Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court has suspended delivery of judgement in a suit filed by an advocacy group, Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), seeking the sack of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and 55 other lawmakers who defected to other political parties.
The group had dragged Saraki and the 55 lawmakers to court seeking a declaration that they were no longer members of the National Assembly having defected to other political parties before the expiration of their tenure.
In the suit filed on September 14, 2018, LEDAP specifically prayed the court for an interpretation of Section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution.
Some of the other lawmakers listed as defendants are Godswill Akpabio, Dino Melaye, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Lanre Tejuosho, Shaba Lafiaji, Barnabas Gemade and Abdulaziz Nyako among other senators and members of the House of Representatives. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is also a defendant in the matter.
The group urged the court to determine whether any member of the National Assembly who resigns from the political party that sponsored his election before the expiration of the term for which he was elected, automatically loses his seat in the assembly.
The plaintiff further sought a declaration that the lawmakers were no longer entitled to receive remunerations due to a member of the National Assembly and that any of such remunerations after their date of defection be refunded to the Federal Government.
LEDAP also prayed the presiding members of the National Assembly to declare vacant the seats of the defectors. They had argued the matter in court with only a counsel to the Senate President being represented once while the other defendants never sent representation.
The court, being satisfied that the processes were served on all parties but they chose to disrespect the court and stay away, allowed the plaintiff to argue his case and fixed April 11 for judgment.
When the matter was called yesterday for judgment, counsel to Saraki and the other lawmakers, Mr Mahmud Magaji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), urged the court to tarry in delivering judgment to hear from the defence team in order to deliver a better informed judgment.
“The court should wait a while and hear from the other side now that certain facts are available to it,” he said.
He further contented that in law, once an issue of jurisdiction was raised, it behoved on the court to hear it first before handling any other issue in the matter.
Magaji also challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter on the grounds that the plaintiffs had no “locus standi” to file the suit. According to him, they are only busy bodies and meddlesome interlopers.
The counsel to the plaintiff, Mr Ede Uko, however, argued that the defendant’s counsel was only attempting to arrest the judgment of the court.
According to him, the law is trite under our jurisprudence that the judgment, particularly the final judgment of the court, cannot be arrested.
“I submit with respect that the application of the defendants seeking to arrest this judgement is misconceived and completely incompetent.
He referred the court to several Supreme Court rulings where it was firm to say that no antics of parties could be allowed to be used to frustrate the administration of justice.
Uko further argued that the conduct of the defence in the matter was not worthy of sympathetic consideration since they were duly served with all processes of the court and they even briefed a counsel to handle the matter.
He said it was not the fault of the plaintiff that the said counsel failed to appear in court again seeing that the defence had nothing to file but to concede to the claims of the plaintiff.
“What the defence is seeking to hold onto is like a drowning man seeking to hold onto imaginary straws to keep afloat. That is why they are coming to fish for defects even in the court, ” he argued.
He prayed the court to discountenance and dismiss the application of the defendants and deliver the already prepared judgment not minding whose ox was gored.
Abang, in a bench ruling, said that although he agreed with the argument of the plaintiff’s counsel, delivering the prepared judgment would be a wrong exercise of the court’s discretion. He held that the defendants waved their right to defend the matter and that the conduct of the lawmakers did not deserve a sympathetic consideration.
“The defendants had sufficient time to challenge this suit but failed. They allowed the plaintiff to incur cost to prosecute this matter and also allowed the court to painstakingly prepare judgment. They are now in court trying to arrest the judgment, ” the judge held.
He, however, maintained that notwithstanding what the plaintiff and the court had gone through, the right of the defendants to be heard was a fundamental matter.
“I think the defendants should be heard before judgment is given.