By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Thursday, slated March 9 to hear a suit the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, filed to declare the seat of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, vacant following his defection to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Justice Okon Abang okayed the matter for hearing after he ordered the service of hearing notice on the current Speaker of the House of Reps, Femi Gbajabiamila.
Dogara was in 2019, re-elected on the platform of the PDP to represent Dass, Tafawa Balewa and Bogoro Federal Constituency of Bauchi State at the National Assembly.
He however defected to the APC on July 24, 2020, after he submitted a resignation letter to the Chairman of the Bogoro ‘C’ Ward in the state.
Dissatisfied with his action, the PDP and its Bauchi State Chairman, Hamza Akuyam, approached the court to declare his seat vacant.
In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1060/2020, the Plaintiffs, among other things, contended that by virtue of section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, Dogara, ought to vacate the seat for defecting from the party that sponsored him to the 9th National Assembly, before the expiration of his tenure.
In a supporting affidavit that was deposed to by the 2nd Plaintiff, Akuyam, he told the court that there was no crisis or division in the PDP, the political platform through which Dogara was elected as a serving member of the National Assembly in the last general election.
He further told the court that there were no mergers or internal crisis in the PDP to justify Dogara’s action.
According to the Plaintiffs, having defected from the PDP before the expiration of his tenure, Dogara, “has lost his seat/office as a member of the House of Representatives and is no longer entitled to participate in the legislative proceedings and other businesses of the National Assembly and/or entitled to salaries and allowances as a member of the National Assembly”.
The Plaintiffs further contended that considering the facts and circumstances of the case, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Gbajabiamila, is under legal obligation to declare Dogara’s seat vacant and allow the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct a bye-election for his replacement.
Specifically, the Plaintiffs prayed the court to declare that Dogara has ceased to be a member of the National Assembly from the date he defected to the APC.
As well as for an order directing the Speaker of the House of Representatives to give effect to section 68(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and to forthwith declare Dogara’s seat vacant to enable INEC to conduct a bye-election for his replacement.
Aside Dogara, other Defendants in the suit are Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), INEC and the APC.
Justice Abang had at the last adjourned date, abridged the time within which the suit could be heard, even as he gave the Plaintiffs the nod to paste the court processes on Dogara’s gate.
Meanwhile, at the resumed proceedings in the matter on Thursday, only the Speaker of the House of Representatives was not represented in court.
Counsel to the Plaintiffs, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, told the court that the Speaker, Gbajabiamila, declined to accept service of the suit.
“My lord it is very unfortunate and highly regrettable that the 2nd Defendant who is the Speaker of the House of Reps and symbol of our lawmaking process, is refusing to accept process from the Federal High Court.
“Nonetheless, we will be asking that a fresh hearing notice communicating the next adjourned date, be served on the Speaker for him to appear for this matter, even if it is as a mark of respect to this court.
“We also most humbly apply for a definite date for hearing”, Uche added. His application was not opposed by Dogara’s lawyer, Mr. Johnson Usman. Consequently, Justice Abang adjourned the matter to March 9 “for hearing without fail”.
The court also directed that fresh hearing notice should be served on the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Gbajabiamila.