Defection: Supreme Court sacks Reps member | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Defection: Supreme Court sacks Reps member

Posted: Apr 18, 2015 at 9:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Joe Nwankwo, Assistant Editor,Abuja


The Supreme Court on Friday ordered a member of House of Representatives representing Akure South/North Federal Constituency of Ondo State, Ifedayo Abegunde, to vacate his seat based on his defection from the Labour Party, on which platform he was elected into the House.

Abegunde defected from the LP to the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria in 2011.

In a unanimous decision by the seven-man panel led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the apex court held that a legislator’s defection to another party could only be justified if there was a division in the national structures which incapacitated the party that sponsored his election to function.

The apex court further held that Abegunde’s defection could not be justified since his excuse of purported division in the Labour Party was not in existence at the national level of the party. The court noted that the “division” or “factionalisation” of Labour Party cited by Abegunde as his excuse for abandoning the party was only at the state level.

The judgment affirmed the concurrent decisions of the Akure divisions of the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal, both of which had earlier ruled that Abegunde’s defection was unjustifiable.

Justice Muhammad, who read the lead judgment of the Supreme Court on Friday, held that only a “division that made it “impossible or impracticable” for the party to function by virtue of the proviso in section 68(1)(g) of the constitution “justifies” a person’s defection to another party.

In the opening of his judgment, Justice Muhammad said he had earlier on March 19, 2015 dismissed Abegunde’s appeal and the cross-appeal filed with respect to the case as both were “unmeritorious”.

He explained that the Friday’s judgment was to give the reasons for dismissing the appeal and the cross appeal.

He cited previous Supreme Court decisions in FEDECO v Goni and Attorney General of the Federation v Abubakar to support its decision.

Justice Muhammad said, “The principles enunciated by this court in the two cases – FEDECO v Goni supra and Attorney General of the Federation v Abubakar supra – is to the effect that only such factionalisation, fragmentation, splintering or ‘division’ that makes it impossible or impracticable for a particular party to function as such will, by virtue of the proviso to section 68(1)(g), justify a person’s defection to another party and the retention of his seat for the unexpired term in the house in spite of the defection.”Otherwise, as rightly held by the courts below, the defector automatically loses his seat.”

Justice Muhammad explained that by virtue of the combined provisions of section 68(1)(a) and (g) as well as section 222(a), (e) and (f) of the constitution, division in a party at the state level did not entitle a legislator to abandon the party on whose platform he or she contested and won his or her seat.

The apex court rejected argument canvassed by the counsel for the appellant, Akin Ladipo, to the effect that not “any division” in a political party would entitle a person to defect from a party who sponsored his election without having to lose his seat.

Justice Muhammad held, “I am unable to agree with learned counsel to the appellant that on facts and law as concurrently applied by the two courts below, their decisions can be interfered with.

His words “One is left in no doubt that the determination of the dispute, the trial court is approached to resolve, turns decisively on the meaning of word ‘division’ as used by the framers of the proviso to section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 constitution as amended.”

“Not being the kind of ‘division’ that affects the national structures and therefore the corporate existence of the party, learned counsel insists, appellant’s defection does not come within the proviso to section 68(1)(g) to entitle him to retain his seat in the House of Representatives in spite of his defection to the ACN from the Labour Party on which platform he contested and won the seat. This position of the respondents is unassailable” he added.

Specifically,Abegunde had defected from LP to the ACN in 2011 and in a bid to pre-empt the party from recalling him, he filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Akure.

In its judgment delivered on May 30, 2012, the Federal High Court dismissed Abegunde’s suit and the counter-claim filed by some of the defendants in the suit.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, Abegunde further appealed to the Court of Appeal, which in its decision delivered on September 15, 2015, also dismissed the appellant’s case.

Abegunde further appealed to the Supreme Court and on March 19, 2015, the apex court dismissed the appeal? and the respondents’ cross-appeals. The apex court only explained the reasoning behind its earlier March 19 decision