The seats of All Progressives Congress members in the House of Representatives, who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party, came under threat on Monday when an Abuja Federal High Court ruling that they could not validly function as members of the House because their defection was unconstitutional.
Consequently, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, in his judgment in a suit filed by the PDP after the defection of 42 of its lawmakers initially gave the APC a majority in the House of Representatives, declared that the defected legislators were not competent to sponsor, contribute or vote on any motion calling for a change in the leadership of the House, including the election of principal officers.
Justice Ademola also made an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defected lawmakers from taking any step to alter the leadership of the House of Representatives.
Interestingly, the judge suggested that the 42 lawmakers should “honourably” relinquish their seats because, according to him, they have no business in the National Assembly, but he did not order them to vacate their seats as the suit filed by the PDP did not ask for such a relief.
Following the defection of the lawmakers to the APC, PDP had approached the court, asking that the legislators should be restrained from altering or changing the leadership of the House, or taking any steps to do so.
PDP, through its lawyer, Yunus Usman, SAN, argued that the defection of the lawmakers was unconstitutional, as it did not comply with the provisions of section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which qualifies elected public office holders to defect to another political party and retain their seats in situations where there is division within political parties.
The ruling party insisted that there was no division within its ranks to warrant the lawmakers from defecting and continuing to hold on to their seats, but the APC legislators, who were listed as the 12th to 53rd defendants in the suit, argued that there was a division in the PDP.
Delivering judgment in the matter, Justice Ademola noted that the verdict was informed by the court’s interpretation of section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution, which read, “68 (1) A member of the Senate or the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if –
“ (g) Being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected; provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of 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.”
The judge said, “The above constitutional provision is clear and unambiguous and must be given its literal meaning.
“From the facts admitted by the parties, the 12th to 53rd defendants (defected lawmakers) were sponsored by the PDP in the 2011 elections and their terms are yet to expire.
“It is the court’s opinion from the evidence before it that there is no division in the PDP.”