By Douglas Okoro
Abakaliki, -. A federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki has sacked Sen. Sonni Ogbuoji, representing Ebonyi South Senatorial District from office.
The court also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election with immediate effect in the senatorial district.
The presiding judge, Justice Akintola Aluko, handed down the judgement on Thursday in Abakaliki.
Aluko also ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return issued to the senator in 2015 and immediately conduct a fresh election to fill the vacant seat.
The court held that by defecting from the party under which platform he was elected to another party, Ogbuoji flouted section 68(1)g of the 1999 constitution.
The court also ordered the lawmaker to refund all monies 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 judge said: “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.
“The person shall vacate his seat if he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which he 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.
“In other words, any lawmaker who defects to another political party when the party under whose platform he was elected was not undergoing any form of crisis or was not part of a merger with two or more political parties shall vacate his seat.”
In the 71-page judgment, Aluko held that Ogbuoji, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2018, flouted the above section of the constitution.
The judgment was in respect of suit number FHC/AI/CS/44/2018 filed by Ogbonnaya Anegu, Oti Ude, Richard Ajali, Sunday Okoro and Simon Ogbadu for themselves and on behalf of the members of PDP in Ebonyi south.
The petitioners had sued Ogbuoji and INEC as 1st and 2nd defendants, asking the court to declare Ogbuoji’s seat vacant for defecting to APC when there was no crisis or division in PDP.
The plaintiffs also prayed the court to order the first defendant (Ogbuoji) to refund all monies he might have been paid since January 2018, when he defected from PDP to APC.
The plaintiffs contended that Ogbuoji’s conduct, if not condemned and upturned, would encourage political prostitution and legislative rascality.
But in his defence, Ogbuoji claimed that he resigned his membership of the PDP and defected to APC on Jan. 27, 2017 and not January 2018 as claimed by the plaintiffs.
He also said 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 he submitted to the PDP Secretary of his Ebunwana Ward, Mrs Ragina Agwu on Jan. 27, 2017.
But the plaintiffs countered by providing evidence that the said Agwu was not the secretary of the ward at the time the said letter was allegedly given to her.
She was said to have been expelled by the party on January 23, 2017.
They also argued that Ogbuoji, who claimed to have defected from PDP to APC in January 2017 took active part in the non-elective and elective congresses of PDP in August and December 2017 as a delegate.
The court, in its findings, said there were discrepancies in the pieces of evidence provided by Ogbuoji which, it maintained, rendered them unreliable and doubtful.
“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 inconsistencies, contradictions and suspicion,” the judge said.
The court, therefore, held that the plaintiffs proved their case beyond reasonable doubt, “adducing credible evidence to establish that Ogbuoji defected to the APC in January 2018 and not January 2017 as he claimed in his defence.
“It is also said that at the time of defection, there was no division or faction in PDP to warrant such defection as permitted by section 68 (1)g of the constitution.
“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.
“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.
“He is therefore to refund 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 beginning from the date of his unconstitutional defection to date.
“Consequently, I hold that the case of the plaintiffs has merit and hereby succeeds,” Aluko said.
The court awarded the sum of N500,000 in favour of the plaintiffs.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Ogbuoji contested the 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi on the platform of APC but lost to the incumbent Gov. David Umahi.
By Douglas Okoro