A Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt has ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear the suit instituted by 27 members of the state House of Assembly challenging their suspension by state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The Chief Felix Obuah-led PDP had suspended the lawmakers for failing to recall the chairman, vice-chairman and 17 councillors of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area which the Assembly suspended over allegations of financial recklessness and breach of security.
The lawmakers had approached the court to obtain a preliminary injunction to restrain the party from suspending them, but before they could get the order, the party announced their suspension.
Joined in the suit are the PDP, Felix Obuah and Ibibia Walter Opuene; Chairman and Publicity Secretary of the party, respectively. At the resumed sitting of the matter yesterday, the presiding judge, Justice Sika Aprioku, ruled that he had jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
Counsel to PDP, Obuah and Opuene, Ken Njemanze (SAN), M.S. Agbor and D.C. Denwingwe (SAN), respectively, had filed motion challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter, arguing that the matter before the judge was an internal affairs of the PDP. They also challenged the validity of the writ of summons, which according to them did not follow the rules of court.
Counsel to the lawmakers, Beluolisa Nwofor (SAN), argued that the lawmakers only carried out a legislative duty assigned to them by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which established the House of Assembly.
He also argued that the writ of summons was filed on time but that it was the duty of the Chief Registrar of the court to assign the matter. He further argued that if the failure of the Chief Registrar of the court to issue the writ within time, that did not amount to a fault on the writ itself.
In his ruling, Justice Aprioku held that the court has jurisdiction to entertain the suit, adding that the party has right to carry out its duties to the extent that it does not interfere with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
He, therefore, fixed July 12 for hearing of the substantive suit. Reacting to the ruling, counsel to PDP, Njemanze, said they would examine the ruling to see if they would go for appeal or continue with hearing of the substantive suit. Also reacting, lead counsel to the lawmakers, Nwafor, hailed the ruling, describing it as first of its kind in Nigeria, adding that it would help bring about a change in the judicial system. On his part, Leader of the state Assembly, Hon. Chidi Lloyd, expressed joy, adding that the assembly would resume sitting soon.