By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Wednesday, declined to stay execution of the judgment that nullified the suspension of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege by the Senate.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba rejected the application which was jointly filed by the Senate and its President, Dr. Bukola Saraki who were 1st and 2nd defendants in the suit Omo-Agege’s filed to challenge his suspension from attending plenary for 90 legislative days.
The court held that the application, along with the notice of appeal that was attached to it, were “misdirected”, saying it was not targeted at the May 10 verdict that nullified Omo-Agege’s suspension.
Specifically, Justice Dimgba noted that the defendants, in their motion, erroneously sought for stay of execution of judgment they claimed granted all the reliefs that were sought before the court by the plaintiff.
He said the true position of things was that the court had after it rejected reliefs one to seven in Omo-Agege’s suit, granted an ominibus prayer that urged it to make any order it deemed fit in the circumstance of the case.
Consequently, Justice Dimgba held that the motion was not anchored on any cognizable judgment that was delivered by his court, saying he therefore could not grant an order for stay of execution as prayed by the defendants.
The Senate and Saraki had through their lawyer, Mr. Mahmoud Magaji, SAN, prayed the court to suspend omo-Agege’s resumption pending hearing and determination of an appeal they filed to challenge his recall.
It will be recalled that the high court had in its judgment, held that the reason the Senate adduced for suspending Omo-Agege was unconstitutional.
The court noted that the Ethics and Privileges Committee of the Senate recommended that Omo-Agege should be suspended to punish him for instituting legal action against the legislative house.
Justice Dimgba held that while the Senate has the powers to sanction its erring members to protect its integrity, he said no institution or authority has the powers to deny any citizen his right of access to the court.
Besides, the Judge noted that whereas sections 67(4) of the Senate Standing Rules 2014 and section 21(2) of the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act, okayed the suspension of any erring lawmakers for 14 legislative days, the Senate went ahead and handed Omo-Agege 90 days suspension.
“The suspension of the plaintiff for 90 days is ultra-vires of powers of the 1st defendant (Senate)”, the court held, adding that “any suspension of member of the Senate such exceeds 14 days is null and void and unconstitutional”.
The court ordered the Senate to recall the plaintiff immediately and equally pay him any salary or allowance that accrued to him within the period he was illegally suspended.
Earlier, the court dismissed Omo-Agege’s claim that he was denied fair hearing by the Senate Committee, stressing that “documents before the court showed that the plaintiff was afforded the opportunity to be heard”.
The court equally dismissed preliminary objections the Senate and Saraki filed to challenge its jurisdiction to hear the suit.
Justice Dimgba said the court has powers under section 4(8) of the 1999 constitution to intervene in affairs of the Senate, “whether internal or external, when it acts beyond it’s powers or in breach of the constitution”.
Senator Omo-Agege who is representing Delta Central Senatorial district had in his suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/314/2018, prayed the court to quash his suspension and declare that he was illegally barred from attending plenary at the Senate.
Aside the Senate and Saraki, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, was equally cited as a defendant in the suit.
He had among other things, prayed the court for, “A declaration that the 1st and 2nd defendants’ referral of the plaintiff to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions for trial for expressing his opinion on the purport of a Section of the Electoral Act N0. 6, 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2017 is an act calculated to interfere with or likely to constitute a breach of the plaintiff’s fundamental human right to freedom of expression without interference as guaranteed by Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 [as amended] and Article 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right (Ratification and Enforcement) Act Cap A9 LFN, 2004.
“A declaration that the description of the plaintiff’s expression of his opinion on the purport of a Section of the Electoral Act No.6, 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2017 in the 1st defendant’s Votes and Proceedings of Tuesday, 20th February, 2018 as “malicious, unfounded and aimed at smearing the reputation of the Senate as an Institution”, makes the allegation against the plaintiff [which was referred to the Senate Committee on Ethic, Privileges and Public Petitions] offence[s] under the provisions of Section 24(a) and or 24(c) of the Legislative Powers and Privileges Act Cap L12 LFN 2004 and therefore cognizable only by court of competent jurisdiction as, provided by Section 36(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 [as amended].
Likewise, “An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, their servants, agents, privies, officers or otherwise howsoever from interfering with the plaintiffs rights and or privileges as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or and preventing him from entering or remaining within the precinct or Chamber of the Senate or National Assembly or attempting to forcibly remove him from the chamber or precinct of the National Assembly or in any way impeding or undermining the plaintiff’s ability to function as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.