- Transportation minister: Action is frivolous, ridiculous, laughable
Olawale Olaleye in Lagos and Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State has asked a High Court sitting in Port Harcourt to commit the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonishakin, and Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen Tukur Buratai, to prison for deploying soldiers during the March 19 rerun elections in defiance of a court order.
Others included in the committal proceedings are the Commander of the 2 Army Brigade, Port Harcourt, Brigadier General Stephenson Olabanji, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and Rivers State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr Aniedi Ikoiwak.
Reacting to the development, Amaechi, who said last night that he was unaware of the matter in court, as he had not been served the process, however, described the move by the PDP as “frivolous, ridiculous and laughable”, promising to meet the party in court.
The ruling party in the state and its chairman, Mr. Felix Obuah, sought for the relief in a motion of notice filed by their solicitor, Kingsley Chuku, before the state High Court registry on March 22.
The motion was bought pursuant to Order XIV of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure), Rules 2009 under the jurisdiction of the state High Court.
The Rivers PDP and its chairman had earlier in a Suit No PHC/601/2016, filed before the state High Court by Mr. Chuku, secured a court injunction restraining Amaechi, the army and the federal government from deploying soldiers during the rerun elections.
Joined as respondents in the suit then were Amaechi (1st), Chief of Defence Staff (2nd), Chief of Army Staff (3rd), Brigadier General Steve Olabanji, Brigade Commander, 2nd Amphibious Brigade, Bori Camp, Port Harcourt (4th), INEC (5th), REC, Rivers State (6th), the Governor of Rivers State (7th) and the Government of Nigeria (8th).
Justice George Omereji of High Court 13 subsequently, in a judgment on March 16, granted an interim injunction restraining the respondents from deploying soldiers for the exercise, in line with the fundamental rights of the applicants.
He said the interim injunction was based on a judgment by the Appeal Court, in 2015 in the case between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and others, detailing the non-involvement of the army and the armed forces in elections.
The presiding judge had subsequently adjourned till March 24 for further hearing on the substantive application.
However, the military authorities flagrantly disregarded the court order as soldiers were massively deployed and seen all over the state, monitoring the conduct of the legislative rerun elections.
The applicants, in the motion on notice, therefore prayed the court to grant them two orders, namely: that the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth respondents be committed to prison for disobeying the order made by the court on March 16.
Secondly, the applicants – PDP and Obuah – sought for “such further or other order(s) that the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance”.
The presiding judge, Justice Omereji, has adjourned further hearing on the matter till April 14.
Reacting to the attempt to commit him to prison, Amaechi, in a statement by his media office yesterday, said he was unaware of the matter in court, pointing out that he had not been served the processes.
He also dismissed the proceedings as “frivolous, ridiculous and laughable”, promising, nonetheless, that he will meet the PDP in court.
Amaechi further asked the applicants a number of questions, which would most certainly make its way to the court in its determination of the motion of notice filed by the PDP.
He asked: “Who has the powers to deploy soldiers according to our constitution and laws? Does Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, have powers to deploy soldiers anywhere in the country?
“If Amaechi as Minister of Transportation does not deploy soldiers, why is he being dragged into the matter? And is the court saying that soldiers can’t be deployed for the safety and protection of lives and property when there is a clear need to do so?
“However, like I said earlier, we will meet them in court.”