From Alex Enumah in Abuja
Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday, set aside the 180 days suspension of Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin by the House of Representatives in 2016.
Jibrin, a former Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, was on September 28, 2016 suspended by the House for raising allegations of corruption against the leadership of the House.
But in a judgment Thursday, the court while nullifying the suspension held that the action of the House of Representatives in suspending the lawmaker beyond the 14 days prescribed under the House rules, amounted to a violation of his constitutional guaranteed rights of freedom of expression and fair hearing.
He therefore declared the suspension illegal, unlawful, null and void and ordered that all his salaries, allowances and entitlements within the period of his illegal suspension be paid to him in full by the House.
“The suspension was an interruption of his earning which will be automatically restored especially when it has been decided that the action was a nullity by virtue of granting prayers 1 and 3 of the originating summons.
” It is trite law that when an act is a nulity, it is taken that it has never happened.” the court held.
The court described his suspension for a period of 180 legislative days as alarming, outrageous and malicious.
Jibrin had in 2016 dragged the House of Representatives to court following his suspension, which was linked to his campaign for the removal of the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, and other principal officers of the House over allegation that they padded the 2016 budget with about N40billion.
Jibrin had reported the alleged corrupt act to the various law enforcement agencies including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) and the police.
Displeased with Jibrin’s action, the lower chamber considered it as “a campaign of calumny against the House and its leaders”, thereby suspended him for 180 legislative days after adopting the reports of its Ethics and Privileges Committee.
Delivering his judgment, Justice Tsoho agreed with the plaintiff that his suspension was unlawful and an attempt to gag him.
“There is no better conclusion that the plaintiff was carrying out the mandate imposed on members by Chapter 7 (7.5) of the Code of Conduct for Honourable Members adopted on November 4, 2004,” the judge ruled.
The Judge queried the principal officers of the House for constituting themselves a Judges in their own court by participating in the process that led to the suspension of the plaintiff.
“They ought to have disqualified themselves to ensure some degree of neutrality or delegate their powers. But they were actively involved. This failure to recuse themselves easily create an impression that they were Judges in their own cause, which violates the principles of fair hearing.
” It is unrealistic for the defendants to claim that the plaintiff appeared before the Privileges and Ethics Committee of the House, so cannot claim denial of fair hearing,” Justice Tsoho ruled.
The court noted that “the plaintiff drew the attention of the Committee to his suit pending in court against the Committee, yet, they went ahead to suspend him.
“I agree with the plaintiff that it is not competent for the defendants to decide whether a suit is incompetent or spent.
“The plaintiff was suspended when a suit was still pending in court. This justify the allegations of bias against him. Besides, an administrative panel is inferior to a law court.
“The defendants strenuously tried to justify the suspension of the plaintiff by making references to provisions of the standing rules of the House and the report of the Ethics and Privileges Committee.
“They have also ingeniously argued that his suspension was in line with Chapter 9 (2) of the Code of Conduct for members of the House, which they claimed, allowed the House to impose sanctions on any member who breach the Code.
“The maximum period of time for suspension is 14 legislative days under Order 6 Rule 4. However, if the offence borders on Order 10 rule 5, which is suspension of a.member by use of force, it is for a period of 30 days.
“This borders on disobedience to directive of the Speaker which is a serious offence.
“The suspension must be just, equitable and free of bias. In the circumstances of this case, the defendants acted in breach of the constitutional rights of the plaintiff.
“Suspending him for alarming period of 180 days was outrageous and unconstitutional. The Committee was driven by malice and grossly violated his right to fair hearing which automatically vitiated the process.
“The House in its zeal to regulate the House, went beyond its Standing Orders. Rules must not infringe on the fundamental rights of members. Even if the suspension was for one day, it should have been done in strict compliance with the rules”, the court held.
While stating that the House of Representatives should be the bastion of representative democracy, justce Tsoho was of the opinion that democracy thrives by rule of law and not arbitrariness and impunity.
He advised the lawmakers not to desecrate themselves by openly exhibiting lack of faith in the constitution and rule of law.
The court held that by reporting alleged acts of corrupt practices to security agencies, the plaintiff was simply carrying his mandate imposed on the House by Chapter 7 of the Code of Conduct for members.