A former Minority Leader of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, Monday, persuaded the court to suspend its judgment on a suit seeking to declare vacant, seats of 54 federal lawmakers that defected from their respective political parties prior to the 2019 general elections.
Akpabio who is one of the lawmakers affected by the suit, through his lawyer, Mr. Sunday I. Ameh, SAN, contended that he was not served with the court processes before the matter was fixed for judgment.
He prayed the court to allow him to respond to the suit that was filed by an advocacy group under the aegis of Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP.
The Plaintiff had, among other things, prayed the court to order the affected lawmakers to refund all salaries and emoluments they received after they dumped political parties that sponsored their election.
Among those the Plaintiff is asking the court to declare their seats vacant, include the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
The lawmakers, comprising of 17 Senators and 37 House of Reps members, had earlier briefed two lawyers to represent each of the groups.
The lawyers who also approached the court after the matter was earlier fixed for judgment on April 11, queried the locus standi of the Plaintiff to declare their continued stay in the National Assembly as illegal and unconstitutional.
The plaintiff had, through its lawyer, Mr. Jubril Okutekpa, SAN, argued that the only way to curb a gale of defections that herald major elections in the country, was for the court to make Saraki and his co-defendants to pay for what it termed as their “political and constitutional iniquities”.
Among Senators the Plaintiff is asking the court to declare their seats vacant for defecting from political parties that sponsored their election, contrary to section 68 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, included Senators Dino Melaye, Rabiu Kankwaso, Lanre Tejuoso, Shaaba Lafiagi, Rafiu Ibrahim, Barnabas Gemade, Abdulazeez Nyako, Monsurat Sunmonu, Usman Nafada, Suleiman Hunkuyi, Ibrahim Danbaba, Ubale Shittu, lsah Misau, Suleiman Nafif.
While the House of Reps members included Zakari Mohammed, Aminu Shagari, Ooker-Jev, Rufai Chanchangi, Abdulsamad Dasuki, Sani Zoro, Hon. Benjamin Okolo, Bode Ayorinde, Hon. Sani Rank, Dickson Tarkighir, among others
Few days to the new judgment date, Akpabio filed a separate application, insisting he was not consulted before any lawyer was appointed to appear for the matter.
Akpabio said his attention was not drawn to the suit by the Clerk of the National Assembly, neither was he personally served with the suit.
He told the court that he read about the case in the Newspapers.
Akpabio argued that the suit was not a class action, hence he was at liberty to use a counsel of his choice and to personally defend himself.
Despite stiff opposition from the Plaintiff’s counsel, Justice Okon Abang, said he was minded to accede to Akpabio’s request.
Justice Abang based his decision on section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, stressing that since the matter was not a class action, Akpabio’s right to fair hearing would be affected if the matter was decided without his input.
Meanwhile, in his reaction after the proceeding, Akpabio who was joined as the 3rd Defendant, maintained that contrary to position of the Plaintiff, he said he never defected from the Peoples Democratic Party.
He said he only moved to the All Progressives Congress, APC, after the PDP “was flooded.”
Before the matter was adjourned till Tuesday for parties to exchange their addresses, Justice Abang, said he could still deliver judgment on the matter as earlier slated.
Even though Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, were cited as 1st and 56th Defendants, respectively, however, none of them entered appearance nor filed any process either in support or against the suit.
Specifically, the Plaintiff, in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/996/2018, applied for an order of mandamus to compel the Deputy Senate President and his counterpart at the House of Reps, to declare their seats vacant to allow the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct bye-elections to fill the positions.
It is seeking: “A declaration that by virtue of Section 68 (I) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), any member of the National Assembly who resigns from the political party that sponsored his election into the National Assembly, before the expiration of the term for which he was elected, automatically loses his seat in the Assembly, unless saved by the exception under that section.
“A declaration that the 1st to 52nd defendants are no longer members of the National Assembly and as such are no longer entitled to receive remunerations due to a member of the National Assembly and that any or such remunerations received by the 1st to 52nd defendants after the date of defection must be refunded to the Federal Government.
“A declaration that by virtue of the provisions of Section 57 of the Constitution and Section 8 (2) (d) of the Legislative Houses (Powers And Privileges) Act 2018, it is unconstitutional and a punishable offence for the 1st to 52nd defendants to continue sitting as Senators and Honorable members of the National Assembly after defecting from the parties that sponsored their elections into the National Assembly.
“A declaration that effective from the date of defection, any debate or motion before the National Assembly that any of the 151 to 52nd defendants participates in or votes on, is null and void.
“An order of mandamus, compelling the Deputy Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to declare the seats of 1st to 52nd defendants in their respective chambers vacant.
Likewise, “An order directing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct bye-elections in the federal constituencies and senatorial zones of the defendants within the time frame allowed under the Electoral Act.”