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Nigerian politicians and their apologists prefer to describe the country’s democratic evolution as nascent. In their view, it is inappropriate for anyone to upbraid its many ugly sides or describe it as a sham compared to its American model.
They would tell anyone who cares to listen that there is no basis for comparison as the Yankee version is centuries older. Sadly however, they always fail to remind themselves that our inability to apply intelligence is the only missing link.
Thus, while they want the rest of us to wait for centuries to experience true democracy by telling us that democratic practise in the US is devoid of the hiccups and pitfalls that appear peculiar to us because of its age, none of them will wait for more than one month to acquire status-enhancing, technology-laden cars or gadgets.
Unfortunately, the nascent theorists have extended the attitude to the application of legality to checkmate deliberate action meant to frustrate the country’s democratic process just as those who ought to know better are raising the trumpet in salutation.
If the trend is a major staple in the menu of the opposition PDP in Edo State, its national arm is perfecting it as a sure-fire weapon designed to conquer the entire Nigerian space, come 2015.
It was manifest in the debacle in Rivers, same as in the current bizarre circus in Edo and very prominent in the brazen battering of the democratic process both in Adamawa and Nasarawa states where the world is waiting to see how the judiciary will save itself, to begin with.
The design began to take effect in Edo State in the wake of the defection saga involving some members of the state assembly. In a bid to checkmate possible reprisal actions from their majority APC colleagues, the defectors sought legal refuge by asking a Federal High Court to forestall any attempt by the house leadership to either declare their seats vacant or put them on suspension.
In its wisdom, the court agreed that the house cannot declare their seats vacant. It however, ruled that it could not grant the second relief as doing so would amount to infringing on the internal affairs of the assembly which has every legal right to deal with, including suspending erring members.
Four days later and unarguably in the expression of the said right, the house suspended the defectors on grounds of gross misconduct. However, they refused to heed the suspension order, prompting the assembly leadership to rush back to the court for help.
Help came for the assembly leadership when the court barred the defectors, the police command and AIG Zone 5 from entering the assembly complex. Flagrantly, they did not only ignore the order, they have turned the assembly complex into a circus centre, incurring and ignoring court contempt in tow. The chaos resulting from the affected law makers’ action has since turned into a growing monster.
In attempting to whitewash an open breach of court order, the estranged law makers went to an Appeal Court to ask for, among other reliefs, a stay of execution of the suspension order made by the High Court. But the relief suffered a blow as the court dismissed it, insisting that they must first obey both the orders mandating them to respect the supension issued them by the house and contempt charge arising from their refusal to do so.
In a ruling delivered by Hon Justice Morounkeji Ogunwunmiju on behalf of the two other justices, the court declared that “the said suspended members could not seek any relief from the Court of Appeal while they were in contempt or disobedience of the Order of the High Court.”
The judge went further to emphasise that a party in contempt of a positive order of court cannot be allowed to seek or obtain any relief from the Court while the contempt persists. In plain language, the court ordered the renegade law makers to go and obey the suspension order and contempt charges.
The ruling, made on Thursday, July 10, 2014, is now a stark reminder of the affected law makers’ attitude to court orders as amply captured in the words of their infernal image, Festus Ebea, former deputy speaker, who while reacting to an attempt by a court bailiff to serve him and others contempt summons riled both the court and everything it represents in vile invectives. Typically, they have continued to glean over their defiance with laughable excuses while being applauded by their party, the PDP.
Still smarting from the impact of the Appeal Court ruling delivered less than 24 hours earlier, the law makers(law breakers if you like) took the matter to the Supreme in the seeming puerile expectation that the apex court will rub mud on its inestimable lower arms, having been subjected to a very odious humiliation.
But even as the flaks from the Appeal Court ruling were still reverberating, news of yet another ruling, this time, from a Federal High Court, presided over by Justice Mohammad A. Liman, hit the waves. Uyi Igbe, speaker of the state house of assembly, Philip Shaibu, Majority Leader and the Edo State House of Assembly, on behalf of themselves and other members, asked the court to restrain the state Commissioner of Police and the AIG Zone 5 from restricting the activities of artisans employed by the house to fix the leaking assembly roof.
They also asked the court to prevail on the suspended law makers “from further purporting to carry out the legislative function of the 3rd plaintiff (house of assembly), including but not limited to purporting to sit or hold plenary sessions wheresoever’s pending the hearing of the Motion on Notice.”
In the judgement, the court restrained the state Police Commissioner and AIG Zone 5 from “preventing or continuing to prevent the plaintiffs, including the workers of the 3rd plaintiff (House of Assembly) from having unrestricted access into the premisses of and their offices at the Edo State House of Assembly…” and “from further preventing the workers engaged by the 3rd plaintiff from continuing with the renovation/repairs of the leaking roof of the Edo State House of Assembly Complex…”.
The question is this: Can any defendant act in place for a plaintiff in the execution of a valid court order given in favour of the latter and in the same matter he/she/it is listed as a co-defendant without undermining the order itself?
However, it refused to grant “an interim injunction restraining the 3rd-11th Defendants (suspended law makers) from further purporting to carry out the legislative functions of the 3rd plaintiff including but not limited to purporting to sit or hold plenary sessions wheresoever’s pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice…” In refusing to grant the relief, Justice Liman explained that it is “…outside the ambit of section 25 1 (q), (r) and (s) of the constitution. It is a matter within the jurisdiction of the state High Court.”
Put differently, the court refused to grant the order because the issue is a matter on which only a state high court can adjudicate. In which case, the plaintiffs are at liberty to seek the relief from the relevant court.
Obviously misinterpreting the ruling, the opposition PDP, suspended law makers and their handlers went to town, celebrating the ruling as an invalidation of earlier rulings.
Yet, a few days after the ruling ordering the police commissioner and AIG, zone 5 to stop forthwith any restriction imposed on either the assembly staff or workers engaged by the law making organ to renovate/repair the complex’s leaking roof, the suspended law makers took over the task of the plaintiffs and hired new workers to work on the affected roof.
The challenge here is that in acting ‘in loco’ for the plaintiff in a ruling that expressly mandates some of their co-defendants not to infer with “workers engaged” (not new set) by one of the 3rd plaintiffs, it would appear that they have turned the order of the court on its head.
The question is this; can any defendant act in place for a plaintiff in the execution of a valid court order given in favour of the latter and in the same matter he/she/it is listed as a co-defendant without undermining the order itself?
Ernest Omoarelojie a public affairs analyst, wrote from Benin City.
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