Senate President David Mark on Wednesday refused to declare vacant the seats of the 11 aggrieved Peoples Democratic Party who on Tuesday had expressed their intention to defect to the All Progressives Congress, on the floor of the Senate.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, had raised a point of order under Section 14 (Privileges) to draw the attention of the Senate to the legal implications of the affected senators and urged Mark to declare their seats vacant.
He said since Senators Bukola Saraki, Adamu Abdulahi, Shaba Lafiagi, Ibrahim Gobir, Aisha Al-Hassan, Magnus Abe, Wilson Ake, Jibrilla Bindowo, Danjuma Goje, Ali Ndume, and Umar Dahiru, had declared their intention to defect on the floor of the Senate, they had automatically lost their seats.
Enang explained that the 1999 Constitution and the Senate Standing Orders, made clear provisions for any legislator defecting from one political party to another and the circumstances that could warrant their defection.
He explained that the only condition stipulated in the constitution for a federal lawmaker to defect was if there was a division in his or her party. Enang also noted that a ruling of a Federal High Court, which had not been appealed, indicated that there was no division in the Peoples Democratic Party.
He said when legislators were elected into the National or State Assembly, they are voted in on the basis of the political party to which they belong and not on individual grounds.
He said, “Section 68 (1)(g) of the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria as amended provides that a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected.
“It (constitution) clearly mandates that any member of the legislature, who intends to defect to another party, must prove that division exists in the party of which he was a member, or that his party has merged with two or more parties or factions.”
Enang maintained that the Judgment of Justice E. S. Chukwu of a Federal High Court which ruled in the case of PDP, Bamanga Tukur, and others vs Abubakar Baraje, Olagunsoye Oyinlola and others, was clear that there was no division within the PDP, hence the defectors had no justification to leave the PDP.
He also cited the Supreme Court verdict in the case of Attorney-General, Inspector-General of Police and others vs Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, National Assembly and others delivered on April 4, 2007 and already reported in the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports, to buttress his argument.
He, therefore, asked Mark to declare their seats vacant.
Mark reiterated his position on the defection issue and said he would not act or make any comment on any matter involving the 11 defecting senators.
He said, “This matter is before a competent court of law. My ruling won’t be different from my earlier verdicts. Although it is a constitutional matter, we all agree that no reference must be made on a matter before the court of law.
“I shall make no reference on it. The decision you (Enang) ask me to take is prejudice and so, I rule you out of order”
But Senator George Sekibo, immediately raised another point of order and cited section 14 and Sections 1 and 2 of the constitution to buttress his argument that a non senator should not sit in the chamber.
He, therefore, insisted that since there were clear constitutional provisions on the matter, Mark should follow the constitution which was supreme to the Senate Standing Orders by declaring the seats of the defecting senators vacant.
Mark said, “The subject matter is before a competent court of law and because of that, I will not make any further comments on it, therefore, I rule you out of order”
After Mark had ruled both Enang and Sekibo out of order, Senator Babajide Omoworare, raised a point of order, citing Section 1 (3) of the constitution to argue that Mark could not declare the seats of the affected senators vacant because the constitution was supreme to the Senate rules.
Mark again restated his position on the issue and ruled Omoworare out of order.