ABUJAâ€”A Federal High Court in Abuja, yesterday, asked all members of the House of Representatives, who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) to vacate their seats. It ruled that in line with the 1999 Constitution, they no longer have the legal right to contribute to or vote on any motion in the House.
Delivering judgment in a suit brought against the lawmakers by the PDP, the court further issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defected legislators from taking steps, actions or doing anything to effect any change in the leadership of principal officers of the House.
Specifically, presiding Justice Ademola Adeniyi held that the affected legislators cannot â€œvalidly function as members of the 1st defendant (House of Representatives), contribute to or vote on any motion and or debate in the proceedings of the 1st defendant with a view to removing or sanctioning 2nd to 10th defendants or any of the Principal Officers of the 1st defendant.â€™
No division in PDP
Justice Adeniyi noted that a High Court had in a previous judgment delivered on October 8, 2013, held that there was no division in the PDP to warrant the lawmakers defecting to the APC.
â€œThe 12th to 53rd defendants were sponsored by the PDP and in accordance with provision of Section 68 (1) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, the period of their election is yet to expire.
â€œTherefore, it is the courtâ€™s opinion that there is no division in PDP in line with Justice Elvon Chukwuâ€™s rulingâ€.
The court also maintained that eight months had elapsed since that ruling was delivered, even as it observed that till date, no appeal was lodged by those alleging that there were factions in the PDP.
â€œThe 12th to 53rd defendants ought to resign their seats honourably since they have left the party upon which their constituencies gave them mandate to represent them in the National Assembly. They have no business morally and legally staying in the House of Representativesâ€, Justice Ademola held.
Besides, the court declared that the 12th to 53rd APC lawmakers, â€œare not competent to sponsor, contribute or vote on any motion calling for the removal or change in the leadership of the House of Representatives or the removal of any of the Principal Officers of the 1st defendantâ€.
Earlier, Justice Ademola dismissed contention of the lawmakers that the suit was incompetent, saying that â€œthe suit was rightly commenced by way of originating summon. It is competent in this court since material facts in the suit are not in disputeâ€.
The court insisted that it had the jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter since the issue in question bordered on the interpretation of provision of Section 68 (1) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.
Consequently, it waved aside the contention of the lawmakers that the suit was an abuse of court process considering that the same subject matter is pending before the same court.
â€œThe suit is not an abuse of court process. Plaintiff in this case is not the plaintiff in the sister suit before Justice Ahmed Mohammed. Therefore, arguments of the defendants are misconceived and hereby struck outâ€.
The court noted that whereas the sister matter was basically on the issue of defection, it said the instant suit bordered on plot by the defected lawmakers to effect change in House leadership.
More so, objection by the lawmakers that PDP lacks locus standi to meddle into issues they said borders on internal affairs of the House, was also struck out.
The court held that PDP was able to adduce sufficient reasons on how change in leadership of the House would affect its interest. The court stressed that the fact that the 12th to 53rd defendants were sponsored by the PDP, conferred locus on the plaintiff.
Whereas the House of Representatives was sued as the 1st defendant in the matter, those listed as 2nd to 10th defendants were all the principal officers of the House comprising the Speaker (Aminu Tambuwal), Deputy Speaker (Emeka Ihedioha), Majority Leader (Mulikat Akande-Adeola), Deputy Majority Leader (Leo Ogor), Chief Whip (Isiaka Bawa), Deputy Chief Whip (Ahmed Mutkar), Minority Leader (Femi Gbajabiamila), Minority Whip (Samsom Osagie) and Deputy Minority Leader (Sumaila Kawu).
All the APC lawmakers that decamped from the PDP were also cited in the matter as the 12th to 53rd defendants.
The APC legislators had in their 18-paragraphed counter-affidavit deposed to by one Mr. Mike Msenge, told the court that from prolonged practice of the House of Reps, the political party with majority of members in the House forms its core leadership.
They argued that PDP â€œis not a human being but is one of the registered political parties in Nigeria. The leadership seats in question are being occupied by the 2nd -8th defendants, who are human beings.â€
They further their contended that prior to the defection of the lawmakers to APC, the plaintiff, PDP, hitherto had majority membership in the House, â€œhence the 2nd-8th defendants, being members of the plaintiff, were elected into those leadership positions they are currently occupying in the 1st defendant. But with the defection of the 12th -53rd defendants from the plaintiff to the APC on December 18, 2013, the plaintiff has lost its majority status, which has switched to the APC.â€
They equally maintained that the election and removal of the Speaker is an internal affair of the House which no political party has the jurisdiction to dabble into.
Their arguments were however dismissed by the high court yesterday.
PDP had through its lawyer, Mr Yunus Ustaz Usman, SAN, told the court that a â€˜rebelâ€™ group of 46 lawmakers, led by the Minority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, had perfected plans to change the leadership of the House of Reps
â€œIf the defendant/respondent are not restrained by the court and they take any step, it will foist on the court a state of fait accompli. The plaintiff/applicant will be prejudiced if this application is refused. Monetary compensation will not atone for the damage that will be done to the Plaintiff/Applicant in place of this interim injunction. It is in the interest of justice to grant this applicationâ€, the PDP added.
It specifically urged the court to go ahead and determine whether in view of the mandatory provision of section 68(i) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, and in view of the pendency of a suit between Senator Bello Hayatu Gwarzo and 78 others against Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and four others before the Federal High Court Abuja Division, the defendants, can validly function as members of the House of Reps, contribute to, or vote on any motion and or debate in the proceedings of the House with a view to removing or sanctioning 2nd to 10th defendants or any of the Principal Officers of the House.
