Odih Abraham Smith, Abuja.
The Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday suspended its reserved judgment on a suit seeking an order declaring vacant the seats of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, the Speaker of the House and 52 other members of the National Assembly who defected from their original parties last year.
Justice Okon Abang upon pleas by the defendants, decided to suspend the judgment, in order to allow them to file their defence in the matter.
But the judge condemned the conduct of the lawmakers whom he said refused to participate in the proceedings and failed to file their defence in the suit despite being served with the plaintiff’s suit and the court’s hearing notices.
The Thursday’s proceedings lasted about five hours, with the counsel for the plaintiff, Ede Uko, and the legislators’ lawyer, Mahmud Magaji (SAN), arguing on whether or not the court should proceed to deliver its judgment.
At the end of the day, the judge in his ruling commended the plaintiff’s lawyer for properly articulating the efforts of the lawmakers to frustrate the proceedings, but heard that held that the court could not overlook the processes filed by the defendants.
“The right to be heard is a fundamental right,” the judge added.
The judge fixed Friday for hearing of the defendants’ motion for extension of time within which to file their defence.
A civil society group, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project, had filed the suit in September last year, urging the court to compel the affected legislators not only to vacate their seat in the National Assembly but to also refund all allowances and remuneration they had received since their defection.
It also sought an order compelling INEC to conduct by-elections in the constituencies of all the affected legislators.
The suit filed on September 14, 2018 and marked FHC/ABJ/CS/996/2018, was targeted against 17 senators and 37 members of the House of Representatives defected from the parties which sponsored their elections to the National Assembly.
Some of the lawmakers like Saraki and Dogara defected from the All Progressives Congress to the Peoples Democratic Party, while others like Godswill Akpabio dumped the PDP for APC.
Some of the lawmakers also left either APC or PDP for other parties.
Apart from the 54 lawmakers, the plaintiff also sued the Attorney-General of the Federation, INEC, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives as defendants to the suit.
LEDAP, through its counsel, Jibrin Okutepa (SAN), argued that by virtue of section 68 (1) (g) of the Nigerian Constitution “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”.
Citing the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Hon. Ifedayo Abegunde V. The Ondo State House of Assembly, Okutepa argued that the only justification for members of the National Assembly to defect from their parties is if there is a division in their parties or a merger between their parties and others.