Plateau and the 16 Contentious Assembly Seats

Seriki Adinoyi writes that the post-election dust raised in Plateau State is far from settling as the contentious 16 Assembly seats are yet to be resolved by the court of law.

The last has not been heard of the resonating effects of the alleged miscarriage of justice by the Court of Appeal on post-election cases brought before it by lawmakers of the Plateau State House of Assembly.

The Court of Appeal had sacked 16 lawmakers elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the ground that the party lacked the structure to field candidates for the 2023 elections.

Unlike gubernatorial and presidential cases that could be appealed to the Supreme Court, the lawmakers had to accept it in good fate.

But the Supreme Court while setting aside the Judgement of the Court of Appeal that also sacked the Governor of the state, Caleb Mutfwang, had lamented that the judgement of the Appeal Court has caused many to suffer injustice.

Justice Emmanuel Agim, while delivering the judgement said the Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction to entertain pre-election matters, explaining that the petitioners not being members of the PDP have no locus to challenge the primary election of the PDP.

He said, “Since they are not members of the PDP, the tribunal and Court of Appeal have no right at all to look into the issue.”

On the issue of whether the order of the Plateau State High Court could affect the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the PDP, the apex court held that the appellate court was wrong in holding that the order affects the NEC.

Justice Agim also stressed that the issue of primary was an internal matter of political parties which both the tribunal and Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction. He also pointed out that contrary to the claim of the petitioners that the judgment of the appellate court on the order of the Plateau High Court was not disobeyed by the PDP as evidence showed that a fresh primary was conducted.

Also reacting, Presiding Justice Okoro lamented that “a lot of people have suffered” because of the wrongful judgments of the appellate court which had sacked several legislators who won elections under the platform of the PDP.

Since the Supreme Court judgment, the sacked legislators have become restive insisting that justice must be done by returning their mandates to them.

First, the lawmakers had insisted they were going to resume at the Assembly to reclaim their seats, saying they are the authentic members of the state Assembly, voted into office by the people of the state.

Led by the member representing Bokkos State Constituency, Ishaku Maren, the lawmkers said the judgment of the Supreme Court which reinstated Governor Caleb Mutfwang has explained that they were unjustly removed from office hence, the remedy for the wrong done to them is for them to be allowed to return to duty.

Maren said, “We are informing the general public that the PDP family members in the State Assembly are in high spirits, willing and ready to go back and continue with your constitutional duty willingly given to us by the electorates.

“You are aware that while we were on recess, there were two judgments that were passed regarding the status of State House of Assembly and Plateau State as a whole; Court of Appeal members are deceiving themselves but I’m confident to tell you that we are a product of democracy, not of Court of Appeal.

“The Court of Appeal said that one cannot put something on nothing, that PDP on the Plateau had no structure and it was on that basis that we were sacked. But when we were in recess, a superior court gave its verdict regarding the same issue and the judgment of the Supreme Court said the case that was brought before the Court of Appeal in its entirety was fraudulent and the Court of Appeal lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the entire matter and by that, we refer the APC Court of Appeal members that one cannot build something on nothing.

“It shows that the verdict of the Court of Appeal is a nullity and we reject that judgment in its entirety. I want to call on the leadership of this country, our own President, as well as the Head of the Judicial system in this nation, to save our democracy by calling the President of the Court of Appeal to order.

“Because all that happened within the Court of Appeal was based on her authority and judgment and even the panel that was dedicated to handle Plateau State matters, it was ill-motivated.”

He added, “It was even in the words of the Supreme Court that it was a miscarriage of justice. The law says that when there is an injury, there must be a remedy. The House of Assembly is supposed to be occupied by validly elected members from the 24 State constituencies. So, without mincing a word, we are here to work.”

Maren cautioned the APC members to steer clear of the House as legislative duties commence.

But reacting to the threat to resume tomorrow, a former Majority leader of the State Assembly, Na’anlong Daniel from the Mikang State Constituency who is a beneficiary of the Court of Appeal’s judgment, said, “As of now, we are yet to be communicated. When they resume maybe they will communicate with us because we are yet to be inaugurated.”

