The All Progressives Congress (APC) and its 37 House of Representatives members, who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the opposition party, Tuesday took solace in the doctrine of the separation of powers, checks and balances, when it accused the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, which ordered them to vacate their seats, of meddling in the internal affairs of the legislature.
In a ruling on Monday, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court had restrained the defected members from altering the current leadership of the lower chamber.
The court further held that they should have resigned honourably having defected from the party on whose platform they were elected into the House.
But the lawmakers, in a show of defiance yesterday, said they would not quit and appealed the judgment.
They were joined in the suit appealing the judgment by the House Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, and the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha.
The parties to the appeal are also seeking a stay of execution of the judgment pending the determination of their case by the Court of Appeal.
In a notice of appeal filed in Abuja yesterday by their lawyer, M. A. Mahmoud (SAN), the appellants faulted Justice Ademolaâ€™s reasoning and urged the Court of Appeal, Abuja, to set aside the judgment.
Also faulting the judgment, which has polarised lawyers, APC, which said the judge did not call for the resignation of the defected lawmakers, described it as an attempt by the judiciary to cause mischief in the polity.
House Minority Whip, Hon. Samson Osagie (APC, Edo), who made the position of the APC lawmakers known, told reporters at a press briefing in Abuja that the judge gave a â€œmisleading misrepresentationâ€ of the matter and he erred in law severally.
He said: â€œWe want to assure members of the public that there is no court judgment before the House directing any member of the APC to vacate his or her seat.
â€œA section of the media and indeed the public have been misled by the court ruling into believing that the said judgment has effectively terminated the tenure of office of the affected members.
â€œThis is not only untrue, but also a mere â€˜obiter dictaâ€™ expressed by a judge who veered off the course of the case before him in order to do the bidding of the ruling party. At best, the judgment has turned law on its head and cannot stand.
â€œFor the avoidance of doubt, let me state unequivocally on behalf of our members that the import of yesterdayâ€™s ruling was that our 37 members cannot participate in the removal of principal officers of the House, nothing more, nothing less.
â€œEvery other pronouncement by the judge as to the status of our 37 members of the House was a mere opinion.â€
Osagie said the judgment was given in vain and in ignorance of the House rules on the appointment of party leaders.
He also described it as an attempt by the court to meddle in the internal affairs of the legislature.
He added: â€œThis certainly is not the import of the doctrine of judicial review. As we speak, our colleagues have appealed the vexatious ruling and we hope to get justice soon. We believe the House of Representatives will take due notice of the appeal in this case.
â€œSection 68(2) of the 1999 Constitution makes it clear that satisfactory evidence must be presented to the House before any of the provision of S.68 (1) can become applicable.â€
According to him, the APC caucus was not surprised at the ruling, which he pointed out only confirmed their earlier fear because â€œthe same judge had issued a preservative order as soon as the arguments against his jurisdiction in the case were taken. This was our first apprehension of the commencement of the caseâ€.
â€œOur fears were further confirmed when the judge, after granting the reliefs sought in the suit, went ahead to render an opinion on issues that were not before him nor solicited by the plaintiffs.
â€œThe House of Representatives remains the bastion of hope of the traumatised and pauperised Nigerians and we shall not give in to the attempt by some of our PDP colleagues in collusion with a certain judge to turn facts and the law on its head to achieve some sinister ends,â€ he said.
Hon. Andrew Uchendu (APC, Rivers), who led the defection of the 37 to the APC, said their action was justified because PDP had been factionalised.
Hon. Asita Honourable (APC, Rivers) also flayed Justice Ademola’s ruling, saying â€œthe judge moved a motion, seconded it and ruled on it aloneâ€.
Accordingly, in a notice of appeal filed by their lawyers, the lawmakers cited seven errors in law and sought for an order to set aside the judgment and to allow the appeal.
In the notice of appeal filed in Abuja yesterday by their lawyer, Mahmoud, the appellants faulted Justice Ademolaâ€™s reasoning and urged the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment.
The appellants, who raised seven grounds of appeal, with a promise to add more, argued that the judgment was â€œperverse and not supported by the reliefs sought by the plaintiffâ€.
They added that the trial judge â€œerred in law when he granted reliefs not sought by the plaintiff,â€ contending that the judgment was â€œagainst the weight of evidenceâ€.
