By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA — A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, adjourned hearing on the suit seeking to stop members of the House of Representatives that defected to the All Progressive Congress, APC, from changing the leadership of the House, to February 14.
Justice Ademola Adeniyi fixed the date after listening to arguments by the lawmakers on why the suit, instituted by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, should be struck out.
Joined in the suit are the House of Representatives, all the principal officers of the House comprising the Speaker, Deputy Speaker (Emeka Ihedioha), Mulikat Akande-Adeola (The Majority Leader), Leo Ogor (Deputy Majority Leader), Isiaka Bawa (Chief Whip), Ahmed Mutkar (Deputy Chief Whip), Gbajabiamila (Minority Leader), Samson Osagie (Minority Whip) and Sumaila Kawu (Deputy Minority Leader).
All the APC lawmakers that decamped from the PDP were also listed as the 12 to 53 defendants.
However, the lawmakers, including the Speaker, yesterday, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to dabble into what they said was purely the domestic affairs of the House.
In urging the court to dismiss PDP’s suit as lacking in merit, the defendants, in their 18- paragraph counter-affidavit deposed to by one Mr. Mike Msenge, told the court that from prolonged practice of the House, the political party with majority members formed its core leadership.
They argued that PDP “is not a human being but one of the registered political parties in Nigeria. The leadership seats in question are being occupied by the second to eight defendants, who are human beings.’’
They also, insisted that prior to the defection of the lawmakers to APC, the plaintiff, PDP, had majority membership in the House, “hence the second to eight defendants, being members of the party, were elected into those leadership positions they are currently occupying in the House.”
“But with the defection of the 12 to 53 defendants from the plaintiff to the APC on December 18, 2013, the plaintiff has lost its majority status, which has switched to the APC,” the lawmakers stated.
Arguing through their Lead Counsel, Mr Sebastian Hon, SAN, and Magaji Mahmud, SAN, the lawmakers, said the PDP lacked the locus-standi to pry into the administrative issues of the House. “The plaintiff has by this action, shown that it is nothing but a busybody and meddlesome interloper,” they added.
They further asked the court to discountenance PDP’s argument that the Speaker and other principal officers of the House were merely holding a mandate that was entrusted upon them by the party, the APC lawmakers, urged the court to differentiate the case of Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, from that of the leadership of the House.
“Whereas Amaechi was directly elected on the platform of the PDP, leaders of the House emerged as a result of an in-house election that was conducted after the lawmakers had already entered into the legislative chamber. The plaintiff has never and will never be a party to that internal proceeding,” Hon argued
According to the defendants, “the plaintiff has decided to fight the battles of the second to eight defendants while they are still alive and not complaining, and without disclosing any sufficient interest in the legal tussle. We boldly submit that the plaintiff lacks the locus-standi to do so.
“Supposing, for the sake of argument, that the second defendant is removed today as the Speaker of the House, will the plaintiff, which is not a member of the House, be elected to replace the him? The answer is a resounding NO! The same goes with the third to eight defendants.”
They maintained that the election and removal of the Speaker was an internal affair of the House which no political party has the jurisdiction to dabble into.
Meantime, Justice Adeniyi, adjourned the matter to hear the response of PDP lawyer, Mr Yunus Ustaz Usman, SAN, to the argument of the defendants.
PDP had in an affidavit in support of its motion on notice for interlocutory injunction, told the court that a ‘rebel’ group of 46 lawmakers, led by the Minority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, had perfected plans to change the leadership of the House.
“If the defendant/ respondent are not restrained by the court and they take any step, it will foist on the court a state of fait accompli. The plaintiff/ applicant will be prejudiced if this application is refused. Monetary compensation will not atone for the damage that will be done to the Plaintiff/ Applicant in place of this interim injunction. It is in the interest of justice to grant this application,” PDP added.
It specifically urged the court to determine whether in view of the mandatory provision of Section 68(i) (g) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and in view of the pendency of a suit between Senator Bello Hayatu Gwarzo and 78 others against Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and four others before the Federal High Court Abuja, the defendants, can validly function as members of the House of Reps, contribute to, or, vote on any motion and or debate in the proceedings of the House.
The PDP further asked the court to also determine whether in view of the mandatory provision of Section 68(i) (g) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and the aforementioned pending suit, the 23 to 79 defendants can lawfully alter the composition or constitution of the leadership of the House.