CASE SUMMARY OF:
Hon. Ifedayo Sunday Abegunde v. The Ondo State House Of Assembly & Ors (2015) - SC
Concurrent findings of lower courts;
Interpretation of the Constitution;
1. Hon. Ifedayo Sunday Abegunde (Hon. Member, Representing Akure North/South Federal Constituency in the House of Representative)
1. The Ondo State House of Assembly & Ors
LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Musa Dattijo Muhammad, J.S.C.
LAWYERS WHO ADVOCATED
* FOR THE APPELLANT
- Oladapo Akinosun Esq.
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
- Eyitayo Jegede SAN (Hon. Attorney General Ondo State)
- Olabode Olanipekun, Esq.
- Olabanjo O. Ayenakin Esq.
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Bank: Zenith Bank.
Name: Branham Paul Chima.
Account No.: 2178756839.
The appellant contested and won the Akure North/South Federal Constituency seat on the platform of the Labour Party. He abandoned the party and defected to the Action Congress of Nigeria, the A.C.N.
He asserts that the factionalization or division in the Ondo State Chapter of the Labour Party accounts for his defection to the Action Congress of Nigeria.
By an originating summons filed on the 26th January, 2012, the appellant as plaintiff commenced Suit No. FHC/AK/CS/31/2012 at the Federal High Court, hereinafter referred to as the trial court, seeking the interpretation of Section 68(1) (a) and (g) of the 1999 Constitution as amended and a declaration thereon that by virtue of the proviso to the section he is entitled to remain the elected member for Akure North/South Federal constituency in spite of his defection from the Labour Party that sponsored him to the Action Congress of Nigeria, A.C.N. Appellant also urges that the defendants, the respondents herein, be restrained from howsoever tampering with his right to the Federal seat.
He filed a six paragraph affidavit in support of his originating summons. The 1st - 3rd respondents not only contested appellant's claim, they counter-claimed against him. They assert that by virtue of the very proviso to Section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the appellant who, on the basis of the factionalization or division in the Ondo State Chapter of the Labour Party alone, defected to the Action Congress of Nigeria, automatically ceases to be the elected member for the Akure North/South Constituency.
It is defendants' prayers that the seat be declared vacant and the Independent National Electoral Commission ordered to conduct a bye election for the vacant seat. The 1st - 3rd respondents filed an eleven paragraph counter-affidavit in opposition to appellant's originating summons. Their counter-claim is supported by an affidavit, a further and better affidavit and written address.
Appellant's claim as contained in his originating summons and the 1st - 3rd respondents' counter-claim were taken together. The trial court in a considered judgment delivered on 30th May, 2012, while dismissing appellant's claim granted 1st - 3rd Respondents' counter-claim.
Dissatisfied with the trial court's decision, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal, Akure Division, hereinafter referred to as the Court below, on a Notice of Appeal dated and filed on 26th June, 2012 containing (10) ten grounds.
The Court in a well considered judgment delivered on 15th September, 2014 dismissed the appeal decision and affirmed the trial court's decision.
Still aggrieved, the appellant has appealed to this Court vide his Notice of Appeal filed on 17th September, 2014.
1. Whether the Lower Court's interpretation and application of Sections 68(1)(a) and (g) and 222(a), (e) and (f) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is valid, when it affirmed the trial court's decision, that a dispute at the state level does not warrant the Appellant's defection and consequently arrived at the conclusion that the National leadership of a political party determine the existence or proof of division in a political party?
HOLDING & RATIO DECIDENDI
1. The Supreme Court held issue 1 in favour of the respondents.
i. In the instant cases, the two courts are right that the Labour Party that has continued to function as a political party by meeting the conditions associations by virtue of Section 221 and 222 of the Constitutions must necessarily meet, cannot be said to have been so factionalised, fragmented, split or divided to justify the defection of the appellant to another party and retention of his seat inspite of the defection. This remains the position of this Court on the issue. The interpretation of Section 68(1) (a) and (g) of the 1999 Constitution in relation to sections 221 and 222 of the same constitution to arrive at the same conclusion does not derogate from the position. After all, it is a trite principle of interpretation of the Constitution that its entire provisions be read together as a whole in ensuring the enthronement of the real intention of its framers. Isolated consideration of a particular section is disallowed.
Section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution;
Section 222(a) (e) and (f) 1999 Constitution;
Section 229 of the Constitution 1999;
Section 80 of the Electoral Act 2011 (amended);
Section 80 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) is also relevant. It provides:
"80. Every Political Party registered under this Act shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal and may sue and be sued in its corporate name."
