The Abuja Federal High Court has dismissed the senator representing the north-eastern district of Akwa Ibom, Albert Akpan, for his defection last year from the Democratic Party of the Peoples (PPD).
The court declared his seat vacant and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to hold a by-election to fill it within a period of 14 days, counted from January 20, when the sentence was handed down.
Although Akpan was recently convicted and jailed for corruption, his dismissal by the court has nothing to do with it.
His removal by the court is based on his defection from the PDP to the Young Progressive Party (YPP).
The convict, who is out on post-conviction bail, is the candidate for governor of Akwa Ibom state from his new party, the YPP, in the upcoming gubernatorial elections in March 2023.
Handing down a ruling in the political lawsuit brought against him by the PDP, Judge Fadima Aminu ruled that he was not qualified to retain the seat after resigning from the party that sponsored his election to the Senate for a four-year term in 2019.
The judge ordered Mr. Akpan to stop exposing himself as a senator and ordered him to pay N5 million in costs to the PDP, who sued him for his defection to the YPP.
Ms Aminu said Mr Akpan, a two-term senator, failed in his obligation to prove that his defection from the PDP was necessitated by serious rancor and stark differences in party ranks.
Without justifiable reason, the judge said, the defection violated section 68(1)(g) of the Nigerian constitution and required him to vacate his seat.
“Therefore, this honorable court holds that the first defendant (Mr. Akpan) who resigned from the claimant (PDP) but failed in his duty before this honorable court to prove the alleged serious spite and the stark differences in the ranks of the claimant (PDP) that caused him to resign or defect to the Young Progressive Party (YPP), the first defendant violates section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution by refusing to vacate his seat as senator in the won senate under the patronage of the plaintiff,” the judge said.
PREMIUM TIMES saw a certified true copy of the ruling on Friday.
dropout and suit
Mr. Akpan defected from the PDP in July 2022 citing unresolved grievances from the party’s gubernatorial primary election in Akwa Ibom state.
He announced the YPP as his new party in his letter notifying the President of the Senate of his defection from the PDP.
He was one of the federal legislators who switched parties after last year’s cross-partisan primary.
Following the development, the PDP sued Mr. Akpan on 28 July 2022, urging the court to declare his seat vacant under the provisions of sections 68(1) and 62(b) of the Nigerian constitution affirmed by a plethora of Supreme Court decisions
The party joined the president of the Senate and INEC as defendants.
Arguments and judgment of the parties
The PDP argued that there was no division within it to justify Akpan’s defection to another party.
He submitted to the court, among other evidence, the letter of resignation from Mr. Akpan’s party. The letter dated July 15, 2022 was sent to the PDP Chairman at his Ibiono Ibom Eastern Ward I in the Ibiono Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Ariekamauwen Asuquo.
The PDP said Akpan should have voluntarily resigned his Senate seat after switching to another party, but chose to continue to benefit from his Senate election on his platform.
But Akpan argued that the PDP had no right to bring the suit, as it was not listed among the authorities with powers to enforce section 68(1) of the constitution to declare his post vacant.
He said that under the provision of the constitution, only the President of the Senate, with respect to a senator, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, with respect to a member of the lower house, could validly enforce the constitutional provision.
But the judge held that the argument was “misguided”, adding that “there is nothing in the provision of section 68(2) of the constitution which expressly states that only the persons mentioned in the referenced section can give effect to the provision. from the section.”
The judge, who supported her reasoning in judicial precedents, also dismissed the arguments and allegations put forward in defense of the senator by the president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan.
An affidavit deposited on behalf of Mr. Lawan said that he had not yet received a formal communication from Mr. Akpan about his defection. The statement is contradicted by extensive reporting given to the Senate President’s reading of the senator’s defection letter in the plenary session of the Senate on July 20, 2022.
Contradicting itself, the affidavit said that Mr. Lawan had read reports, which he believed to be true, about splits in the PDP in Akwa Ibom state.
The judge held that the self-contradiction in the affidavit of the President of the Senate had destroyed all the facts stated in it.
“Therefore, the statement of the second defendant is contradictory, since the second defendant affirms, on the one hand, that he has not been formally notified of the defection of the first defendant from the plaintiff and, however, on the other hand, agrees in which the 1st Defendant notified him of his defection and resignation of the Plaintiff and also being aware of the division and factionalization of the Plaintiff in Akwa Ibom State as the reason for the defection of the 1st Defendant.
“This honorable court agrees with the plaintiff’s counsel’s presentation that once an affidavit is inconsistent, it is not necessary for the other party to challenge it, since whatever facts the affidavit purports to establish would have been destroyed by the contradiction”. Ms. Aminu ruled.
The judge said that Mr. Akpan’s resignation letter dated July 18, 2022, which he also posted via his Twitter account with other information about his defection, “represents the defense of the plaintiff’s (PDP) case.” .
The court therefore held that the PDP successfully proved its case “on a preponderance of the evidence.”
Akpan appeals to the Court of Appeals, the PDP seeks the execution of the sentence
Meanwhile, Akpan has since appealed to the Abuja Court of Appeal to prevent implementation of the ruling, with new elections to usher in a new batch of senators in a few weeks’ time.
The ruling came about a month before the general election to cover the 109 seats in the Senate.
The four-year term of the current senators elected in 2019 expires in early June, roughly four months from now.
But PDP lawyers from the law firm of Tayo Oyetibo, a senior Nigerian lawyer, wrote to the INEC president to “take immediate steps to comply timely with the court order”.
A copy of the letter seen by PREMIUM TIMES and its authenticity confirmed to one of our reporters in a phone call to one of the signatories, Olaniran Obele, is dated January 24 and bears the INEC stamp of recognition dated January 25. .
The Supreme Court has ruled on different occasions that a split within the ranks of a political party must be so deep that the party can no longer function at the national level to be an acceptable excuse for defection by a state or federal legislator.
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But despite the judicial precedents, legislators continue to defect without justification. The presidents of the legislative chambers empowered to declare the seats of such legislators are always lethargic to make such pronouncements, regardless of the defectors’ party affiliations.
The PDP benefited from such a defection when, in 2018, then-Senate President Bukola Saraki and a few other senators joined it after ditching the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
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