A Federal High Court sitting in Akure has sacked a member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Ifedayo Abegunde representing Akure North/Akure South Federal Constituency, for defecting from the party from which he was elected.
Abegunde was elected into the House of Representative on the platform of the Labour Party (LP) during the April 2011 general elections, but defected to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) after a few months.
He had approached the court for judicial protection against his recall by the Ondo State House of Assembly and the Labour Party.
Joined in the suit are the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Abegunde’ s counsel, Chief Adekola Olawoye had argued that by the provisions of Section 68(1) (G)) of the 1999 Constitution and the imbroglio, division and factionalization in LP, he is entitled to dump the party.
The defence counsel led by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ondo state, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) with the state’s Director of Civil Litigation, Rotimi Olamide submitted that since Abegunde had dumped LP and has not proved any division within party, he has automatically vacated his seat as a federal lawmaker.
The defendants also prayed that the electoral body should conduct by-election to fill the vacant seat.
In her judgment, presiding judge, Justice Gloria Okeke noted that without a political party, no candidate can contest an election since there is no provision for independent candidacy in Nigerian elections.
Citing a Supreme Court decision in Amaechi vs INEC (2008) 5 NWLR Pt. 1080, she added that “if it is only a party that canvasses for votes, it follows that it is a party that wins an election. A good or bad candidate may enhance or diminish the prospect of his party in winning, but at the end of the day it is the party that wins or loses an election.
Okeke held further that Abegunde could not prove the alleged division and crisis in LP by the virtue of the letter signed by the State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Akin Orebiyi that “we are not aware of any crisis or issue concerning dispute in LP.
“We were also present at the Congress that produced the elected and recognized State Chairman of the party. As far as INEC was concerned, there was no crisis or factionalization in LP in Ondo State.
According to her, the issue raised by Abegunde was not a dispute that should warrant his defection to the ACN, adding that it is a constitutional matter that a parliamentarian who defects in this manner “shall (mandatory and not a mere directive, not a matter of opinion) vacate his seat”.
“Since it is the 9th defendant, Labour Party that sponsored the plaintiff (Abegunde) in the election into the House of Representatives to represent Akure North/Akure South Federal Constituency and defected on account of unproven imbroglio, crisis, dispute and factionalization in the party, the plaintiff has lost the seat and should therefore vacate the seat and I so hold” Okeke ruled.
While Jegede hailed the judgment as a landmark in the annals of the Nigerian legal history, the plaintiff’s counsel, Olawoye, who described the judgment as unacceptable, said his client will appeal against the judgment.
This is a noble ruling in the nation’s political history, as a number of elected officer such as governors and Senators have decamped from the political parties which they won their election to another party without any legal tussle.