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The principles enunciated by this Court in the two cases, Fedeco v. Goni supra and AG Federation v. Abubakar supra, is to the effect that only such factionalisation, fragmentation, splintering or "division" that makes it impossible or impracticable for a political party to function as such will, by virtue of the proviso to Section 68(1)(g), justify a person's defection to another party and the retention of his seat for the unexpired term in the house inspite of the defection. Otherwise, as rightly held by the courts below, the defector automatically looses his seat. - Dattijo Muhammad, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
After all, it is a trite principle of interpretation of the Constitution that its entire provisions be read together as a whole in ensuring the enthronement of the real intention of its framers. Isolated consideration of a particular section is disallowed. - Dattijo Muhammad, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
The law is trite that in the interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution, the entire provision must be construed together as a whole and not in parts as stated by this Court in several cases. - Mahmud, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
The general rule of interpretation of statutes has also been laid by this Court in several decisions and the rule is that where the words of a statute are plain, clear and unambiguous, the Court shall give effect to their literal meaning. It is only when the literal meaning may result in ambiguity or injustice that the Court may seek internal aid within the body of the statute itself or external aid from statutes in pari-materia in order to resolve the ambiguity or avoid doing injustice. - Mahmud, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
Did the Appellant succeed in doing that at the trial court? I am afraid, the Appellant had woefully failed to lead evidence showing that there was a division within the Labour Party nationwide to support his defection to another political party as rightly found by the trial court and affirmed by the Court below. - Mahmud, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
It is apt to state briefly the general principles of law governing the interpretation of the Constitution. The first canon of interpretation is referred to as the broad interpretation or liberal approach or the global view. See: Rabiu v. The State (1980) 8-11 SC 130 at 151, 195. The second canon is that related sections of the Constitution ought to be interpreted together so as to produce a harmonious result. See: Senator Abraham Adesanya v. President of the Federal Republic & Anr. (1981) 5 SC. 112 at 134, 321. Thirdly, where the words of any section are clear and unambiguous, they must be given their ordinary meaning, unless this would lead to absurdity or be in conflict with other provisions of the Constitution. This is often referred to as the literal Rule of interpretation. - FABIYI, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
In the cases of FEDECO v. Goni (supra) at page 485, this court had the chance to pronounce on Section 64(1) (g) of the 1979 Constitution which is in pari materia with Section 68(1) (g) 1999 CFRN. The decision therein is to the effect that a division that will justify defection by a person must be one that affects the national structure of the party. A minor division in a Ward or Local Government of a State or a State is not the sort envisaged by the makers of the Constitution. To interpret the law otherwise will lead to confusion in the party and the polity as well. The aim of the law makers would certainly be defeated. - FABIYI, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
The appellant failed to show that there was division in his party which affected the national structure. The trial court as well as the court below so found. I cannot fault them. - FABIYI, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
In this cases the clear principle upon which our Constitution is established does not admit of reading of the words in most provisions with stultifying narrowness. A cursory reading of Section 80 of the Electoral Act 2011 (amended) recognizes one Political Party registered as one corporate entity. The division envisaged by Section 68(1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution (supra) must be one that affects the entire structure of the Political Party at the centre, that is the National Leadership of the party. I do not think the interpretation given by the court below to the Section was narrow. - Galadima, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
Quite rightly, Section 222 (a) (f) and (e) of the 1999 Constitution made no reference to the "ward" "local government" or "state structure." However, a calm reading of Section 68 (1) (g) of the Constitution will show that no reference is made by the framers of the Constitution to "a state branch" ward level or "unit level" of a Political Party, when the framers of the Constitution repeatedly referred to "Political Party" in that Section. If the framers of the Constitution had really intended that a "division" within a "State branch" "ward level" or "unit level" of a Political Party, as suggested by the learned silk, would have so expressly stated. Therefore contrary to the argument of the appellant at paragraph 29 of his brief, Section 222 (a) (e) and (f) which referred respectively to "National officers", "geographical area" and "headquarters in the Federal Capital Territory", is to support the argument that a national outlook of a Political Party is intended by the framers of the 1999 Constitution in Construing Section 68 (1) (g) (supra). - Galadima, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
I agree with most learned counsel for the respondents that a Political Party in the eyes of the law and under the Constitution is a corporate legal entity represented by its National Officers not sectional branches or segments which do not qualify as a Political Party. - Galadima, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
It is to clear this point that the learned counsel for the 6th, 8th, and 9th respondents drew an analogy between a Political Party with other bodies corporate, particularly Companies incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matter Act (CAMA) which upon incorporation become bodies corporate with perpetual succession and the right to sue and be sued in the corporate name. To shed more light on the present issues, he questions thus:- "(i) firstly can a disagreement in a branch of a Company be classified as a division in that Company when the board of directors of the Company is still intact? (ii) Secondly, can the local branch of a Company be wound up or merged with another Company?
He rightly answers the two questions in the negative. This analogical deduction settles the contest between the parties, effulgently and effectually too; for the nature of the division envisaged in the Section 68 (1)(g) (supra) must be the one that affects the total structure of a Political Party. - Galadima, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
The Constitution is the fundamental law of the country. All rights and obligations are derived from it. The words used are at all times to be given their ordinary meaning without embellishments whatsoever. Any attempts to read into provisions of the Constitution what is not the intention of the makers of the Constitution would amount to judicial legislation and that would be wrong. - Galadima, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
For the appellant to come under the cover of the proviso to Section 68(1)(g), is not a matter of course but strictly on proof of evidence. In other words, the proof that the division envisaged by Section 68(1)(g) must be one that affects the entire structure of the political party at the centre, that is to say the national leadership of the party. - OGUNBIYI, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
It is significant that subsection (a) of Section 222 of the Constitution refers to the national officers of the party, while subsection (e) makes it clear that no political party may give the impression that its activities are confined to a specific geographical area of Nigeria. This suggests that the structure of a political party must be national and negates the argument of learned Senior Counsel for the appellants that a division at any level of the party, whether at ward, local government or state level, would enable a defector to benefit from the proviso to Section 68 (1)(g). Section 80 of the Electoral Act affirms the position of a political party as a single corporate entity. - Kekere-Ekun, J.S.C. Abegunde v. Ondo (2015)
The end of this brief.
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