The Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki 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 Thursday by Justice Akintola Aluko of the Abakaliki Division of the court.
Delivering a 71-page judgement, Justice Aluko held that that Ogbuoji, who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressive Congress (APC) in 2018, flouted Section 68(1)g of the 1999 Constitution.
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 or in crisis
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.
Also, 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.
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 Ogbuoji and INEC (2nd defendant), asking the court to declare Ogbuoji’s seat vacant for defecting to the APC when there was no crisis or division in the PDP.
Reteirating the position of the law on the matter,the judge said: “Section 68 (1)g says that 'a member of Senate or House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the house if being a person whose election to the house was sponsored by another political party'.
“The person shall vacate his seat if he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which he was elected, provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party, which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored.
“In other words, any lawmaker who defects to another political party when the party under whose platform he was elected was not undergoing any form of crisis or was not part of a merger with two or more political parties shall vacate his seat."
The plaintiffs contended that Ogbuoji’s conduct, if not condemned, would encourage political prostitution and legislative rascality.
But in his defence, Ogbuoji claimed that he resigned his membership of the PDP and defected to APC on Jan. 27, 2017 and not January 2018 as claimed by the plaintiffs.
He also said 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 he submitted to the PDP
Secretary of his Ebunwana Ward, Mrs Ragina Agwu, on Jan. 27, 2017.
However, the plaintiffs punctured Ogbuoji's defence by providing evidence that the said Agwu was not the secretary of the ward at the time the said letter was allegedly given to her.
The plaintiffs claimed Mrs Agwu was expelled by the party on January 23, 2017.
They also argued that Ogbuoji, who claimed to have defected from PDP to APC in January 2017, took active part in the non-elective and elective congresses of PDP in August and December 2017 as a delegate.
The court, in its findings, said there were discrepancies in the pieces of evidence provided by Ogbuoji, which, it maintained, rendered them unreliable and doubtful.
The judge said: “There is no basis to attach any probative or evidential value to the said exhibits," the judge said.
“What that means is that the defendant’s claim of resignation on January 2017 is shrouded in inconsistencies, contradictions and suspicion."
The court, therefore, held that the plaintiffs proved their case beyond reasonable doubt, “adducing credible evidence to establish that Ogbuoji defected to the APC in January 2018 and not January 2017 as he claimed in his defence.
“It is also said that at the time of defection, there was no division or faction in PDP to warrant such defection as permitted by section 68 (1)g of the constitution.
Therefore, giving his final verdict the Judge said: “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.
“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.
“He is therefore to refund 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 beginning from the date of his unconstitutional defection to date. Consequently, I hold that the case of the plaintiffs has merit and hereby succeeds.”
The court awarded the sum of N500,000 in favour of the plaintiffs.
Ogbuoji contested the 2019 governorship election in Ebonyi on the platform of APC and lost to the incumbent Governor, David Umahi