Rivers Assembly: A’Court Upturns Sack of Speaker, 24 Others

* As coalition kicks

Alex Enumah in Abuja

The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal has overturned the sack of Rivers State lawmakers said to be loyal to former governor of the state and now Minister of the Federal Capital Territory FCT), Mr Nyesom Wike.

The appellate court, in a judgment, held that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear and decide the issue of alleged defection of the lawmakers from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) through which they came into office to another party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

A Rivers State High Court, in Port Harcourt, had on May 10, 2024, while ruling in an exparte application, ordered Hon. Martin Amaewhule from parading himself as the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly.

The trial court also restrained 24 other members of the Assembly from accessing the complex or carrying out any such legislative assignment in the name of the Rivers State House of Assembly.

Miffed by the decision, Amaewhule and the other lawmakers had approached the Court of Appeal to void the restraining order.

The appellants predicated their case on the grounds that the issue that the state High Court ventured into was the exclusive preserve of a Federal High Court.

They cited Section 272(3) of the Constitution in urging the appellate court to reverse their removal from the Rivers State House of Assembly, on account of their defection to the APC.

Delivering judgment on Thursday, a three-man panel led by Justice Jimi Olukayode-Bada, held that the appeal was meritorious and subsequently ordered their reinstatement as Rivers State lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the National Democratic Coalition (NDC) has rejected the appellate court’s judgment, observing that it is one of the lowest point of Nigeria’s democracy.

It is their argument that by this decision, the appellate court has given licence to politicians to defect from the party which sponsored them to power to another without consequences.

In a statement, the Executive Director of the coalition, Dr. Samson Iroegbunam, who accused the appellate court of providing cover for illegality, submitted that the former lawmakers cannot and should not be allowed to hide under the law that they have no regard for.

He added that the coalition found it confounding that the Court of Appeal gave the ruling on the logic that only the Federal High Court and no other court has the jurisdiction to determine cases of tenures and vacancies of the House of Assembly, governors and president and not the state High Courts, even though the constitution did not make it clear which court should have jurisdiction to hear and determine disputes concerning when an elected office holder should cease to hold office.

The Coalition further declared that the reinstatement of the former members of the Rivers State House of Assembly is against the rule of law, undemocratic, antithetical, retrogressive and provocative to the point of further jeopardising the fragile peace in the state.

It said the ruling, given its controversial nature, has again heightened concerns about the raging allegations that have been made against the Judiciary.

“The Appeal Court has now created new complications with the judicial precedence it has set instead of giving rulings that stabilize Nigeria’s democracy and enhance the rule of law,” he said.

The group urged the people of Rivers State to remain calm as the judgment would not stand the test of time, especially since the democratic-minded stakeholders in the state have indicated that the matter shall be pursued to the Supreme Court until the will of the people of the state is respected.

“Nigerians should stand up to defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which in Section 109. (1) (g) clearly stated that ‘A member of a House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if being a person whose election to the House of Assembly was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected,” he added.

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