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Opposition Reps storm out of plenary, protest defection

*Accuse Dogara of bias
*To challenge defection at Supreme Court

Angry opposition members in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, stormed out of the plenary in protest over the defection of Rep. Raphael Nnana-Igbokwe from Imo state from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the majority All Progressive Congress (APC).

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and Labour Party (LP) House members staged the walk-out in protest over the handling of Rep. Nnanna-Igbokwe’s defection by Speaker Yakubu Dogara, accusing him of partisanship.

According to the aggrieved opposition lawmakers, Dogara’s ruling on the defection by the House member from Imo state contravened the constitution and judgement of the Supreme Court in which the apex court held that any defection can be considered legal when the party under which an elected lawmaker contested is engulfed in a leadership crisis and has two or more factions.

Trouble started when the speaker read out the letter of Rep. Igbokwe, notifying the House of his defection to the APC.

Speaker Dogara had hardly finished reading aloud the defection notice when opposition lawmakers raised a point of order, asserting that based on the Supreme Court ruling, any House member who dumps his party without any valid reason must vacate his or her seat.

However, they were ruled out of order by the speaker who relying on Section 68, sub-section 2, stated that “the presiding officer or speaker shall even if there is no division, the House must come to a conclusion first and decide by resolution which is in favour of the majority.”

Speaker Dogara having tacitly approved the Rep. Igbokwe’s defection to the APC, opposition lawmakers across party divide angrily stormed out of the plenary which was witnessed by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, who is also the chairman of the APC Governor’s Forum.

The aggrieved lawmakers vowed to challenge Speaker Dogara’s ruling at the Supreme Court.
Leading the opposition lawmakers was the Deputy Minority Leader, Rep. Binta Bello, who accused the speaker of turning deaf ears to the valid arguments raised by opposition lawmakers who quoted the relevant constitutional
order and House rules.

Addressing journalists after their walk out, the opposition House members led by Rep. Binta, condemned the speaker’s action, describing it as a breach of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and Standing Order of the House.

She disclosed that opposition members will approach the Supreme Court for an interpretation of its ruling.
The opposition lawmakers accused Speaker Dogara of ruling against the constitution which he swore to protect, adding that there is no division in the PDP.

Rep. Binta reiterated their demand that Rep. Nnana-Igbokwe vacate his seat in line with the Supreme Court ruling, as in their view, the speaker cannot arrogate to himself the status of a judge.

Similarly, Rep. Ossai Nicholas Ossai (PDP/Delta) maintained that Section 68 (2) which the speaker read, provides that all the documents submitted by the defecting lawmaker ought to be verified by the House after which a resolution will be reached.

He however, stated that the issue at stake, requires that those documents must be perused by all the 360 members and thereafter an investigative panel be set up to look into the issue and report back to the House.

He declared that while Dogara’s ruling will become the tradition of the House, there was a lacuna in the speaker’s ruling.

Rep. Nnana-Igbokwe had in a letter dated December 19, 2017, and addressed to the speaker, disclosed that he has registered and joined the APC since January, 2017.

“My decision to join the APC as at the time I did was as a result of the leadership crisis/division that rocked the Peoples Democratic Party.

“You would recall that the judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria that finally resolved the leadership crisis was delivered in July, 2017, six months after I joined the APC.

“On the flipside, I have since January 2017 been attending all APC caucus meetings and functions in my ward, local government, state and national levels, and l have been paying my dues and levies. Copies of the payment slips are attached herewith.

“Furthermore, the pending leadership litigations and division in Imo state chapter of the PDP and the current legal crisis with the national leadership of the PDP evidenced by the suit instituted by Prof. Taoheed Adedoja further strenghtens my earlier resolve to quit the Peoples Democratic Party.

“This letter becomes necessary to clear doubts in the minds of my colleagues, constituents and the general public as to the political party I belong to,” Nnana-Igbokwe stated in the letter.

Henry Omunu, Abuja

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