Alex Enumah in Abuja
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja has suspended judgment in a legal action seeking the sack of the Senate President Bukola Saraki and 53 other lawmakers over their defection from one political party to another last year.
The court suspended the verdict scheduled for delivery Thursday following the appearance of Mahmoud Magaji (SAN), who made a case of fair hearing for the national lawmakers.
While Saraki, Melaye amongst others defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Godswill Akpabio had defected from the opposition PDP to the ruling APC, an action that necessitated the legal action by an advocacy group, Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP).
Justice Abang, who reluctantly suspended the judgment, said: “The defendants had sufficient time to challenge this suit but failed. They allowed the plaintiff to incur cost to prosecute this matter and also allowed the court to painstakingly prepare judgment.
“They are now in court trying to arrest the judgment,” he said.
Abang however maintained that notwithstanding what the plaintiff and the court had gone through, the right of the defendants to be heard was a fundamental matter.
“I think the defendants should be heard before judgment is given.
“It will be a breach of the fundamental right of the defendants to fair hearing, though they came late into the matter, for the court to proceed and deliver judgment.
“I will reluctantly suspend delivery of the judgment to allow the defendants to be heard,” the judge said.
In his ruling on an application moved by Mogaji, Justice Abang ordered the respondents to file their processes and served them on the plaintiff by Thursday and that the plaintiff upon receipt of the respondents’ processes must reply within five hours.
He subsequently adjourned hearing in the matter to Friday, April 12.
LEDAP had dragged Saraki and the 53 other lawmakers to court seeking a declaration that they were no longer members of the National Assembly having defected to other political parties before the expiration of their tenure.
The group, in their suit filed on September 14, 2018, prayed the court for an interpretation of Section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution.
This was with regards as to whether any member of the National Assembly who resigns from the political party that sponsored his election before the expiration of the term for which he was elected, automatically loses his seat in the assembly.
LEDAP is also seeking a declaration that the lawmakers were no longer entitled to receive any remunerations due to a member of the National Assembly and that any of such remunerations after their date of defection be refunded to the federal government.
The group also prayed the presiding members of the National Assembly to declare vacant the seats of the defectors.
They had argued the matter in court with only a counsel to the Senate President being represented once while the other defendants never sent representation.
The court, being satisfied that the processes were served on all parties but they chose to disrespect the court and stay away, allowed the plaintiff to argue his case and fixed Thursday, April 11 for judgment.