April 13, 2019

Defection: AGF, INEC shun suit seeking to declare Saraki, Dogara, others seat vacant

Malami, open grazing

Abubakar Malami (SAN) . Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, have shunned the suit seeking to declare the seat of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and 53 other lawmakers, vacant.

Among those the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court was asked to sack from the National Assembly for dumping political parties that sponsored their election, contrary to section 68 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, included the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, and former Minority Leader of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio.

AttorneyGeneral of Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami

Others include Senators Dino Melaye, Rabiu Kankwaso, Lanre Tejuoso, Shaaba Lafiagi, Rafiu Ibrahim, Barnabas Gemade, Abdulazeez Nyako, Monsurat Sunmonu, Usman Nafada, Suleiman Hunkuyi, Ibrahim Danbaba, Ubale Shittu, lsah Misau, Suleiman Nafif.

The House of Reps members included Hon. Zakari Mohammed, Hon. Aminu Shagari, Hon Ooker-Jev, Hon. Rufai Chanchangi, Hon. Abdulsamad Dasuki, Hon. Sani Zoro, Hon. Ben6jamin Okolo, Hon. Bode Ayorinde, Hon. Sani Rank, Hon. Dickson Tarkighir, among others

Justice Okon Abang had on Thursday, suspended already prepared judgment on the matter owing to an application the Defendants filed for the court to allow them to respond to the suit that was lodged by a Civil Society Organization under the aegis of Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP.

The court had before it acceded to the request, lambasted the lawmakers who it accused of “arresting” its judgment.

Justice Abang held that the conduct of the Defendants who he noted failed to respond to the suit that was filed since 2018, but only to approach the court with applications on the day the judgement was fixed for delivery, amounted to “slapping the court on the face”.

However, the Judge held that in the interest of justice and fair hearing, he would reluctantly allow all the Defendants to respond to the suit.

Meanwhile, at the resumed proceeding on Friday, all the Defendants were represented in court, except the AGF and INEC. Though the court noted that both the AGF and INEC who were cited as 1st and 56th Defendants, respectively, were duly served with all the processes and hearing notices, no reason was adduced for their decision to ignore the suit.

Nevertheless, all the lawmakers, filed processes to challenge the locus standi of the Plaintiff, as well as the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter.

Justice Abang adjourned the matter till next week Thursday for hearing.

The outcome of the suit will affect lawmakers within the fold of both the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Specifically, the Plaintiff, in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/996/2018, applied for an order of mandamus to compel the Deputy Senate President and his counterpart at the House of Reps, to declare their seats vacant to allow the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct bye-elections to fill the positions.

It further prayed the court to order the Defendants to refund all salaries and emoluments they received after their defection.

LEDAP is seeking: “A declaration that by virtue of Section 68 (I) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), any member of the National Assembly who resigns from the political party that sponsored his election into the National Assembly, before the expiration of the term for which he was elected, automatically loses his seat in the Assembly, unless saved by the exception under that section.