by Ihuoma Chiedozie
An Abuja Federal High Court on Friday struck out a suit filed by some All Progressives Congress senators and members of the House of Representatives to forestall plans to declare their seats vacant as a result of their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party.
The defectors had in the suit asked the court to restrain the Senate President, David Mark, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, from conducting any proceedings aimed at declaring their seats vacant, as well as that of any other member of the PDP who intend to join another political party.
The lawmakers had stated that they approached the court to protect their rights as members of the National Assembly following threats by the PDP to declare their seats vacant.
But in his judgment, Justice Ahmed Mohammed struck out the suit on the grounds that the PDP, which threatened to declare the defectors’ seats vacant, lacked the powers to do so under the law and as such, there was no issue for the court to determine.
The judgment was initially scheduled to be delivered on Wednesday but the defected lawmakers, through their lawyer, Mahmoud Magaji, SAN, initiated a last-minute bid to stop the court from giving its decision by filing a motion, asking the court to adjourn the verdict indefinitely, pending the hearing and determination of a referral application they filed at the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division.
The development prevented the court from delivering the judgment on Wednesday but after dismissing the motion in a ruling on Friday, Justice Mohammed went ahead to give his verdict.
Giving a summary of the facts of the case, he noted that, following the threat by PDP to declare their seats vacant, the defected lawmakers had asked the court to determine whether the crisis in the party, which culminated in a parallel national convention, does not qualify as a division to warrant them to defect and continue to retain their elective seats in line with the provisions of section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution.
Section 68 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution allows for defection in cases where there is division within political parties, and the defected lawmakers argued that there was a split in the PDP to qualify them to defect and still retain their seats.
The lawmakers therefore urged the court to declare that they can defect without losing their seats because there was a division in the PDP, and in the same vein, make an order restraining the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives from declaring their seats vacant.
They equally asked the court to restrain the Independent National Electoral Commission from accepting the nomination of any candidate and conducting bye-elections aimed at filling their seats.
PDP, on its part, through its counsel, Joe Gadzama, SAN, argued that there was no division within its ranks, describing the crisis that led to the defection of the plaintiffs as a mere ‘disagreement.’
The party also pointed to the judgment of Justice Evoh Chukwu of the Abuja FHC, which restrained the Abubakar Baraje-led New PDP from parading as the national leadership of the party, to emphasise its argument that there was no division in the party.
After summarising the issues involved in the case, Justice Mohammed noted that “it is clear that the crux of the plaintiffs’ action is the alleged threat by the PDP to declare their seats vacant over their defection to another political party.”
“The power to declare seats vacant lies on the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and not the PDP,” the judge explained.
He added that while the case was pending before the court, PDP filed two separate suits, asking the court to compel the Senate President, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, to declare vacant, the seats of 12 senators and 42 members of the House of Representatives who decamped to the APC, including all the plaintiffs.
“Both suits are pending before me,” the judge said, adding that the pending suits have shown that PDP has submitted the dispute that arose over the defection of the lawmakers to the court.
Striking out the defected lawmakers’ suit, Justice Mohammed said, “Considering the two pending suits, is there any threat to declare the seats of the plaintiffs vacant without recourse to the court? No.
“This is because PDP has submitted the matter to the court and cannot take the law into its own hands.
“In the final analysis, since the plaintiffs’ suit is based on the alleged threat by the PDP to declare their seats vacant, and the fact that the PDP has submitted the same dispute to the court for determination, I am of the view that there is no life issue in the application brought by the plaintiffs, which I consider to be merely academic.
“And since the court cannot engage in academic exercises, the plaintiffs’ application is accordingly struck out.”
However, Justice Mohammed quickly moved to stress that despite the striking out of the defected lawmakers’ application, the matter is still before the court because of the two pending suits filed by PDP in a bid to compel the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to declare their seats vacant.
Referring to the pending suits, the judge said the defected lawmakers should not be apprehensive about their positions in the National Assembly as they still have the opportunity to state their case before the court.
The two pending suits will come up for hearing on April 17.
In the two suits, the PDP listed 12 senators and 42 members of the House of Representatives who it wants the court to compel the Senate President and the Speaker to declare their seats vacant, including Sen. Abdulahi Adamu, Sen. Mohammed Ali Ndume, Sen. Umaru Dahiru, Sen. Muhammed Shaaba Lafiaji, Sen. Bukola Saraki, Sen. Magnus Abe, Sen. Wilson Ake, Sen. Danjume Goje, Sen. Bindowo Mohammed Jibrilla, Sen. Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan and Sen. Ibrahim Gobir.
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