BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA—Fifty-one lawmakers that defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC, yesterday, persuaded the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court to suspend judgment on a suit they entered before it with a view to stopping their former party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from declaring their seats vacant.
Though the high court had on February 18, concluded hearing in the suit and adjourned to deliver its verdict, however, at the resumed sitting yesterday, the lawmakers, through their lawyer Mr. Magaji Mahmood, SAN, filed a fresh motion, asking the trial judge to hands-off the matter and await the outcome of a referral application entered before an appeal court in Abuja.
Immediately the case was called, the plaintiffs told the court that they have gone before the appellate court to seek a clearer interpretation of section 68 (1) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, stressing that in-line with the tenets of judicial hierarchy, the high court, ought to put the judgment on hold and await the decision of the higher court.
Relying on Section 295(2) of the Constitution and decided case-law in Achebe vs Mbanefo, 2007, 10NWLR and FRN vs Ifegwu, 2003, 15 NWLR, the lawmakers, argued that since there are five separate suits bordering on their defection to the APC, it would be in the interest of justice to allow the appellate court to interpret the relevant section of the constitution relating to the subject matter of litigation.
They therefore prayed the high court to suspend judgment on the suit, sine-die (indefinitely). Meanwhile, the PDP and the Senate President, Mr. David Mark, yesterday, challenged the competence of their application, urging the court to discountenance it and proceed with the judgment.
Counsel to PDP, Chief J.K Gadzama, SAN, described the application as an abuse of court process, saying it was a deliberate ploy by the lawmakers to further extend their stay in office knowing fully well that they would be sacked for violating the provisions of the constitution through their acts of defection.
According to PDP, “This matter was for over a month ago adjourned till today for judgment. It is a matter which is of urgent national importance that different sections of the polity are affected. Everybody is waiting anxiously for the outcome of this case which pertains to tenure of office that is time bound.”
“This fresh application is a classical example of an incompetency. It is a very clear example of what should not come to court. There is no appeal against any ruling of this court on this matter so far, what then are they appealing against?
“In the eyes of the law, there is even no application for referral.
Moreover, a copy of the application they are brandishing before this court was not certified. What they are trying to do is to go to the appeal court through the back window when the gates are wide open.
“We urge this court to dismiss the application and proceed to immediately deliver judgment in the case”, Gadzama stated.
Besides, PDP, contended that section 295(2) of the Constitution gave only the high court the powers to refer a matter to the appellate court, insisting that the lawmakers ought to have filed the said application before the high court and not at the appeal court like they have done.
Likewise, the Senate President, through his lawyer Mr Kenneth Ikonne, sought the dismissal of the application, saying “it is even inequitable and unethical for the plaintiffs to be talking about referral at this stage. Having already fully participated in the hearing on the merit, they have waived any right they had under section 295(2) of the Constitution”
Mark told the court that the application was misconceived, “It is a disingenuous attempt by the applicants to arrest the judgment of this court. Secondly, no cogent reason had been adduced in support of the application. The intendment of section 295(2) of the 1999 Constitution is not to relieve the High Court of jurisdiction to hear matters of which it is already seized, even if those matters border on the interpretation of the Constitution. After all, section 252(1) (q) of the Constitution vests the Federal High Court with original jurisdiction to interpret the Constitution”, he argued.