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 Defection: Court Extends Order Halting INEC, PDP from Declaring 26 Rivers Lawmakers’ Seats Vacant

Defection: Court Extends Order Halting INEC, PDP from Declaring 26 Rivers Lawmakers’ Seats Vacant

Justice Donatus Okorowo of a Federal High Court, Abuja, has extended his interim order stopping the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from declaring as vacant the seats of 26 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly, over their recent defection from the PDP to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The extension was based on the application by counsel for the embattled lawmakers, Steve Adehi, SAN, and supported by Ken Njemanze, SAN, who appeared for the Rivers State House of Assembly.

Recall that the court had on December 15, in a ruling in an exparte application ordered INEC and PDP not to take any steps towards sacking the plaintiffs from the assembly, pending the hearing and determination of a suit seeking their removal as lawmakers because of their defection from the party that brought them to office.

Justice Okorowo at the last proceedings had also ordered the service of the interim order as well as the main suit on the defendants and fixed December 28, for hearing.

However, when the matter came up on Thursday, the lawyer representing the defected lawmakers however, informed the court that he was taking over the case of the plaintiffs from the earlier counsel, Mr Lukman Fagbemi, SAN, who had withdrawn appearance from the case.

While urging the court to grant a short adjustment to enable him prepare for the hearing, he also informed that a new counsel had entered appearance in the matter for the 3rd defendant (Assembly) and in view of the fact that the 2nd defendant (PDP) had just served on them their response this morning.

Although PDP’s lawyer, Adeyemi Ajibade, SAN, objected, the court however granted the request “in the interest of justice”, and fixed January 24, 2024 for hearing.

Ajibade, who is also the National Legal Adviser of the party, objected on the grounds that he had an application challenging the jurisdiction of the court to handle the suit and the competence of the suit itself.

Earlier, Njemanze, who told the court that he had the instruction of the 3rd defendant (Assembly) to take over from  Fagbemi, informed the court that he was yet to be served with the processes filed by the PDP to enable him respond accordingly.

While disclosing that he intends to react to the processes filed by the plaintiffs also, Njemanze hinted of moves to resolve the dispute politically, following the intervention of President Bola Tinubu.

“Without prejudice to the information by my learned friend this morning about a political solution brokered by Mr President, I need to get my client’s reaction to this and then report back to this honourable court.

“In the circumstance, we pray for an adjournment to enable me file my processes,” he said.

The 4th defendant (Clerk of the Rivers State House of Assembly), through his lawyer, Chief Ferdinand Orbih, SAN, informed the court that he was yet to be served with any process in the matter.

Meanwhile, there was no representation of the electoral umpire, the IG and DSS in court when the matter was called.

After failed attempt to impeach Governor Siminalayi Fubara, 27 lawmakers of the Rivers State House of Assembly, loyal to the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and immediate past Governor of Rivers State, Nyesome Wike, had dumped the ruling PDP in the state for the APC, although one of the defectors had shortly after rescinded the decision and returned back to the PDP.

Following, the recognition of the remaining four lawmakers led by Hon Edison Ehie by a Rivers High Court as the lawmakers of Rivers State, the seat of the defectors were declared vacant and INEC called upon to conduct a bye election for their replacement.

Miffed by this action, the plaintiffs in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1681/2023; dated and filed December 13, approached the Federal High Court in Abuja, to stop the defendants which include; INEC, PDP, the Assembly, Clerk of the assembly, Inspector-General (I-G) of Police and Department of State Service (DSS) from taking any steps against them because of their defection from PDP to APC.

After listening to the submissions of the plaintiffs and also considering the affidavit of Rt. Hon Martin Chike Amaewhule (the 1st Plaintiff) in support of the motion, the documentary evidence marked exhibits Al — A5, BiBS and C as well as the written address in support of the application, Justice Okorowo made an order temporarily stopping the defendants from taking any steps against the plaintiffs.

“The urgency of the subject matter of this suit is abundantly clear from the affidavit evidence and the supporting documents. This court is eminently vested with the requisite jurisdiction to consider an application of this nature in the circumstances having regard to the provisions of Order 26 Rule 5 of the Federal High Court”, the document read in part.

While observing that the court have a duty to intervene in really urgent Situations such as this, the court held that it cannot ignore the import of evidence tendered before it which have affected the legal rights of the Applicants and necessitated them to find refuge by defecting to the All Progressives Congress (APC). 

“In the circumstances, there is urgent need to protect the seats of the Plaintiffs/Applicants from declared vacant by the Defendants or being hampered in the performance of their legislative function”, the court held.

Adding that, “For the avoidance of doubt, An interim order of injunction is hereby made restraining: The 1” and 3” Defendants, either by themselves, their officials, officers, servants, agents, staff or privies from declaring vacant or taking any steps whatsoever to declare vacant the seats of the Plaintiffs/Applicants at the Rivers State House of Assembly; from withdrawing the Plaintiffs/Applicants’ respective Certificates of Return and from conducting fresh elections to fill in the seats of the Plaintiffs/Applicants at the Rivers State House of Assembly, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice. 

“The 1st Defendant from conducting fresh elections to fill in the seats of the Plaintiffs/Applicants in Rivers State House of Assembly, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice”. 

Besides the court restrained the Defendants from interfering with or impeding in any way or attempting to interfere in any way the performance of the Plaintiff’s official and legislative functions as the Speaker, the Deputy-Speaker and members, respectively, of the Rivers State House of Assembly, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice. (THIS DAY)

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