A FEDERAL High Court sitting in Abuja yesterday sacked two Cross Rivers House of Representatives and 18 members of the State House of Assembly over their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The PDP had challenged their defection, saying the there was no division in the party that warranted such.
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.
A similar case challenging the defection of Cross River Governor, Prof Ben Ayade’s, is due for judgement on Friday.
The federal lawmakers affected by yesterday’s verdict are Michael Etaba, who represents Obubra/Etung Federal Constituency and Legor Idagbor from Obudu/Obanliku/Bekwarra.
The seats of House of Assembly Speaker Eteng Williams and his deputy, Joseph Bassey, were among those declared vacant by the court.
The others are: Odey Peter Agbe, Okon E. Ephraim, Regina L. Anyogo, Matthew S. Olory, Ekpo Ekpo Bassey, Ogbor Ogbor Udop, Ekpe Charles Okon, Hillary Ekpang Bisong, Francis B. Asuquo, Elvert Ayambem, Davis Etta, Sunday U. Achunekan, Cynthia Nkasi, Edward Ajang, Chris Nja-Mbu Ogar and Maria Akwaji.
But in a reaction, Speaker Eteng said he and his colleagues were not aware of the judgment sacking them.
Ruling on a suit instituted by the PDP to challenge the lawmakers’ defection, Justice Taiwo Taiwo dismissed all the preliminary objections raised by the sacked lawmakers.
Justice Taiwo said: “A day must surely come when elected officials must ask the people who voted for them before defecting to other political parties.
“The lawmakers wined and dined under the umbrella of the PDP, but jumped ship to the APC 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 lawmakers dumped the PDP with Prof Ayade Ayade last year.
PDP lawyer Emmanuel Ukala (SAN), sought the court’s interpretation of the provisions of Section 109(1)(g) of the constitution, which prohibits a lawmaker from defecting to another political party without justifiable reasons.
Mr Ukala also drew the court’s attention ti the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Abegunde versus Ondo State House of Assembly (2015).
He contended that the lawmakers, being persons whose election to the parliament was sponsored by the PDP and having become members of another political party, their seats should be declared vacant.
In the court papers filed before the judge, the PDP prayed for “an order of injunction restraining the lawmakers from acting as members of parliament both in Abuja and Calabar, the Cross River State capital.
The plaintiff also sought an order of injunction restraining INEC, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, clerk of the National Assembly, the House of Assembly for Cross River State and the clerk of the State Assembly from according recognition to the dismissed lawmakers.
In addition, the party urged the court to make “an order of mandatory injunction compelling INEC to accept from the PDP the list of candidates for the purpose of filling the vacancies created by the exit of the lawmakers from the parliament on account of their defections.”
In its verdict, the court held that despite the fact that the major cause of action arose in Calabar, it has both “territorial and subject matter” jurisdictions to entertain the suit.
The judge agreed with the plaintiff that there was no rancour within the PDP to create the opportunity for thelawmakers to ditch their former party on whose platform they emerged in the 2019 general elections.
“That at the time the lawmakers defected from the PDP to the APC, the PDP did not have division in the party,” the judge said.
Counsel to the sacked lawmakers, Mike Ozekhome, also a senior advocate, said the court’s decision would be challenged at the Court of Appeal.
The verdict caused disquiet across the state and there have been swift reactions.
The PDP instituted the case challenging the defection of the legislators, who defected with Governor Ben Ayade from the PDP.
PDP chairman in the state, Venatius Item, hailed the judgment saying “it was a heart-warming judgement and a victory for Cross Riverians who voted for PDP in 2019 general election. We commend the judiciary for protecting democracy.”
He added that the PDP “shall quickly take all judicial steps to ensure the affected lawmakers vacate their seats accordingly because it is very clear that they are gone.”
Speaker Eteng said the lawmakers were yet to be officially served the judgment of the Abuja High Court.
He assured that appropriate action would be taken when they get the details of the judgment.
Senator Princess Florence Ita-Giwa, an APC chieftain said the ruling would be appealed.
Another APC chieftain Senator Steven Odey also said the matter would be challenged at upper courts, adding “and in the final analysis the APC will be victorious.
He insisted that there was crisis in the PDP when the lawmakers defected.
Odey said: “There was serious crisis in the PDP and Governor Ayade and his supporters were pushed out. The crisis went all the way to the Supreme Court so you cannot say there was no crisis and factions in the PDP. They did not want us, why are they seeking our return?”