Likewise, PDP, pleaded the court to also determine whether in view of the mandatory provision of section 68(i) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, and the aforementioned pending suit, the 23rd to 79th defendants can lawfully alter the composition or constitution of the leadership of the 1st defendant.
It sought â€œA declaration that the 11TH TO 52nd defendants who are 23rd to 79th plaintiffs in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/621/2013, between Senator Bello Hayatu Gwarzo & 78 Ors V. Alhaji Bamanga Tukur & 4 Ors, are not competent to sponsor, contribute or vote on any motion calling for the removal or change in the leadership of the House of Reps or the removal of any of the Principal Officers of the 1st defendant.
As well as â€œAn Order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants particularly 2nd to 52nd defendants, their agents, servants, privies, or through any person or persons however from taking any step or further steps, sitting, starting or doing anything to alter, remove or change the leadership of the 1st defendant.â€
The court granted PDPâ€™s prayers, which elicited mixed reactions in the polity, yesterday.
Weâ€˜ll appeal, ruling â€“APC
Reacting to the ruling, the APC said it would appeal the judgment. Interim National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said: â€œWhat the court has said is that the House of Representatives cannot change leadership and that the affected members lacked competence to stay within the House. In any case, whatever the decision is, we will appeal the ruling. The court did not say they should resign, it simply expressed an opinion that they lacked competence.â€
Ruling is wrong â€“Sagay, Aturu
Constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) said: â€œI certainly do not agree with that judgment, I think it is wrong, it is not instituted in the constitution.â€
Sagay argued that â€œobviously the judge has not availed himself of the provisions of the constitution and applied them to his actions. The constitution does not require a lawmaker who has crossed over to another party to resign his seat, if his crossing over to the other side, is as a result of factionalisation of his party. If his party has broken into two, he can then cross over to another party and that is what happened. The PDP broke into two factions, the court did not allow one of the factions to use the name of PDP and they went and joined the APC. So, they are perfectly entitled, it is constitutional and the court is definitely wrong.â€
Also, Mr Bamidele Aturu, a lawyer faulted the verdict, saying: â€œMy view is that if you are asking them to resign, it must be based on the fact that there is no dispute in their party but from what we know, it will be difficult for me to say that the court was right in reaching that decision because everybody knows that the PDP, at the time they defected, was factionalised. I think it was not right in reaching that decision. I may be wrong. Let us see how the Court of Appeal will react to that when they go on appeal.â€
Judgment has created confusion â€“Tsav
Also speaking, former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, said: â€˜â€™The defection did not start with PDP lawmakers, who defected to the APC recently. Before the latest mass defection, we have had other defections in the past. So it is vice-verse. If the court is ruling that the defection is illegal, does it mean that all past defections were illegal? The judgment has created confusion in the polity.â€
Defecting Reps should prepare for bye-election â€“ Adeyeye
However, former Spokesman of Afenifere, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, described the ruling as a landmark judgment.
Hailing the verdict, Adeyeye, who is a PDP governorship aspirant in Ekiti State, said: â€œThe most honourable thing for the defecting lawmakers to do is to prepare to test their popularity and that of the APC that they decamped to in a bye-electionâ€ adding, â€œit is immoral for people to use a political platform to win election and defect to another party.â€
He urged the five PDP governors that defected to the APC to return to the PDP before they suffer the same fate as the House of Reps members.
It is a welcome development â€“ Opara
In like manner, by former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara, described the ruling as a welcome development that will stop political prostitutes who enjoy moving from one party to the other.
He said: â€œThe decision of the Court is a good development for Nigeria because we have never had this kind of development in our political landscape in the past. But with this judgment, politicians will learn how to develop and effect changes in their party rather than jumping from one party to the other.â€
Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, described the ruling a strange judgment that turned law on its head. According to him, the judgment is a product of error of court the lawmakers would be willing to appeal at a higher court.
His words: â€œThe judgment is strange and will be appealed. No person can be compelled by law to stay in an association against his or her wishes.â€
Arguing that the judgment is an affront to right of association of the lawmakers, he added: â€œIt negates a fundamental right of association of every citizen that is inalienable. Section 68 of the constitution has been turned on its head and the error of the court is manifestâ€¦Section 68 was never argued in court by any of the parties. The judge gave an opinion he was never asked to give and an argument that was never canvassed before him.â€
However, Deputy Majority Leader of the House, Rep Leo Ogor, PDP Delta State, said, â€œthe PDP has respected the laws of the land, the judgment is glaring as the tenets of Section 68(g) of the 1999 constitution as amended was adequately followedâ€.
Advising his colleagues to return to PDP as â€œthere is no future in APC,â€ he explained that â€œthe seats they occupy belong to PDP; it is not an individual seat but that of the party. We were more than convinced that the court will do the right thing because you do not need a rocket scientist to interpret Section 68 of the constitution. Iâ€™ve always emphasised this position that you cannot reap where you did not sow, our party has demonstrated that it respects the law of the land. My colleagues should not bother to waste their time and resources on appeal.â€
Ruling given in ignorance â€“Osagie
Hon. Samson Osagie, the House minority whip in his reaction described the judgment as one given in ignorance saying that the procedures on leadership change were clearly spelt out by the constitution. He said the attempt by the trial judge to impose a stipulation on the House members was clearly vain even as he pooh-poohed suggestions by the judge that the members were bent on changing the leadership.
Osagie said the judgment would be appealed as he further claimed that it had no bearing on the constitution and the rules of the House.
Also, Rep Pat Asadu (PDP, Enugu) said: â€œThough Iâ€™ve not seen the details but as lawmakers we are expected to respect the law of our land first before any other thing or else the oath of office we swore to on assumption of office would amount to a colossal waste.â€