BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA – The five ‘rebel’ Governors that defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC, yesterday, stalled hearing of the suit before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court seeking to declare their seats vacant.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, had gone before the high court, praying it to declare the seats of the five Governors vacant following their defection to the opposition APC, and order that the Deputy Governor or Speaker of the State Houses of Assembly of the respective states, be sworn-in to replace the defendants.
Those PDP urged the court to sack from office were Governors Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers, Alhaji Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano and Alhaji Abdulfatai Ahmed of Kwara state, who were listed in the suit as 2nd to 6th defendants, respectively.
Besides, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was also cited as the 2nd defendant in the matter.
Presiding Justice Gabriel Kolawole had on December 13 last year, granted an ex-parte order that allowed PDP to serve all the relevant court processes to the defendants through substituted means.
However, at the last adjourned date, January 27, the party, told the court that it found it difficult to reach any of the defendants, even as it pleaded to be allowed to paste the processes at the National Secretariat of the APC situated at No 6 Guinea Bissau street, Wuse Zone 6, Abuja, as well as publish the hearing notice on two national dailies, an application that was granted.
Meantime, though all the affected governors appeared in court yesterday, they challenged the powers of the court to proceed with hearing the substantive suit against them, contending that PDP failed to properly serve them the court processes.
Maintaining that their appearance in court yesterday was in protest, the governors said they only saw the hearing notice in the Newspapers.
Consequently, the defendants, through their various lawyers, took turns yesterday to challenge the purported service of the originating summons on them by the PDP.
Spirited effort by a team of three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, that represented PDP to persuade the court to allow them to serve the court processes on the governors inside the courtroom yesterday proved abortive as their lawyers declined to accept the papers, saying their clients did not give them such mandate.
Lead counsel to the PDP, Dr Alex Iziyon, SAN, explained that the bailiff went to paste the hearing notice only to discover that APC has moved its National Secretariat to another place.
“My Lord, at the time of filing this suit, the National Secretariat of the APC was at No 6 Guinea Bissau street, Wuse Zone 6, but the bailiff upon discovering that the address has changed, used his own initiative and decided to go and paste the court order at the new address at No 40 Blantyre street at Wuse 2.
“My Lord the contention of the 2nd to 6th defendants is that they were not served at the address specifically mentioned in the order. This is a clear strategy to frustrate hearing on this matter. They are here already. I’ll plead that since they are insisting that they do not have the relevant court processes, we can serve it to them through their counsels, or if they insist, we can go back to the former address of the APC and paste the order”, Iziyon pleaded.
Sequel to refusal by all the SANs that appeared for the defendants yesterday to accept the court papers on behalf of their clients, PDP, applied for a short adjournment to enable it regularize service.
In a short ruling, Justice Kolawole, who stressed that the issue of service is a fundamental threshold matter that bothers on jurisdiction, held that under the rules of the court, PDP, was entitled to a period of 42 hours to respond the contention of the governors.
He therefore adjourned the case till February 24 for mention on report of service and argument on the motion by the governors challenging the action of their former party with regards to pasting of hearing notice for them at the APC National Secretariat.
PDP had in the substantive suit, maintained that going by the express provisions of sections 177 (c), 221 and 222 (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the court, ought to declare that the Governors are ineligible to remain in office having defected to the APC.
It is seeking “A declaration that by the combined provisions of section 177 (c), 221 and 222 (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) the 2nd – 6th Defendants who were elected under the platform of the plaintiff cannot continue to enjoy the mandate given to the plaintiff by the people / electorate of the respective states as the 2nd – 6th Defendants have defected to the All Progressive Congress (APC).
“A declaration that in the absence of any division known and recognized by law in the Plaintiff, the 2nd – 6th Defendants who were elected under the plaintiff’s platform have vacated or forfeited their seats forthwith upon their defection to All Progressive Congress (APC).
“A declaration that having combined provisions of section 87 of the Electoral Act 2011 (as amended), section 177 (c), 221 and 222 (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) the 2nd – 6th Defendants defection from the Plaintiff to the All Progressive Congress (APC), the offices of the 2nd – 6th Defendants have reverted to the Plaintiff.
“A declaration that by combined provisions of section 177 (c), 221 and 222 (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) upon the defection of the 2nd – 6th Defendants defection from the Plaintiff the All Progressive Congress (APC), the mandate reverts to the deputy Governor or speaker of the State Houses of Assembly of the respective states or any officer next in rank who is still a member of the Plaintiff, to function and assume the office of the Governor of the respective states in question.
As well as “A declaration that by the combined provisions of sections 177 (c), 221 and 222 (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the act of defection by the 2nd – 6th defendant from the PDP under whose platform they were elected to APC amounts to gross misconduct.”
Besides, PDP is also asking for an order of the high court mandating / directing the State Houses of Assembly of Adamawa, Rivers, Sokoto, Kano and Kwara, to forthwith, commence impeachment proceedings against the 2nd – 6th defendants.