure of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, to read the letter they sent announcing their defection from PDP to APC.
Ekweremadu, who presided over that session, said that the letter was still with the Senate President who had travelled out of Abuja.
The Senate President followed Bukola Saraki’s Point of Order citing Order 15 of the Senate Rules in which he urged Mark to read their letter of defection on the floor of the Senate.
Saraki had informed the Senate that he, alongside 10 others, had declared their intention to defect from PDP to APC having gone ahead to register their membership with the opposition party.
But in his response, Mark had told them that the privilege of the 11 senators was not breached in any way since they were the ones that instituted legal action against the principal officers of the Senate.
According to Mark, the matter at stake could not be discussed at the floor of the Senate while it was still pending in court.
“Well, that cannot be your privilege because the matter as you are very conscious of and aware of is in court. Therefore, we cannot make reference to a matter that is in court. You were the ones who went to court. You have come by way of a Point of Order but because the matter is in court, I shall have no further discussion on it because our order is very clear. No reference shall be made on a matter that is already in court. Therefore, I rule you out of order,” the Senate President had ruled.
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