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Court orders EFCC, two banks to pay Benue Govt N100m

A Federal High Court sitting in Makurdi, Tuesday ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, United Bank of Africa, UBA and Fidelity Bank to jointly pay the sum of N100 million to the Benue State government for freezing its accounts last year.

Delivering judgement in the suit number FHC/MKD/CS/46/2018
filed by the Benue State Government challenging the legality of the EFCC freezing its accounts, Justice Mobolaji Olajuwon, ordered the anti-graft commission to pay the Benue State Government the sum of N50 million as damages, while UBA and Fidelity are to each pay the sum of N25 million.

Justice Olajuwon stated that the Benue State government accounts that were frozen do not fall within the classes or categories of accounts liable to be frozen by the EFCC.

She declared the action of the EFCC as illegal, null and void, saying that the order issued by EFCC to the affected Banks to freeze Benue State accounts was not obtained from a Federal High Court before.

The Judge, thereafter, granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining EFCC from further freezing Benue State Government accounts domiciled in financial institutions.

In a reaction, the Benue State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Michael Gusa described the judgement as sound, adding that the the Ortom administration believes in the rule of law and due process, and would not fail to challenge any act of illegality on the State.

It will be recalled that a few days after Governor Samuel Ortom defected from the All Progressives Congress, APC to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, EFCC ordered the freezing of the accounts of Benue State Government in UBA and Fidelity Bank on the premise that the Governor’s security vote was being investigated.

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Court sacks Senator Ogbuorji, orders him to refund salaries, allowances collected after defection

The Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki yesterday sacked the deputy chairman senate committee on appropriation, Senator Sunny Ogbuorji representing Ebonyi South Senatorial District and ordered him to vacate the seat immediately.

The Court, in a decision delivered by Justice Akintola Aluko, held that Ogbuoji by defecting from the party under whose platform he was elected to another party flouted section 68(1)g of the 1999 constitution.

The Court also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to withdraw the certificate of return issued to the Senator immediately and to conduct a fresh election immediately to fill the seat.

The court also ordered the lawmaker to refund all monies be it salaries, allowances or any order form of payment he may have received as benefits from the position of Senator from the date of his defection to the coffers of government.

The said section 68(1)g says that “a member of Senate or House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House if being a person whose election to the house was sponsored by another political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that house was elected. Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored”.

In other words, any lawmaker who defects to another political party when the party under whose platform he was elected was not undergoing any form of crisis or was not part of a merger with two or more political parties, should vacate his seat.

Justice Aluko in the 71 page judgement obtained by DAILY POST held that Ogbuoji who defected from the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC, in 2018 flouted the above section of the constitution.

The judgement was in respect of suit number FHC/AI/CS/44/2018 filed by Evo Ogbonnaya Anegu, Oti Ama Ude, Uche Richard Ajali, Una Sunday Okoro and Simon Ajali Ogbadu for themselves and on behalf of the teaming members of the PDP in Ebonyi South Senatorial District.

They had sued Mr Ogbuoji and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC(2nd Defendant) asking the court to declare Mr Ogbuoji’s seat vacant for defecting to the APC when there was no crisis or division in the PDP.

They also prayed the court to order the 1st defendant (Ogbuoji) to refund all monies that may have been paid to him since January 2018 when he defected from the PDP to the APC.

The plaintiffs in their postulations through their counsel, Barr Roy Umahi expressed worry that Ogbuoji’s conduct if not condemned and upturned would encourage political prostitution and legislative rascality and destroy the reasons for the laws made to regulate defections of National Assembly members by the constitution.

But Ogbuoji, in his defence, claimed that he resigned his membership of the PDP and defected to the APC on January 27, 2017 and not January 2018 as claimed by the Applicants.

He noted that the crisis in the party was finally resolved in July 2017 by the Supreme Court but that before then he had resigned his membership of the party via a letter of resignation he submitted to the PDP Secretary of his Ebunwana Ward, one Ukpo Regina Agwu, in January 27, 2017.

But the Plaintiffs countered by providing evidence that the said Regina Ukpo was not the Secretary of the Ward at the time the said letter was allegedly given to her as she had already been by expelled by the party on 23 January 2017.

They also argued with incontrovertible evidence that Ogbuoji who claimed to have defected from the PDP to APC in January 2017 took active participation in the non elective and elective congresses of the PDP which held on August and December 2017 as a delegate.

The Court, in its findings, said there were discrepancies in the evidences provided by Ogbuoji which rendered them unreliable and doubtful.

For example, the court noted that some of the documentary exhibits presented by the defence like signatures of Ukpo Regina Agwu, the erstwhile Ebunwana Ward Secretary, were found to be materially different in the various documents provided to the court .

“There is no basis to attach any probative or evidential value to the said exhibits

What that means is that the defendant’s claim of resignation ( on January 2017) is shrouded in inconsistency, contradiction and suspicion,” the judge said.

The Court agreed with the Plaintiff’s claims that most of the documents provided by the 1st Defendant were concocted for the purpose of the suit only.

The Court, in conclusion, said that it has been tremendously and sufficiently established by credible evidence that Ogbuoji defected to the APC in January 2018 and not January 2017 as he claimed in his defence.

It also said that at the time of his defection there was no division or faction in the PDP to warrant such defection as permitted by section 68 (1)g of the constitution.

“By the evidence before me, I find that the 1st defendant is guilty of unholy political flirtation and coquetry which the makers and drafters of the constitution resolved to outlaw by the enactment of section 68(1)g of the constitution,” Justice Aluko declared.

The Judge further held that having defected to another party when there was no crisis in his original party, Mr Ogbuoji ought to have vacated his seat.

