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Supreme Court Orders Lawmaker To Vacate Seat Over Defection

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The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Muhammed

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Muhammed

THE Supreme Court yesterday ordered a member of the House of Representatives representing Akure South/North Federal Constituency of Ondo State, Ifedayo Abegunde, to vacate his seat for defecting from the Labour Party (LP), which sponsored him for the election in 2011, to the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

In a unanimous verdict by the seven-man panel led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the apex court held that Abegunde’s defection could not be justified, since his excuse of purported division in the LP was not in existence in the “national structure” of the party.

The court held that the division and factionalisation cited by Abegunde as his excuse for abandoning the LP was only at the state level.

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.

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

He lost the case at the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal and subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court.

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

Justice Muhammad held: “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, has 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 which platform he or she contested and won his or her seat.

The apex court rejected argument canvassed by the counsel for Abegunde, Mr. Akin Ladipo, to the effect that  “any division” in a political party would entitle a person to defect from a party that 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.

“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.”

He added: “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.”


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