NIGERIA- The Federal High Court in Abuja ruled on Friday that a former Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio’s movement from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress last year was not a case of defection.
Justice Okon Abang, in a judgment held that that the senator only “moved to join APC out of frustration of being expelled by the PDP through a letter dated August 2, 2018”.
The judge held that having been expelled, Akpabio was at liberty to join another political party of his choice.
He held that to declare Akpabio’s seat vacant as requested by the plaintiff, Legal Defence and Assistance Project would be to punish him for exercising his right to freedom of association under section 40 of the Constitution.
The court made the pronouncement in his judgment in a suit filed by LEDAP seeking an order declaring the seats of 54 members of the National Assembly, including Akpabio, accused of unlawful defection from the parties which sponsored their elections to other ones.
Although the judge struck out the case in respect of 53 of the lawmakers without considering the merit of the case on the grounds that the plaintiff lacked locus standi, he dismissed it in respect of Akpabio, after considering the claim of the plaintiff on merit.
Akpabio’s case was singled out among the cases of the 53 others being the only one whom the judge said successfully proved that he did not defect but moved following his expulsion by his former party.
The judge ruled on the case against Akpabio on merit in his ruling incorporated in the Friday’s judgment while making a pronouncement on an application seeking the reference of the lawmaker’s peculiar matter to the Court of Appeal for interpretation.
The plaintiff had anchored its suit on section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution which provides that the seat of a legislator who defects from his or her party without any division in the party before the end of the tenure for which the party sponsors the lawmaker’s election shall be declared vacant.
In his judgment, Justice Abang held that the provision of section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution was not applicable to Akpabio, who “neither defected nor decamped” but only moved from the PDP following his expulsion.
He held that he could not refer the matter to the Court of Appeal for interpretation as requested by Akpabio’s co-senators joined as defendants in the suit because the jurisdiction of the plaintiff who instituted the action was still being questioned.