18 May 2019

Nigeria: Defection - Saraki, Dogara, 51 Others Guilty of Political Iniquity - Court

Abuja — A Federal High Court, Abuja yesterday declared that the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara and 51 other federal lawmakers committed political iniquity when they decamped from their respective political parties prior to the 2015 general election and they ought to be kept in political asylum.

Justice Okon Abang, in a judgement he delivered yesterday in a suit filed by an advocacy group under the aegis of Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP to declare their seats vacant said that the federal lawmakers defected when their political parties needed them most.

With barely 23 days to the expiration of the lifespan of the 8th National Assembly, the affected lawmakers however narrowly escaped the judicial hammer, as the court dismissed the suit as it was not filed by a valid plaintiff.

Though the court held that Saraki and 52 other federal lawmakers acted in breach of section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, it however declined to sack them from the National Assembly on the premise that the plaintiff, LEDAP, lacked the locus standi to file the suit.

Out of 54 federal lawmakers who decamped from their respective political parties prior to the 2015 general election, who were cited as defendants in the matter, Justice Abang, held that only the former Minority Leader of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, would have survived the wrath of the law if the suit was properly filed.

Justice Abang said he would have ordered the lawmakers to immediately vacate their seats and refund all the salaries they received from the day they decamped from political parties that sponsored them into the National Assembly, assuming the suit was brought by a valid plaintiff.

According to the court, "the defendants defected when their political parties needed them most, out of their fanciful and selfish political interest and ambition. They ought to be kept in political asylum for committing political iniquity".

Lawmakers the plaintiff asked the court to declare their seats vacant comprised of 17 Senators and 37 members of the House of Reps. The affected lawmakers included both members of the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

The court agreed with the plaintiff that the defendants apart from Akpabio, failed to adduce any evidence to establish that there was division in their political parties before they defected.

Justice Abang dismissed contention by Saraki and other lawmakers that they defected to the PDP after the APC was bedevilled by an internal crisis that led to the formation of the Reformed All Progressives Congress, RAPC. The court held that the RAPC was a body that was unknown to any law in Nigeria.

It maintained that the condition precedent that would have allowed the lawmakers to jump ship before the general election, was not in existence as at the time they decamped.

However, the court stressed that though the plaintiff presented a very good case, it was unable to prove how the defection of the lawmakers affected its rights and obligations, above that of the general public.

It said the case could not be classified as a public interest litigation suit since the plaintiff did not secure the fiat of the Attorney General of the Federation to institute the action against the lawmakers.

Besides, the court observed that neither the APC, the PDP nor any political party was joined in the suit.

"The court cannot take a decision affecting the decampees without hearing from the political party that sponsored them. None of the political parties were joined in the suit. So the proper parties are not before the court.

"The fact that the plaintiff is registered under the Company and Allied Matters Act, CAMA, does not confer it with statutory powers to maintain the suit. Therefore, I have no jurisdiction to consider the case of the plaintiff on merit except for the case of the 3rd defendant (Akpabio)", Justice Abang held.

He said LEDAP was further stripped off the locus standi to sustain the action since it is neither the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, a registered political party, a voter, nor a member of any constituency of the decamped lawmakers.

"When a plaintiff lacks locus standi, it will affect the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the action, the nature of the case not withstanding. The plaintiff has placed nothing before the court to show whether members of the constituency that voted the defectors are aware of this case.

"The plaintiff has not shown that it suffered any injury over and above other members of the public.

"Upon a calm review of the case, I am persuaded to hold the view that though the plaintiff has a good case, though its effort is aimed at promoting the rule of law and regulating conduct of the political class who are bent on cross-carpeting from one political party to the other for their selfish interest at the detriment, well-being, peaceful co-existence, growth and development of the country, I do not think the plaintiff had the locus standi to institute this case", Justice Abang held.

On Akpabio's case, Justice Abang said there was evidence before the court that he joined the APC after he was expelled by the PDP.

He held that having been expelled, Akpabio was no longer a member of any political party as at the time he "moved" to the APC to exercise his constitutional right under section 40 of the constitution.

"As regards to Senator Akpabio, I agree with submission of his counsel and having regards to the fact placed before the court, that the Senator only moved or joined the APC based on frustration.

"The 3rd Defendant having been expelled by the PDP, had the constitutional right to join any political party of his choice".

Justice Abang held that Akpabio ought not to have been joined in the suit for his seat to be declared vacant considering that he had earlier secured a favourable order from an Abuja High Court over the same subject matter.

"Therefore the claim as it affects the 3rd Defendant ought to be dismissed. As at the time the 3rd defendant joined the APC he was no longer a member of any political party having been expelled by the PDP".

More so, Justice Abang held that Akpabio's movement to the APC could be justified under the doctrine of necessity. He said the doctrine implied that he took an extra-legal action with a view to restoring hope to his constituents.

"To declare his seat vacant relying on section 68(1) (g) is to punish him for exercising his right of freedom of association as guaranteed to him in section 40 of the Constitution".

Consequently, the court dismissed the case against Akpabio.

Meantime, among Senators the plaintiff had asked the court to declare their seats vacant included Senators Dino Melaye, Rabiu Kankwaso, Lanre Tejuoso, Shaaba Lafiagi, Rafiu Ibrahim, Barnabas Gemade, Abdulazeez Nyako, Monsurat Sunmonu, Usman Nafada, Suleiman Hunkuyi, Ibrahim Danbaba, Ubale Shittu, lsah Misau and Suleiman Nafif.

The affected House of Representatives members included Hon. Zakari Mohammed, Hon. Aminu Shagari, Hon Ooker-Jev, Hon. Rufai Chanchangi, Hon. Abdulsamad Dasuki, Hon. Sani Zoro, Hon. Benjamin Okolo, Hon. Bode Ayorinde, Hon. Sani Rank, Hon. Dickson Tarkighir, among others.

The plaintiff had through its lawyer, Mr. Jubril Okutekpa, SAN, argued that the only way to curb gale of defections that herald major elections in the country, was for the court to make Sakari and his co-defendants to pay for what it termed as their "political and constitutional iniquities".

Specifically, in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/996/2018, the plaintiff applied for an order of mandamus to compel the Deputy Senate President and his counterpart at the House of Reps, to declare seats of the affected lawmakers vacant to allow the INEC to conduct bye-elections to fill the positions.

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