By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja.
A Federal High Court in Abuja has shifted judgment delivery on the defection suit against Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State till April 7.
Justice Taiwo Oladipupo Taiwo halted delivery of the judgment on Wednesday to enable him consider the implications of a Court of Appeal fresh judgment on defection related matters.
The Court of Appeal, Enugu division had five days ago, held that defection did not constitute any known offence but constitutional rights of freedom of association as enshrined under section 40 of the 1999 Constitution.
Ben Ayade and his Deputy had defected from the Peoples Democratic Party PDP to All Progressives Congress APC prompting PDP to demand that their seats be declared vacant in a lawsuit.
Mike Ozekhome SAN, counsel to the governor had in a letter drawn the attention of the Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal judgment and prayed the court to bow and respect the decision of the higher Court of Appeal on defection related matters.
The senior lawyer while addressing the court on the effects of the Court of Appeal judgment on the defection suit against governor Ayade, asked Justice Taiwo to apply the higher court decision to dismiss the suit against his client.
Ozekhome drew the attention of the Judge to a portion of the Court of Appeal judgment which held that under the amended Constitution, votes cast in any election belong to individuals and not political parties.
He further pointed out a portion to Justice Taiwo where the Court of Appeal held that political parties are agents of individuals and just vehicles for individual contestants to canvas for votes.
Ozekhome insisted that sections 180, 188 and 189 of the 1999 Constitution can only be invoked by the court to remove an elected governor only where such governor resigns, dies or is impeached by a State House of Assembly.
He added that Supreme Court had in recent decisions made it clear that defection is immoral, improper, ugly and condemnable but did not constitute an offence that can lead to the removal of elective public officeholders.
“My Lord, I humbly urge you to bow and respect the latest Court of Appeal judgment as a judicial precedent to resolve the instant case in favour of governor Ayade and his deputy.
“Supreme Court has in a plethora of authorities said that a lower court not applying judicial precedent of a higher court is nothing but judicial rascality that can lead to anarchy and I urge Your Lordship not to fall into that category.”
A similar position was canvassed by the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC and the All Progressives Congress APC.
Earlier, PDP Counsel, Emmanuel Ukala SAN had argued that the facts of the case which led to the Court of Appeal’s new judgment are fundamentally different from the suit of his client.
Ukala informed the high court that the Court of Appeal’s new decision was based on a suit by APC against APC where the instant suit is PDP against APC.
He further submitted that PDP was not a party in the Court of Appeal decision, hence, the new judgment is not binding on it for the simple reason of lack of fairness.
Ukala urged the Judge to hold that defection constitutes an offence as it amounts to the abdication of duties as a party with minority votes should not be allowed to rule over the party with majority votes.
After taking arguments for and against the new Court of Appeal decision, Justice Taiwo shifted judgment till April 7 to enable him consider the impact of submissions by lawyers and the judicial authorities they cited.