The Federal High Court has declared the Ebonyi South Senatorial District seat being occupied by Sonni Ogbuoji vacant and ordered him to vacate the seat immediately.
The judgment was delivered on Tuesday by Justice Akintola Aluko of the Abakaliki Division of the court.
It held that Mr Ogbuoji flouted section 68(1)g of the 1999 Constitution by defecting from the party, on which platform he was elected, to another party.
The said section 68(1)g bars elected lawmakers from defecting to another party except if the party on whose platform they were elected is divided.
The court also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificate of return issued to the senator and to conduct a fresh election to fill the seat.
Furthermore, the court ordered the lawmaker to refund to the coffers of government all monies, be it salaries, allowances or any order form of payment, he may have received as benefits from the position from the date of his defection.
Justice Aluko in the 71-page judgement obtained by this newspaper held that Mr Ogbuoji, who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressive Congress (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 Evo Ogbonnaya Anegu, Oti Ama Ude, Uche Richard Ajali, Una Sunday Okoro and Simon Ajali Ogbadu for themselves and on behalf of the members of the PDP in Ebonyi South Senatorial District.
They had sued Mr Ogbuoji and INEC (2nd defendant) asking the court to declare Mr 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 (Mr Ogbuoji) to refund all monies he may have been paid since January 2018 when he defected from The PDP to the APC.
The plaintiffs through their counsel, Roy Umahi, said Mr Ogbuoji’s conduct, if not condemned and upturned, would encourage political prostitution and legislative rascality and destroy the laws made to regulate defections of National Assembly members by the constitution.
But Mr Ogbuoji 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.
He noted 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 of resignation he submitted to the PDP Secretary of his Ebunwana Ward, Ukpo Regina Agwu, on 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 by expelled by the party on 23 January 2017.
They also said Mr Ogbuoji took an active part in the non-elective and elective congresses of the PDP in August and December 2017 as a delegate.
The court, in its findings, said there were discrepancies in the evidence provided by Mr Ogbuoji which rendered them unreliable and doubtful.
For example, the court noted that some of the exhibits presented by the defence like signatures of Mrs Agwu, the erstwhile Ebunwana Ward Secretary, were found to be materially different in the various documents submitted to the court.
“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 inconsistency, contradiction and suspicion,” the judge said.
The court agreed with the plaintiffs that most of the documents provided by the 1st defendant were concocted for the purpose of the suit only.
In conclusion, the court said it has been established that Mr Ogbuoji defected to the APC in January 2018 and not January 2017 as he claimed in his defence.
It also said that, at the time of his defection, there was no division or faction in the 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”, Justice Aluko declared.
The judge 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 said
The judge further ordered INEC to withdraw Mr Ogbuoji’s Certificate of Return and immediately conduct a fresh election to fill the vacant seat created by his unconstitutional defection.
The court also awarded N500,000 in favour of the plaintiff and against the 1st defendant.
Mr Ogbuoji, it will be recalled, contested the 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi State against the incumbent, David Umahi.
He lost the election to the governor who was on Tuesday issued Certificate of Return and is expected to be sworn in on May 29 for a second term in office.