A Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election in the state after it declared the Ebonyi South Senatorial Zone seat occupied by Chief Sonni Ogbuoji vacant in a Tuesday, April 16, ruling.
The Court in a 71-page judgement delivered by Justice Akintola Aluko of the Abakaliki Division of the court held that Chief Ogbuoji, by defecting from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under whose platform he was elected, to the All Progressives Congress (APC), flouted section 68(1)g of the 1999 Constitution.
Equally, the court ordered the INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Sen. Ogbuoji immediately and conduct a fresh election to fill the seat.
The court also ordered Sen. Ogbuoji to refund all monies, be it salaries, allowances or any order form of payment he may have received as benefits as a senator from the date of his defection to the coffers of Federal Government.
The 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, 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.”
The court held that Sen. Ogbuoji’s defection from the PDP to the APC in 2018 flouted the above section of the Constitution.
The Judgement was in respect of suit number FHC/AI/CS/44/2018 filed by five Plaintiffs: Mr. Evo Ogbonnaya Anegu, Oti Ama Ude, Uche Richard Ajali, Una Sunday Okoro and Simon Ajali Ogbadu for themselves and on behalf of the teaming members of the PDP in Ebonyi South Senatorial Zone.
The Plaintiffs sued Chief Ogbuoji and the Independent National Electoral Commission (referred to as 2nd Defendant) praying 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 1st defendant (Ogbuoji) to refund all monies may have been paid to him since January 2018 when he defected from the PDP to the APC.
The Plaintiffs, in their postulations through their counsel, Barr. Roy Umahi, expressed worry that Chief 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.
Chief Ogbuoji through his counsel, Barr M O Odoh, 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.
Barr Odoh contended that the crisis in the party was finally resolved in July 2017 by the Supreme Court, insisting that Ogbuoji had resigned his membership of the party before then, via a letter of resignation he submitted to the PDP Secretary of Ebunwana Ward, in the person of one Mr 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 the said letter was allegedly given to her as she had already been expelled by the party on January 23, 2017.
The court, in its findings, observed that there were discrepancies in the evidences provided by Ogbuoji’s counsel which rendered them unreliable and doubtful.
The court 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.
“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.
“Consequently, I hold that the case of the plaintiffs has merit and same hereby succeeds”, Justice Akintayo stated
The Court also awarded the sum of N500, 000 in favour of the plaintiff against the 1st Defendant.
It would be recalled that Sen. Sonni Ogbuoji contested and lost the 2019 Governorship election in Ebonyi State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress ( APC) against the incumbent Governor David Umahi of the People’s Democratic Party ( PDP).