The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed an appeal brought by Rep Ifedayo Abegunde, Akure North/Akure South Federal Constituency of Ondo State and ordered him to vacate his seat at the National Assembly.
Abegunde had in 2011 defected from Labour Party (LP) to the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) on the ground that there was division in LP and then filed a suit at the Federal High Court seeking to stop any attempt to declare his seat vacant.
Delivering judgment, the apex court’s seven-man panel, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, held that Abegunde’s defection from the LP on which platform he was elected to the National Assembly, was unjustifiable.
The CJN who read the lead judgment, held that only a “division that makes it impossible or impracticable’’ for the Labour party to function, by virtue of the provision of Section 68(1)(g) of the constitution, justifies a lawmaker’s defection to another party.
The court further upheld the decisions of the Court of Appeal, Akure Division, and the trial Federal High Court, which had both delivered judgment against the appellant.
The CJN said: “The two courts are right that the Labour Party that has continued to function as a political party by meeting the conditions by virtue of Section of 221 and 222 of the constitution, cannot be said to be so factionalized, fragmented, split or divided to justify the defection of the appellant to another party and retention of his seat.
“The lower court must be commended for its consideration of several clauses of the same constitution and coming out with the harmonious conclusion it has and by so doing enthroning the real intention of the framers of the constitution.
“It is for all the foregoing reasons that I found the Appeal and the Cross-Appeal unmeritorious and dismiss same and the consequential orders I made while dismissing both appeals remain extant.’’
The trial Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal had held that the purported division of LP was non-existent at the national level of the party and dismissed the suit forthwith.
Not satisfied with the two judgments, Abegunde proceeded to the Supreme Court to further try his luck.
Section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, empowers the Speaker of the House of Reps to declare the seat of a lawmaker, who defects from the political party on whose platform he/she was elected to another political party, vacant.