House to Appeal Court Rulings on Edo Assembly Crisis

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Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja

The House of Representatives has vowed that it would appeal court rulings restraining it from taking over the Edo State House of Assembly.

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had on Wednesday ordered parties in the crisis arising from the proclamation of the state Assembly to halt hostilities and maintain status quo, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit before it.

Earlier, the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt had restrained the state Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, from issuing a fresh proclamation of the Assembly.

Reacting to the rulings, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, told THISDAY in a telephone conversation from Australia that the House would appeal them because they infringed on the constitutional powers of the federal legislature.

The court in Abuja, gave its ruling in a suit filed by Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Hon. Frank Okiye, and a faction of the state legislature, challenging the powers of the National Assembly to take over the state’s legislative duties.
The National Assembly, before going on recess, had resolved to take over the legislative functions of the state legislature if Obaseki fails to issue a fresh proclamation letter.

It had also directed the police and the Department of State Services (DSS) to shut down the state House of Assembly if the governor fails to obey its directive.

However, as the deadline for the governor to issue the fresh proclamation letter expired on Tuesday, the Nigeria Police High Command said it would not seal the assembly as directed by the National Assembly or interfere in the crisis rocking the state legislature.

The Senate had also deferred further actions on the crisis till it resumes from its annual vacation on September 24.
Before Wednesday’s court ruling, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt had restrained Obaseki from issuing a fresh proclamation letter as directed by the Senate.

The court had also restrained the Clerk of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, their servants, agents, officers or privies from interfering or taking over the legislative functions of the Edo State House of Assembly.

Furthermore, the court had also granted an order restraining the Inspector General of Police and the DSS, their servants, agents, officers or privies from sealing off or obstructing activities at the Assembly.

However, Kalu, responding to THISDAY inquiry on the next step for the National Assembly in view of the court rulings, Australia, said the intervention was a breach of the principle of separation of powers.

He said: “The National Assembly will surely appeal the ruling but for now we must respect it.”

Kalu added that though the House of Representatives believed in the democratic principle of separation of powers, claiming that the rulings posed a threat to the democratic doctrine.

He explained: “It is a core constitutional duty of the National Assembly that the court has attempted to prevent. This is like the National Assembly telling the president not to present the national budget or like the executive stopping the courts from giving a ruling or judgment.

“No arm of the government is supposed to abdicate power to another arm. It is contrary to the doctrine of separation of powers that one arm of government should prevent another arm from carrying out its constitutional duty.

“The Constitution in Section 11(4) is clear on this: ‘Where the House of Assembly of any State is unable to perform its functions by reason of the situation prevailing in that state, the National Assembly may intervene and take over the legislative functions of that House until such a time as the House of Assembly is able to resume its functions.’

“It is no coincidence that this particular duty of the National Assembly to take over a state House that is unable to function falls under the section of the constitution that deals with Public Order and Public Security.”

According to him, what the House proposes to do in Edo State is a matter of restoring public order and security.

“The House has to perform its constitutional duty. It should not be a question for debate,” Kalu said, adding: “May be the courts can – if they find reason after the takeover, say that the takeover was wrong based on their own interpretation of Section 11, but not to pre-empt a constitutional role, which is sacrosanct.”

He explained further: “Surely, the doctrine of ripeness is applicable here. In some democratic climes, judicial restraint, which is procedural approach to the exercise of judicial review, urges judges to refrain from deciding legal issues, and especially constitutional ones, except where the decision is necessary in resolving a concrete dispute between adverse parties.

“As a substantive approach, it urges judges considering constitutional questions to grant substantial deference to the views of the elected arms of government and invalidate their actions only when constitutional limits have clearly been violated.”