Having failed to vacate his seat in the Senate following his unconstitutional defection in a manner that suggests that he ate his cake and still wanted to have it, he is liable to be forced out and made to refund to the National Assembly all monies in form of salaries, allowances, or whatsoever paid to him by virtue of his unconstitutional holding on to the position as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria beginning from the date of his unconstitutional defection till date,” he stated.

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Suit seeking to unseat Saraki, Dogara, 52 others gets new date

A Federal High Court Abuja, on Thursday, adjourned until April 30, a suit seeking the sack of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and 52 other lawmakers.

NAN reports that an advocacy group, Legal Defence and Assistance Project, (LEDAP) dragged the lawmakers to court seeking a declaration that they were no longer members of the National Assembly having defected to other political parties before the expiration of their tenure.

The defendants comprise 17 Senators, 37 members of the House of Representatives, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the clerks to both houses.

At the resumed hearing, when parties were called to make their submissions, counsel to LEDAP, Mr Jubrin Okutepa, SAN, argued that the case of whether a politician who moved from one party to another should retain his /her seat had been decided by the Supreme Court.

Okutepa maintained that the defendants said they defected because there were divisions and crises in their political parties.

He, however, urged the court to note that the fact of the defection had been admitted and what remained was for the court to determine if the defection was justified inline with decisions of the Supreme Court.

“There is nothing before this court to show that the respective parties upon which the 2nd to 55th defendants were elected before they jumped ship to other political parties, were infested with the virus of division known to law for them to retain their seats at the National Assembly.”

On the defendants’ claim that the plaintiff lacked the locus standi to institute the suit, Okutepa held that LEDAP was incorporated to promote constitutionality and rule of law and was therefore a juristic person and had the locus to file the motion.

For his part, Mr Mahmud Magaji, (SAN) counsel to Saraki and the other senators, argued that LEDAP was not part of the persons referred to in Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution and so, they lacked the locus standi to file the suit.

“They are not a registered political party so they are not protected by the section and there is nothing before the court to show otherwise.

”It is also clear that they did not sponsor anyone for any election and they have not exhibited their membership card of any political party or evidence of voter card.”

He maintained that the plaintiffs were only advocates of public interest rights and had not placed sufficient evidence before the court to enable the court entertain the matter.

Magaji further submitted that the issue of division was still lingering in the All Progressives Congress, (APC)both at the state and national level as was recently displayed in Rivers.

Magaji urged the court to decline jurisdiction adding that the plaintiffs had not disclosed any reasonable cause of action.

Mr Josh Amupitan, SAN, counsel to Dogara and other members of the house of representatives, for his part, submitted that the plaintiff had failed to prove its case.

He argued that according to Section 68(2) of the constitution which the plaintiff premised its case on, it was only the Senate President and the Speaker that could declare seats at the National Assembly vacant.

He added that where powers had been given an institution, the only reason one could involve the court was where such an institution had been asked to exercise the powers but refused to.

He said that there was nothing placed before the court to show that the plaintiff had written to the senate president and the speaker asking them to declare the said seats vacant and they declined.

Speaking on the issue of defection, Amupitan argued that the plaintiff had placed nothing before the court to prove that the defendants actually defected.

“The story is that they defected on the floor of the house, but the votes and proceedings of the senate and the house of representatives where the defection took place is not before the court to prove this.”

Amupitan further submitted that the powers to monitor political parties or determine their activities was statutory vested on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and not any non governmental organization as clearly stated in the Electoral Act.

” If the court allows this type of proceedings under public interest litigation, the court will be over reaching the institutions vested with such responsibilities and the court will be building a litigation industry which we can never recover from,” he submitted.

The trial judge, Justice Okon Abang stopped the proceedings at this point since it had been on for over four hours.

The judge adjourned the matter until April 30 for counsel to conclude arguments and assured that justice will be served and timely too since it was a constitutional matter of national importance.

LEDAP had in a suit filed on Sept. 14, 2018, prayed the court for an interpretation of Section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution.

This was with regards as to whether any member of the National Assembly who resigns from the political party that sponsored his election before the expiration of the term for which he was elected, automatically loses his seat in the national assembly.

The group was also seeking a declaration that the lawmakers were no longer entitled to receive any remunerations due to a member of the National Assembly and that any of such remunerations after their date of defection be refunded to the Federal Government.

LEDAP in the suit, also prayed the presiding members of the National Assembly to declare vacant, the seats of the defectors.

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Court sacks Buhari’s ex-aide as APC Reps member-elect

A Federal High Court in Kano on Thursday nullified the candidature of former presidential aide, Kawu Sumaila, as the elected representative of Sumaila/Takai federal constituency of Kano in the House of Representatives.

Sumaila, a former Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly matters, won the election last February on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The court, however, ordered the electoral commission, INEC, to recognise Shamsuddeen Dambazau as the APC candidate for the position.

Dambazau, a son of the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, had sued INEC, APC and Sumaila challenging the nomination of the latter as the candidate of APC.

His counsel, Nuraini Jimoh, had argued before the court that Sumaila was not validly nominated to be vie for a seat in the House of Represenatives having contested for Kano South senatorial seat and lost to Kabiru Gaya.

He maintained that the state chapter of APC compensated Sumaila with House of Representatives ticket of the Sumaila/Takai federal constituency which is also within the Kano South senatorial district.

The judge, however, ruled that the action of the APC was illegal as the ex-presidential aide did not participate in the APC primary for the House of Representatives.

The judge, Lewis Allagoa, ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Sumaila.

Sumaila’s counsel, Auwal Tofa, declined to comment on the judgment.

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