By Patrick Andrew
The Supreme Court yesterday made a landmark judgment when it decided that an elected representative in parliament who defected to another political party while still serving on the ticket of his or her former party loses such seat in the parliament.
The apex court judgment was handed down in the case brought before it by Representative Ifedayo Abegunde, representing Akure South/North Federal Constituency of Ondo State.
Abegunde, who had defected from the Labour Party, which sponsored his election in 2011, to the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, had sought to vacate the decision of the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal, which had hitherto ruled against him.
In yesterday’s judgment, the Supreme Court ruled against the continued stay of Representative Abegunde, in the House, and ordered that he should with immediate effect vacate his seat.
In a unanimous decision by the seven-man panel, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the apex court held that Abegunde’s defection could not be justified since his excuse of purported division in the Labour Party was not in existence in the “national structure” of the party.
The court noted that the division and factionalisation, cited by Abegunde as his excuse for abandoning the LP, was only at the state level. He had in a bid to pre-empt his recall by the party, filed a suit at the Federal High Court and subsequently at the Appeal Court. But he lost in both, leading to his resort to the Supreme Court for the final verdict.
Justice Musa Muhammad, who read the lead judgment, held that only a “division” that makes it “impossible or impracticable” for the party to function, by virtue of the provision in Section 68(1)(g) of the constitution, justifies a person’s defection to another party.
The decision, according to legal luminaries would shade light on issues of lawmakers vacating their seats in the parliament once they have defected to another political other than the one that had sponsored them to the assembly.
It also makes clear that conflict that could serve as grounds for defection must be national in nature to serve as credible basis for an elected representative to defect to another party and still retain his seat in the assembly.
Peoples Daily Weekend recalls that similar cases are pending in courts including those filed by the PDP against the 13 Senators that had defected to the then newly formed APC, and the case that party filed against the Speaker of House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who had dumped the ruling party to the opposition APC sometime in October, last but declined to vacate his seat, among several other similar cases.
This ruling no doubt would put a stop to the gale of defection that has hit the Nigerian polity in the countdown to the 2015 general elections, and after.
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