The appellant was sponsored on the platform of the Labour Party and was elected to the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to represent the Akure North/South Federal Constituency. Thereafter, the appellant defected and crossed over to another political party – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). In a bid to save his seat, the appellant then took out originating summons against the respondents at the Federal High Court, Akure, seeking the interpretation of Section 68(1)(a) and (g) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and several declaratory and injunctive reliefs all to the effect that he was entitled to remain the elected member for Akure North/South Federal Constituency irrespective of his defection from the Labour Party which sponsored him for election to the legislative seat he occupied and that the respondents be restrained from interfering with his right to retain his legislative seat. The National head of Appellants the Labour Party (who was one of the parties sued by the appellant) represented throughout the proceedings through all the strata of Courts up to the Supreme court by WOC’s Olabode Olanipekun joined issues with the appellant and also filed a counter-claim seeking the appellant’s removal from the legislative seat and the conduct of bye election to the North/South Federal Constituency legislative seat.
The FHC dismissed the claims of the appellant and granted the counter-claim. Upon a further appeal to the Court of Appeal, the Court of Appeal confirmed the judgment of the FHC thus necessitating a further appeal by the appellant to the Supreme Court. In view of the serious constitutional nature of the issues at stake, the appeal at the Court of Appeal was heard by a full constitutional Panel of 5 Justices specially convened by the President of the Court of Appeal and the appeal at the Supreme Court was also heard by a full constitutional panel of the 7 Justices of the Apex court presided over by the then Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON
In considering the appeal, the Supreme Court considered the provisions of Sections 68(1) (g) and 222(a),(e) and (f) of the Constitution. The appellant at the Supreme Court contended that the two lower courts’ interpretation of Section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution was wrong in law and that the position of the lower courts that only a dispute or crisis which consumes the national leadership entitles the appellant to defect from the Labour Party that sponsored him was also erroneous and that the lower courts read into the Constitution what was not contained therein. Contrary to these arguments, our Olabode Olanipekun canvassed the argument that the two lower courts correctly interpreted Section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution and rightly concluded that the type of division envisaged under Section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution is one that affects the entire structure of the political party. It was further argued that since there was no division in the national registered juristic entity of the Labour Party, the appellant did not come within the proviso in Section 68(g) of the Constitution. In further opposing the appeal, as acknowledged by the Supreme Court, it was our further contention that any division that allows a defection under the Constitution justify the defection of any elected parliament member across the different states of Nigeria to further support the legal position that section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution only anticipates a national division.
The Supreme Court, after reiterating some basic canons of statutory and constitutional interpretation, affirmed the decision of the two lower courts and held that the defection of the appellant to the ACN did not come within the purview of the Constitution, which it opined must be read holistically. The Court, in resolving the critical question of the nature of division contemplated under the proviso to Section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution and which entitles a lawmaker to defect from the party which sponsored him to his legislative seat, further held that the division contemplated under the Constitution is not merely one which affects the state structure of a political party but one which affects the national structure. The court agreed with our Olabode Olanipekun and took the view that by virtue of the enabling constitutional provisions, including Section 222 of the Constitution, a political party is a corporate legal entity, represented by its national officers and not sectional braches or segments. The Court ordered the appellant to vacate his seat in parliament.
It is to be noted that the instant case was a test case before the Supreme Court on the nature and type of division envisaged by Section 68(1) (g) of the Constitution particularly against the then prevailing scenario in Nigeria where legislators were decamping from various political parties/platforms in droves. The Supreme Court for the first time interpreted political division within a political party to mean one which affects its national and corporate identity. The decision of the full panel of the Court is consistent with the intention of the lawmakers to curb the practice of wanton ‘cross-carpeting’ by legislators and portrays the court as further upholding the tenets of political fidelity and consistency in Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.