There is confusion in the leading opposition party in Nigeria, All Progressive Congress, APC over the fate of 37 federal lawmakers as an Abuja Federal High Court had fixed July 8th for hearing of the suit filed by the Attorney General of the Federation Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN seeking to compel the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal to declare the seats of the 37 members of the House who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) vacant.
One of the lead counsel in the matter who pleaded anorminity with Sunday pilot said that there is confusion in the party as the affected rep members are threatening the party leadership that if they don’t intervene in the matter that is in court they will run back to their former party(PDP).
According to the laywer, the party is in fear as they await the decision of the federal High court on the matter.
Following the judgment of Justice Adeniyi Ademola, the minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the federation had approached the court not to allow the lawmakers who defected to APC to participate in the proceedings of the House.
The AGF approached the court for an order of injunction restraining the House of Representatives from further allowing the affected 41 members o from further participating in all the activities of the House.
When the matter came up at the last adjourned date for mention before Justice Ahmed Mohammed, counsel to the AGF, Ade Okeaya-Ineh, SAN asked the court to direct the parties to file their written address.
Counsel to the House and the Speaker, Mahmoud Magaji, SAN did not object to the request to file written addresses.
Justice Mohammed consequently directed the parties to file their written addresses and adjourned the case to July 8th for hearing.
In a suit, FG asked the court to declare that in the light of the combined effects of sections 68(1)(g), 68(2) and 49 of the constitution and the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Oloyo V Alegbe (1983) SCNLR 35 as well as the decision of Justice Adeniyi Ademola in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/4/14, the House of Reps was not properly constituted and lawfully composed as enisaged by Section 49 of the Constitution.
FG also asked the court to declare that the House, in view of the authorities cited above, was not properly constituted or composed as envisaged by section 49 of the Constitution to lawfully exercise its general legislative powers and functions under section of the constitution as distinct from proceedings.
It asked the court to declare that the House of Reps and the Speakers of the House, in view of the authorities cited above, could not lawfully count the votes or presence of the persons affected by the said decision of the Federal High Court, for purposes of determining if a bill was carried or not, and for purposes of quorum of the House or its committees under section 62(2) of the constitution respectively.
Also, government also relying on the authorities cited above, asked the court to declare that the Speaker should not continue to accord to the persons affected by the said decision of the Federal High Court, the rights and the privileges of the members of the House of Represnetatives.
Only the House of Reps and the speaker were listed as the defendants in the Originating Summons filed on behalf of the AGF by Ade Okeaya-Inneh, Dr Fabian Ajogwu and Solomom Umoh all Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
Government also posed four questions for the determination of the court all of which bordered on whether the affected lawmakers could continue to sit in the House in view of the judgment by Justice Ademola.
In an 18-paragraphed affidavit deposed to by one Kenechukwu Nomeh, a lawyer in the chambers of Ade Okeaya-Inneh and Co., government said that despite the judgment by Justice Ademola, the Speaker, “has filled, neglected, or refused to give effect to the decision of the Federal High court by declaring the seat of the affected members of the House vacant contrary to the provisions of Section 68(2) of the constitution.”
Government said that unless the court compel him, Tambuwal would not comply with section 68(2) and declare the seats of the affected lawmakers vacant.
On March 31, Justice Ademola granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the 41 former PDP members of the House of Representatives, who decamped to the APC from either initiating or participating in effort to alter the leadership of the House.
PDP had in the suit, sought primarily, to frustrate the move by the defecting law makers to initiate changes in the leadership of the House.
Justice Ademola particularly restrained “the 12th to the 53rddefendants (the defecting law makers), their agents and privies, servants from taking any steps or further steps or seating, starting or doing anything to alter or remove or change the leadership of the 1stdefendant.”
He also granted a further order of perpetual injunction, restraining the defecting law makers from “altering or participating in the altering or changing the leadership of the 1st defendant.”
The judge declared that in view of the provision of Section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution and the case marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/621/2013 filed by the defecting lawmakers ( which was decided by Justice Ahmed Mohammed and in which they admitted defecting) they “cannot lawfully vote and contribute to any motion for the removal or change of any of the principal officers” of the House.
He also declared that the defecting lawmakers, who are plaintiffs in the earlier suit decided by Justice Mohammed, “are not competent to sponsor, contribute or vote on any motion calling for the removal or change in the leadership of the House or the removal of any principal officers of the House. Or removal of any of the principal officers of the 1st defendant.”
The judge held that, in view of the mandatory provision of Section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution, they (the defecting legislators) can participate in any proceedings to remove the House’ principal officers.
He also held that, in view of the provision of Section 68(1)(g) of the Constitution, they (the defecting law makers) cannot lawfully alter the composition or constitution of the House’s leadership.
Section 68(1) provides:” A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if ; (g) being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected; Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored.”
Justice Ademola, after analyzing evidences before the court observed that there were undisputed facts that the defecting lawmakers were sponsored by the PDP; that the period of their membership has not expired, but that the contention among parties was whether there was a division in the party as contemplated in the provision to section 68(1)(g).
Relying on the definition of “division” in the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (8th edition of the International Student edition), the judge held that from evidence before him, including the October 2013 judgment by Justice Evoh Chukwu of the same court, there was no division in the PDP to have allowed the law makers to retain their seats.
“The court finds, as an undisputed fact, that the period for which the 12 to the 53 respondents were sponsored by the plaintiff has not expired in the 1st defendant (House of Reps). And as earlier stated, there is no division in the plaintiff, and they, that is, the 12th to the 53rd respondents have decamped to another political party – the APC.
“And as such, they either vacate their seats or resign honourably and relinquish their constituents’ mandates. They have no basis, morally and legally in staying in the1st defendant (House of Reps) a day longer,” the judge noted.
He how ever did not order any of the law makers to yield their seats, as that was not part of the four reliefs sought by the plaintiff.
The lawmakers have filed an application to stay the judgment of Justice Ademola.