He insisted that the subsisting judgement on the House of Assembly election matters in Plateau State is that of the Court of Appeal, adding that he’s not aware of any Supreme Court pronouncement on Plateau Assembly cases since it was not even brought before the apex court.

The House had been on recess since November, 2023 and sitting had been moved to the old Government House, Rayfield because the state Assembly complex is under renovation. But on the day that the lawmakers were supposed to resume plenary, armed policemen stormed the premises of the Assembly and stopped the lawmakers.

However, the eight lawmakers (seven APC members and one YPP member) who were not affected by the Court of Appeal judgment were allowed into the chambers.

Addressing journalists after exiting the chamber, Speaker of the Assembly, Hon Gabriel Dewan said, “You will recall that on November 22, 2023, the Plateau State House of Assembly went into recess and adjourned to resume on January 23, 2024. And today as you can see, we are back to resume our legislative duties officially. I pray God almighty will take control within the new year and we are ready to give the government of President Bola Tinubu and the Governor of Plateau state, Caleb Mutfwang, all the needed legislative support.

“I’m not a law interpreter, we are lawmakers. I received a court process regarding the issue. I can say that at the moment, we have 16 vacancies at the state House of Assembly and there are court processes over this. As I talk to you, we have 32 members laying claim to the 16 vacancies in the Assembly.

“And like I said, we are lawmakers and not law interpreters. So, we’d allow the institution saddled with the responsibility of interpretation to interpret the law. So, in due course, we will feed the public with the next line of action but for now, we have only eight House of Assembly members until the determination of the court process.”

APC lawmakers who were beneficiaries of the Court of Appeal judgment that sacked the PDP lawmakers did not show up at the resumption of plenary since they’ve not been sworn-in.

Spokesman for the APC in the state, Mr. Sylvanus Namang, defended their absence saying they could not have shown up in line with the due legislative process.

Namang said, “We are not under any impression that our 16 members who have their certificates of return will attend any plenary today. As a law-abiding party, we know that it is only the eight recognised members that were supposed to sit today. After that, they will admit our 16 members who have their certificates of return.

“So, it is unfortunate and unnecessary for the sacked PDP members to invade the House. They are only resorting to self-help and overheating the system and this will be more injurious to the PDP government in Plateau state. I think this rascality has to stop because the desperation will not take us anywhere. We are law-abiding citizens and nobody owns the state more than any other.”

Seeing that it cannot get justice by force, the 16 sacked PDP lawmakers have now gone back to the same Court of Appeal that sacked them to seek redress. They have approached the court, seeking to set aside its earlier judgement that nullified their elections.

The lawmakers, including Bala Fwanje Ndat and Datugun Paul Naankot, among others, in their motion on notice, with suit No: CA/J/33M/2024 and CA/J/31/M/2024 said pursuant to order 6 rules 1 of the Court of Appeal, 2021, they should be reinstated into the Assembly.

This was part of their reliefs presented by their counsel, Garba Paul (SAN) who argued that both the election tribunal and the Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction over the subject matter.

The sacked legislators said their ground as contained in the motions was predicated upon the fact that “the judgement of the Court delivered on the 24th day of November 2023, is a nullity.”

They are seeking, “An order setting aside the decision of this Honourable court in appeal No. CA/J/EP/PL/SHA/62/2023, Dagogot Karyt Owen & Anor Vs Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), & Ors on 24th November 2023, per E.O Williams-Dawodu, Abdul-Azez Waziri and E.O Abang, JCA.”

According to the sacked PDP legislators in Plateau state, the Supreme Court judgement that validated the nomination and sponsorship of Plateau State Governor, Caleb Mutfwang, suffices that the Court of Appeal should set aside its earlier judgement.

It is not sure how long the crisis will last, but the Plateau people are the ones suffering from it, as the Assembly remains unsettled to be able to carry out its legislative duties.

The National Judicial Council (NJC), the Federal Government, and the leadership of the Court of Appeal should therefore quickly wade in to resolve the protracted crisis.

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