Court sacks Cross River speaker, 19 others over defection

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From Godwin Tsa, Abuja and Judex Okoro, Calabar

The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has sacked 20 lawmakers including  the Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly,  Eteng Williams over their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress (APC).Eteng Williams 1

However, in a swift reaction, the affected lawmakers who were represented by human rights activist,  Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), have vowed to challenge the judgment at the Court of Appeal.

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Justice Taiwo Taiwo kicked out the lawmakers in his judgment in a suit filed by the PDP to challenge the lawmakers’ defection, dismissed all the preliminary objections raised by the sacked lawmakers.

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

He noted that “lawmakers wined and dined under the umbrella of the PDP,” but ditched the party 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 action of the 5th to the 25th Defendants is feeble and constitutes an attempt to pull a wool in the eyes of the court.

The affected lawmakers are Michael Etaba, Legor Idagbor, Eteng Jonah William, Joseph A. Bassey, Odey Peter Agbe, Okon E. Ephraim, Regina L. Anyogo, Matthew S. Olory, Ekpo Ekpo Bassey, Ogbor Ogbor Udop and Ekpe Charles Okon.

Others are 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 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.

Counsel to the lawmakers, Chief Ozekhome, had challenged the court’s jurisdiction to hear the suit on the grounds that the cause of action arose in Calabar and that the matter should be transferred to the high court in Calabar.

But Justice Taiwo held that “there is nothing against the law that the suit be heard by this court”.

He said the 4th-25th defendants were joined with other defendants who have their offices in Abuja.

“Where there is more than one defendant, the suit can be established anywhere, subject to the discretion of the court. I find no merit in the application for transfer.”

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Besides, the lawmakers had tendered letters showing their expulsion from the PDP to argue that they only joined  the APC after they were expelled from the PDP.

It was the case of  the lawmakers that there was rancour in the PDP which led to their expulsion from the party.

In its argument before the court, the APC had submitted that the lawmakers are not registered members of the party.

However, the judge held that the defendants had intentions to mislead the court. He said he found gaps and loopholes in their defence as they tried to twist events to suit their own narratives.

Taiwo noted that they not only defected loudly, “they took pictures of their defection and were received by the officials of the 26th defendant”.

“The is no doubt that the defendants can belong to or join any political association and assembly as they are free to do so. I consider the attempts of the 6th – 25th defendants to justify their defection, feeble in the circumstances of this case.”

Taiwo said the public voted for the lawmakers through the plaintiff who sponsored them and they were not elected as independent candidates.

“They had a vehicle which conveyed them and that vehicle belongs to the plaintiff. They cannot abandon the vehicle,” he held.

The judge said politicians treat citizens who elected them into power as if they do not matter when they assume office. He said a day will come when elected officers must resign if they migrate to another party — or seek the permission of the people before they decamp.

Hailing the judgment, the Cross River PDP chairman,  Venatius Ikem, said: “It was a heart-warning judgement and a victory for Cross Riverians who voted for PDP in 2019 general election. We commend the judiciary for protecting democracy.

“We shall quickly take all judicial steps to ensure the affected lawmakers  vacante their seats accordingly because it is very clear that they are gone.

“Since the Ebonyi judgement, they know that they have violated all political processes. We shall meet as a party to prepare replacements for those vacant seats this week because it has become imperative.”

Speaker of the Cross River House of Assembly, Jona William Eteng, said they have not been officially served the judgment of the Abuja High Court.

Eteng, representing Yakurr II state constituency and who also detected to APC, said when they get the details of the judgment they would take necessary steps.

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