A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, has suspended judgement in a suit seeking the sack of Senate President, Bukola Saraki and 55 other lawmakers.
An advocacy group; Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), had dragged Saraki and the lawmakers to court, seeking a declaration that they were no longer members of the National Assembly for defecting to other political parties before the expiration of their tenure.
Some lawmakers standing as defendants in the matter are; Godswill Akpabio, Dino Melaye, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Lanre Tejuosho, Shaba Lafiaji, Barnabas Gemade, Abdulaziz Nyako, among other senators and members of the House of Representatives.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) and the Attorney-General of the Federation are the other defendants in the case.
The group, in their suit filed on September 14, 2018, prayed the court to interpret Section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution.
This was with regards 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.
The group was also seeking a declaration that the lawmakers were no longer entitled to receive any remunerations as a member of the National Assembly. Furthermore, it is also seeking to know if any of such remunerations after their date of defection be refunded to the Federal Government.
LEDAP in the suit, also prayed the presiding members of the National Assembly to declare vacant, the seats of the defectors.
The group had argued the matter in court with only one counsel to the Senate President being represented once, while the other defendants have failed to send any representation.
The court had ordered that the processes be served on all parties, to allow the plaintiff argue his case and judgement for April 11.
But when the matter was called on Thursday for judgement, counsel to Saraki and the other lawmakers, Mahmud Magaji, a senior advocate, urged the court to delay judgment, to enable the defence team have more time on the matter, so that the court can deliver a better informed judgment.
“The court should wait a while and hear from the other side now that certain facts are available to it, ” he prayed.
He further contented that in law, once an issue of jurisdiction was raised, it “behooved” on the court to hear it first before handling any other issue in the matter.
Magaji also challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter on the grounds that the plaintiffs had no “locus standi” to file the suit.
According to him, they are only “busy bodies” and “meddlesome interlopers”.
Ede Uko, counsel to the plaintiff, however, argued that the defendants’ counsel was only trying to arrest the judgment of the court.
According to him, the law is trite under our jurisprudence that the judgment, particularly the final judgment of the court cannot be arrested.
“I submit with respect that the application of the defendants seeking to arrest this judgment is misconceived and completely incompetent, “he argued.
He referred the court to several Supreme Court rulings, where it was firm to say that no antics of parties could be allowed to be used to frustrate the administration of justice.
The trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, in a bench ruling, said that although he agreed with the argument of the plaintiff’s counsel, delivering the prepared judgment would be a wrong exercise of the court’s discretion.
He held that the defendants waved their right to defend the matter, and that the conduct of the lawmakers did not deserve a sympathetic consideration.
“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, ” the judge held.
He, 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.
He adjourned the matter until April 12.