They further said the judge erred â€œwhen he granted the reliefs sought by the plaintiff” and â€œwent further to hold that the 1st to 39th respondents ought to have resigned their seats as members of the 1st appellant.â€
They argued that the judge erred when he held that the reliefs of the 1st respondent (PDP) were justiciable and proceeded to grant the reliefs sought without considering the provision of Section 30 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act Cap L12 Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
The section provides: â€œNeither the president nor the speaker, as the case may be, of a legislative house shall be subjected to the jurisdiction of any court in respect of the exercise of any power conferred on or vested in him by or under this Act or the standing orders of the constitution.â€
The appellants argued that the trial judge wrongly assumed jurisdiction over the suit, which was predicated on the internal affairs of the House of Representatives, a matter which was protected by Section 60 of the constitution.
They further argued that the reliefs sought by the PDP were not justiciable, yet the trial judge proceeded to grant the reliefs.
They reiterated their earlier argument that the PDP lacked the locus standi to institute the case because it was not predicated on any recognised legal interest; the reliefs sought were not supported by any legal evidence; and that the judge failed to reckon with the Supreme Courtâ€™s decision in the case of Fawehinmi vs Akilu (1987) 12 SC 136, Amaechi vs INEC (2008)1 LRECN 1.
In its reaction to the judgment, the APC said Justice Ademola did not order the defected lawmakers to vacate their seats.
The party, in a statement by its interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said Justice Ademola was not competent to ask the defectors to vacate their seats as the issue of defection was not before him.
The party however said it was imperative to appeal the ruling because Justice Ademola’s perpetual injunction restraining the lawmakers from participating in motions and debates in the House was unconstitutional and would defeat the purpose for which the members were elected.
It said Justice Ademola’s unsolicited comments were clearly gregarious, unnecessary, superfluous and had no foundation in law or fact, and therefore should be ignored.
APC asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, to urgently sanction Justice Ademola for engaging in mischief that could bring the bench into disrepute.
â€œIf this case had been issued a day later than Monday, we would have said the judge was caught in the web of April Fool! Alas, he indeed made the ruling on Monday, hence the need for us to take it very seriously for several reasons.
â€œFirstly, the question whether the House of Representatives members should vacate their seats was not a question before Justice Ademola for determination. The only question for him to determine was whether the APC members, with their numerical strength at that time, had the right to change the House leadership such as the majority leader, chief whip and their deputies. So Justice Ademola had no business commenting on seats being vacated.
â€œSecondly, it is highly unprofessional and unethical for one judge to delve into a matter that is sub judice in another court. A judge should not make comments on matters being litigated in another court. The question of seats being vacated or otherwise is being heard by Justice Ahmed Mohammed in the Federal High Court in Abuja who, on 29 March 2014, said the issue was still live before him and was not ripe for judgment,” the party said.
APC added that the judgment lent credence to the alarm it raised in a statement on December 14, 2013 that PDP was shopping for a pliant judge to do its bidding in the defection case.
It wondered whether there was any link between Mondayâ€™s judgment and the recent statement by President Goodluck Jonathan in Kwara that the PDP would soon retrieve its â€œstolenâ€ mandate from those who defected from the PDP to the APC.
Meanwhile, lawyers gave mixed reactions to Mondayâ€™s judgment. In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), said the lawmakers had the right to defect to the APC due to the crisis within the PDP.
â€œIf there is a crisis in your party leading to factions of at least two or more and your faction decides to change party, then the change does not affect your seat.
â€œThis is based on the fact that you left because the party has broken into factions and I think these people are properly covered by that provision,â€ Sagay said.
However, another lawyer, Mr. Wale Ogunade, hailed the judgment, saying it would bring sanity to the nationâ€™s democracy.
Ogunade said: â€œThe judge got the law right and he interpreted it right.
The legislators got elected under the PDP and if they know they want to abandon that platform, they should resign honourably.
â€œIn Nigeria, people donâ€™t vote for individuals, they vote for political parties. They got elected on the platform and they did not get there as independent candidates. That is the fundamental issue.â€
A former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Mr. Adebamigbe Omole, said the judgment violated the constitutional right to association and he believed it would be set aside at the appellate court.
â€œThe constitution guarantees the right of association. You have the right to choose which party you want to belong to,â€ he said.