By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Ike Uchechukwu & Peter Okutu
A Tactical Unit of the police, in the early hours of yesterday, mounted heavy security at the Cross River State House of Assembly complex, following Monday sack by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, of two federal lawmakers and 18 members of the Cross River State House of Assembly over their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
A security source, who pleaded anonymity, said it was an order from above to avert any form of breach of peace.
“We are simply here to maintain law and order, we don’t want any event or occurrence to take us by surprise, hence our presence to forestall peace. We are simply proactive as protocol demands,” the source said.
We’ve appealed judgement —Lawmakers
This came as the 20 lawmakers have appealed the decision of the lower court. In the appeal filed on their behalf through consortium of lawyers led by Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, they maintained that the trial court erred in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice against them.
They told the appellate court sitting in Abuja that trial Justice Taiwo Taiwo entertained the suit the PDP instituted against them, and delivered judgement without jurisdiction.
According to the appellants, “The trial court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to have entertained the suit leading to the instant appeal.
“Arising from the hostile nature of the suit that gave rise to this appeal, the failure of the trial court to order pleadings denied the appellants the opportunity to properly present their case, thereby stripping them of their constitutional right to fair hearing.
“Originating summons ought rightly to be resorted to only where rights of parties depend on construction of enactment only without reference to hotly disputed facts.
“The appellants predicated the reasons and grounds for their act of defection on the raging crisis and division that rocked the national leadership and state leadership of the PDP at the material time, the facts of which were hotly disputed and refuted by the plaintiff/Ist respondent.
“The appellants had applied for transfer of the suit leading to this appeal from the Abuja Judicial Division to the Calabar Judicial Division of the Federal High Court, where the cause of action arose and the subject matter is situated.
“The trial court refused to transfer the suit to Calabar Judicial Division of the Federal High Court in defiance of the practice direction as contained in the said circular issued by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
“The trial court erroneously heard the appellants’ motion for transfer of the suit to the Calabar Judicial Division of the Federal High Court contemporaneously and together with the notice of preliminary objection challenging jurisdiction of the court and the substantive originating summons.
“The appellants had protested the procedure adopted by the trial court but the trial court bluntly refused to hold the protest even when its attention was fully drawn to the motion for transfer which ought to have been taken first and pronounced upon one way or the other.
“Hearing the appellants’ motion for transfer of the suit to the Calabar Judicial Division of the Federal High Court simultaneously with the notice of preliminary objection challenging jurisdiction and the substantive originating summons constitutes an abuse of court process and procedure.
“The failure of the trial court to transfer this suit that gave rise to this appeal to the Calabar Judicial Division of the Federal High Court in Calabar, Cross River State where the Ist respondent’s alleged cause of action arose amounts to forum-shopping, judge-shopping and abuse of court process.”
C’River govt reacts
Meanwhile, in a statement by Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr. Christian Ita, the state government, said: “This is to inform APC members of the National Assembly from Cross River State, members of the Cross River State House of Assembly and the general public that an appeal against the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja has been filed at the Court of Appeal, Abuja.
“Also, a motion for a stay of execution of the Federal High Court has been filed. Both processes were filed by renowned constitutional lawyer Chief Ozekhome.“Following the filing of the two processes, automatically the orders of the lower court are stayed.
“Consequently, the APC members in both the National Assembly and the Cross River State House of Assembly should go about their duties freely.“In the same vein, the party has called on its members to remain calm and law abiding stressing that there was no cause for alarm.
“The party assured its members that the appellate Court will do justice to the matter as it heads to the Appeal Court immediately.
Judgement is nothing to worry about —APC state chair
In a statement by the party’s Publicity Secretary, Mr. Erasmus Ekpang, the state Chairman, Alphonsus Eba, said the judgement was nothing to worry about, urging members to remain calm.“The Federal High Court judgement that was given against our lawmakers is nothing to worry about. We trust that the appellate court will do justice as we file our appeal,” Eba added.
Why Umahi is sitting firmly as gov of Ebonyi —Govt
In another development, Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Orji Orji, yesterday, explained that David Umahi was sitting firmly as governor of Ebonyi State, because “there is no judgement that can be given, if it is not judgement based on the law, rule of law or on the constitution and extant laws of the country.”
Umahi and his deputy, Kelechi Igwe, who were sacked by a Federal High Court, Abuja, have appealed the ruling by Justice Inyang Ekwo, which sacked them for defecting from PDP to APC in the state.
Orji, who spoke in Abakaliki, expressed hope in the impartiality of the judiciary to ensure that the right thing was done against all odds.He said: “Right now, we have a judgement in rem that is binding all parties within that lower court, so we are waiting for the Court of Appeal to say one thing or the other.
“But we know that the Court of Appeal being a court that is saddled with the responsibility of dissecting decisions of the lower court will do justice in this matter, because there is no judgement that can be given if it is not judgement based on the law, rule of law or a judgement based on the constitution and extant laws.
“So, that is why our governor is sitting strongly as governor of Ebonyi State. We also have hope in the impartiality of the judiciary as last hope of a common man because in this case, some cabals are politicizing that judgement.
“So, we believe that the Court of Appeal and indeed the Supreme Court will restore that hope to the common man and God will take glory by the time this is done.”
He called on the opposition political party, the PDP, to learn to play by the rules and avoid “going to social media to tell lies, unleash falsehood and fake news against the government of Ebonyi State and paint Ebonyi State as black before commity of states.
“I will advise PDP to remember that democracy is all about playing by the rule, democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people and our governor is the governor of the people of Ebonyi State and the majority of the people of Ebonyi State are with the governor.”