Legal Nigeria

Court sacks 20 Cross River lawmakers

By Nicholas Kalu

The Federal High Court in Abuja has sacked two members of the House of Representatives and 18 members of the House of Assembly from Cross River State over their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).The PDP had challenged their defection, saying there was no division in the party that warranted such.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Speaker of the House of Representatives, National Assembly, Clerk of the National Assembly, Cross River State House of Assembly, Clerk of the State House of Assembly and the APC were also joined as defendants in the suit.

A similar case challenging the defection of Governor Ben Ayade is due for judgement on Friday.

The federal lawmakers affected by the court judgement are Michael Etaba, who represents Obubra/Etung Federal Constituency and Legor Idagbor, representing Obudu/Obanliku/Bekwarra.

Cross River Speaker Eteng Williams and his deputy, Joseph Bassey were also among those sacked.

The others are Odey Peter Agbe, Okon E. Ephraim, Regina L. Anyogo, Matthew S. Olory, Ekpo Ekpo Bassey, Ogbor Ogbor Udop, Ekpe Charles Okon, Hillary Ekpang Bisong, Francis B. Asuquo, Elvert Ayambem, Davis Etta, Sunday U. Achunekan, Cynthia Nkasi, Edward Ajang, Chris Nja-Mbu Ogar and Maria Akwaji.

The judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, while delivering judgement on a suit instituted by the PDP to challenge the lawmakers’ defection, dismissed all the preliminary objections raised by the sacked lawmakers.

“A day must surely come when elected officials, must ask the people who voted for them before defecting to other political parties,” Justice Taiwo said.

According to the judge: “The lawmakers wined and dined under the umbrella of the PDP,” but jumped ship to the APC even when there was no justification for their action.

“The defendants court documents were contrived and filed with loopholes. The papers are manifestly defective,” the judge said while granting all the reliefs sought by the PDP.

The lawmakers defected alongside Ayade, last year triggering a lawsuit by the PDP on August 27, 2021.

The PDP’s lawyer, Emmanuel Ukala, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), sought the court’s interpretation of the provisions of Section 109(1)(g) of the constitution, which prohibits a lawmaker from defecting to another political party without justifiable reasons.

Ukala also drew the court’s attention to the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Abegunde versus Ondo State House of Assembly (2015).

He contended that the lawmakers being persons whose election to the parliament was sponsored by the PDP and having become members of another political party, their seats should be declared vacant.

In the court papers filed before the judge, the PDP prayed for “an order of injunction restraining the lawmakers from acting as members of parliament both in Abuja and Calabar, the Cross River State capital.

The plaintiff also sought “an order of injunction restraining INEC, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, clerk of the National Assembly, the House of Assembly for Cross River State and the clerk of the State Assembly from according recognition to the dismissed lawmakers.”

In addition, the party urged the court to make “an order of mandatory injunction compelling INEC to accept from the PDP the list of candidates for the purpose of filling the vacancies created by the exit of the lawmakers from the parliament on account of their defections.”

In its verdict, the court held that despite the fact that the major cause of action arose in Calabar, it has both “territorial and subject matter” jurisdictions to entertain the suit.

The judge agreed with the plaintiff that there was no rancour within the PDP to create the opportunity for the lawmakers to ditch their former party on whose platform they emerged in the 2019 general elections.

“That at the time the lawmakers defected from the PDP to the APC, the PDP did not have division in the party,” the judge said.

The lawyer to the sacked lawmakers, Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the court’s decision would be challenged at the Court of Appeal