Plateau State Governor and chairman of a faction of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Mr. Jonah Jang, has asked a Federal High Court in Abuja to dismiss a suit filed by his Lagos State counterpart, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), seeking to restrain him from parading himself as chairman of the forum.
Fashola had in a suit filed by Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), claimed that the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, was re-elected as chairman of NGF on May 24, this year.
Falana stated that Jang’s claim to the NGF chairmanship was baseless and the court should restrain him from parading himself as the chairman.
He listed Jang, Director-General of the NGF, Mr. Asishana Bayo Okauru, Osaru Onaiwu and the Registered Trustees, NGF as first to fourth defendants respectively in the suit.
The NGF has been enmeshed in a leadership crisis since its May 24 election, where Amaechi was re-elected for a second term with 19 votes to Jang’s 16.
However, Jang and his group disputed the outcome of the election and broke away to form a faction of the forum, led by the Plateau governor.
But in a preliminary objection filed on June 21, by Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), on behalf of Jang (first defendant) and Osaro Onaiwu (third defendant), while F.N Nwosu filed on behalf of the fourth defendant, they argued that Fashola lacked the locus standi to institute the action and prayed the court to dismiss or strike it out.
Oyetibo prayed the court to terminate Fashola’s suit at the interlocutory stage on the following grounds: The writ of summons was not issued in accordance with procedural due process; the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory lacked jurisdiction to entertain the plaintiff's claims; even if the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has jurisdiction to entertain the plaintiff's claims, the plaintiff lacks the locus standi to bring the suit.
The defendants further averred that if the plaintiff had locus standi to institute the suit, the issues raised were not justiceable as they relate to a mere dispute as to political dignity.
Oyetibo argued that since Fashola did not contest the NGF election, he was bereft of the legal right to institute or sustain the action.
According to him, Amaechi whom Fashola claimed won the election had not complained to the court that his mandate had been usurped neither was he joined as a party to the suit.
He also stated that any dispute within NGF cannot be decided by an Abuja High Court by virtue of Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), which prescribed that disputes should be resolved at the Federal High Court.
In their statements of defence, the defendants denied the allegations contained in the statement of claims, though they admitted those in paragraphs two, five, six and seven of the statement of claims.
Also, a major issue in the statement of claims was the process of the NGF election, which the defendants faulted.
They noted that the NGF was only a platform for peer review among governors and to collaborate on matters of public policy, provide good governance, share good practice and enhance cooperation.
Arguing further, Oyetibo contended that the way the suit was couched; between Fashola and Jang, who is the plaintiff, had suggested a dispute between Lagos and Plateau State Governments, which automatically stripped every court of jurisdiction, save the Supreme Court, which has exclusive jurisdiction to determine or resolve disputes between state governments or between state governments and the federal government.
Oyetibo also argued that traditionally, the NGF did not hold elections to produce a chairman and that it was the practice that the chairman of the forum to be appointed by consensus of the members.
He said: “Where a consensus cannot be reached, the candidate supported by a simple majority would become the chairman.
“In pursuance of the above fact, Amaechi was informed that 19 of the 36 governors of the states of the federation have indicated in writing their decision to support Governor Jonah Jang as Chairman of the NGF.
“Despite the fact above, Amaechi still insisted that there must be an election and that he must preside at the meeting. At this stage, Amaechi produced ballot papers, which he had unilaterally printed without prior authority of other members of the NGF and started distributing same for the purpose of the so-called election.
“When Governor Amaechi refused to step down as chairman of the forum but insisted on presiding to conduct the election, 18 out of the 35 members present at the meeting immediately indicated their unflinching support for Governor Jonah Jang as the new chairman of the forum without prejudice to their objection to the insistence of Governor Amaechi on presiding over the election process.
“Despite the fact that 18 of the members present supported the first defendant as the new chairman of the forum, Amaechi and the second defendant still went ahead to announce to the public that Amaechi emerged as the winner of the election.
“As soon as the announcement was made, 18 out of the 35 governors, who were present and supported the first defendant stormed out of the venue of the purported election to demonstrate their disapproval of the political charade.
“A press release was subsequently issued by the second defendant to the effect that Governor Amaechi had been elected as chairman. A copy of the publication containing the press release would be relied upon at the trial.
“Meanwhile, on May 25, 2013, the NGF held its first meeting after the purported election of May 24, 2013 and 18 governors who had supported the first defendant out of the 35 governors present at the meeting of May 24, 2013 meeting were present at the meeting and indeed re-affirmed their support for Jang as chairman.
“Consequent upon these claims above, the first and third defendants contend that the plaintiff's suit be dismissed for being frivolous and unmeritorious.”