The Supreme Court, yesterday, ordered a member of the National Assembly representing Akure South/North Federal Constituency of Ondo State in the House of Representatives, Hon. Ifedayo Abegunde, to vacate his seat.
Trouble started when Abegunde, in a pre-emptive move after his defection from the Labour Party (LP) to the then Action Congress of Nigeria in 2011, approached an Akure Federal High Court to stop the LP from declaring his seat vacant on account of his defection.
After he first lost the case at the trial court, Abegunde proceeded to the appellate court, but sadly, he also lost. Not satisfied with the outcome of the Court of Appeal, the Federal legislator filed an appeal at the apex court, challenging the judgment of the trial court.
However, delivering judgment yesterday in the appeal, the Supreme Court panel led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, dismissed Abegunde’s appeal for lacking in merit. In a lead judgment read by Justice Musa Muhammad, the seven-man panel of the Supreme Court unanimously held that Abegunde had no moral right to have defected as there was no division in the LP, as he alleged.
Justice Muhammad noted that Abegunde’s defection was unjustifiable on grounds that his claim of purported division in the LP never existed in the “national structure” of the party.
The panel also stated that the “division” and “factionalisation” cited by the legislator only existed at the state level, and therefore could not have been used as a ploy to abandon a party he used its ticket to contest and win an election.
The Supreme Court added that Abegunde’s action could only have been tenable if there existed a “division” that is “impossible or impracticable” for the party to function. Therefore, going by the provision of Section 68(1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the panel declared that “it is only division in a party” that justifies a person’s defection to another party.
Consequently, the apex court dismissed the appeal as lacking in merit and upheld the judgments of the two lower courts. In addition, the Supreme Court declared Abegunde’s seat as member representing Akure South/North Federal Constituency of Ondo State in the House of Representatives vacant. In September last year, the appellate court sitting in Akure had declared Abegunde’s seat vacant consequent upon his defection from the LP to the then Action Congress of Nigeria.
Justice A. G Mitchel, who presided over the panel, had upheld the judgment of the Federal High Court Akure, which had earlier declared the legislator’s defection from the LP to the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria in 2011, as unlawful.
The five-man panel of the appellate court said the appellant (Abegunde) failed to abide by the constitutional process guiding defection from one party to another. According to the panel, there was no division within the LP to warrant a defection, and therefore held that Abegunde should vacate his seat.
Abegunde had in his originating summons pleaded the trial court to determine whether or not in view of the provisions of Section 68(1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) he was not entitled to dump the LP to another party. But in a counter move, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ondo state, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) filed a counter-claim seeking among others, that Abegunde should vacate his seat as he had defected to another party.
Delivering judgment, Justice Grace Okeke of the Federal High Court Akure had held that there was no division within the Labour Party before Abegunde defected to the then Action Congress of Nigeria.