Court bars pro-Wike Speaker as APC demands sanction for judge

A Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt has barred the factional Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Martin Amaewhule, who is loyal to the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, from going into the state assembly complex until the burnt chamber is fully renovated by the state government.

It also, on Tuesday,  ordered the factional Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Edison Ehie, to preside over the activities of the legislative arm of the state pending the determination of a motion before it.

Justice M.W Danagogo, gave this order, in an Experte Motion, Suit No. PHC/3030/CS/2023, in which Rivers State House of Assembly was the 1st claimant and Edison Ehie, 2nd claimant, while Martin Amaewhule was 1st defendant Deputy Speaker, Dumle Maol, was the 2nd defendant.

A total of 27 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly elected under the Peoples’ Democratic Party, on Monday, defected to the All Progressives Congress and threatened to reject the request of the state governor for approval. The factional Speaker of the House, Martin Amaewhule, was among those who defected.

In Tuesday’s process, which was prepared by D.I Iboroma, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and others, Edison wants the court to order Amaewhule and others to stop going into the state assembly complex until the burnt chamber is fully renovated by the government.

Edison also wants the court to order that he lawfully take over the speakership of the state assembly until the matter is dispensed, praying that Amaewhule should be stopped from conducting himself as the Speaker of the House.

The court in an Interim Order granted the requests of the applicant, urging Amaewhule and others to stop using the assembly premises following the directive of the Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, that the facility was under renovation.

The order threatened that the 2nd Claimant, Edison would pay the sum of N50,000,000.00 as damages if the application before the court turns out to be frivolous.

It, however, ordered the claimants to serve the Interim Order, the Motion on Notice already filed, the Originating Process and other processes in the suit on the defendants on or before December 13, 2023.

The court granted leave to the claimants to serve all the processes by substituted means by publication in two national newspapers or by posting at a conspicuous part of the last known address of the defendants and adjourned December 21 for motion on notice

The court, however, entered the following orders: “An Order of Interim Injunction restraining the defendants and the 2nd claimant/applicant either acting by themselves or through their agents, servants, privies, assigns or any person(s) acting in whatsoever manner and howsoever called or described, from further use of armed thugs accompanied by police personnel in riot gear to gain access to the Rivers State House of Assembly complex at Moscow Road, Port Harcourt, Rivers State which was burnt, destroyed, damaged and rendered uninhabitable as a result of the fire that engulfed the Assembly Complex on the October 2, 2023, contrary to the order of the executive Governor of Rivers State relocating the sitting of the 1st claimant to a secure and more conducive venue to ensure that the activities and meetings of the House are not disrupted during the period of the renovation of the burnt building, pending the determination of the motion on notice already filed.

“An Order of Interim Injunction restraining the defendants whether by themselves, their agents, servants, privies and representatives in whatsoever and howsoever manner from preventing, disrupting and interfering with the smooth and regular operation, management and administration of the 1st claimant/applicant pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice already filed in this suit.

 “An Order of Interim Injunction restraining the defendants whether by themselves, their agents, servants, privies and representatives in whatsoever and howsoever manner from preventing, disrupting and interfering with the exercise of the 2nd claimant/applicant’s statutory legislative duties of summoning and holding meetings, proceedings, issuing notices, passing resolutions, bills and performing other legislative functions of the 1st claimant/applicant pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice already filed in this suit.”

APC rejects order

But in a swift reaction, the Caretaker Chairman of the All Progressive Congress in Rivers State, Chief Tony Okocha, rejected the judgement of the High Court, saying it as procured

Okocha said the APC would ask the National Judicial Commission to sanction Justice Danagogo.

He stated, “We wish to intimate Nigerians of the resurfacing of procured judgement in Rivers State. Today Rivers State people woke up to hear that one Justice Danagogo of the Rivers State high court granted with impunity an experte order to one Edision Ehie, recognising him as Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly.

“Recall that the same Edision had approached a Federal High Court in Rivers State seeking to be declared as the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly in the case (and) argument has been taken and judgement reserved for January 2024.

“Surprisingly today on the same subject matter Justice Danagogo granted an experte order purporting to recognise this Edision as Speaker of the State House of Assembly. This is a fragrant abuse of court processes. It is an aberration for the judiciary to interfere in the law making process. As far as we are concerned it does not exist.

 “The judge claimed that the case was filed by Edision on October 30, 2023 and assigned to him on November 1, 2023. For all this length of time if the subject matter required urgency, why did the judge wait till today December 12, 2023 to grant an expert.

“It is in the public glare that on Monday 27 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly who were elected under the PDP platform crossed over to the APC, citing irreconcilable crisis in the PDP, a move supported by section 109, 1 sub-G of the Constitution of Nigeria.”

Continuing, he said, “The defectors were received by APC Rivers yesterday. It is because of the palpable fear of that defection that brought about the procured order by Justice Danagogo. The Judge has contravene the NJC order on frivolous experte orders and has sanctioned judges that defile the orders.

 “The reason for the judgement is to allow the governor to present the budget to the Assembly. We in APC will not seat and watch judges issue experte orders in flagrant disobedience of NJC orders. We are in clear knowledge that the reason for this affront is to allow the governor to present the 2023 budget to the Assembly.

“Alas, can four members of the Rivers State House of Assembly sit in leadership over a 31-member House with the other 27 members who have defected to the APC?

 “We use this medium to send notice in advance to the learned Judge that the APC Rivers will not sit and watch the procured exparte order made in clear violation of known trite principles of law and flagrant disobedience to the NJC.”

The party said it would be “left with no option than to petition Justice Danagogo to the NJC if the judge does not reverse himself immediately.”

 “Finally, it is our counsel to the governor of Rivers State that he should refrain from any action that may escalate the political crisis orchestrated by his party, the PDP in Rivers State.

 “We as a party, APC, with an overwhelming majority in the house will not tolerate intimidation, harassment and threatening of our members whatsoever and however guise. We will not comply with the order because you cannot place something on nothing. We will not allow illegality to stand. It is procured and we will not allow it to happen.”

Also reacting to the injunction in an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, the acting spokesperson for Rivers State APC committee, Chibuike Ikenga, said the party was shocked to hear that the case, which was earlier scheduled for January, was clandestinely held to impose Ehie on the lawmakers.

He said, “This is miscarriage of justice and it will bring the judiciary into disrepute. That is not nice because the judiciary, which ought to be the last hope of the common man, is gradually becoming a political tool in the hands of the rich and the connected.

“The judgment for that same matter which Justice M. W. Danagogo gave an ex parte order today, was fixed for January. So it is surprising for us to hear that he has heard the matter today on exparte that made him the Speaker and ordered that no one should disrupt their activities.

“The justice in question, Justice Danagogo has a younger brother from the same parent, who is a secretary to the Government of Rivers State. So you can understand the connection between this judgment and his political interest.”

PDP NWC meets

It was gathered on Tuesday that the National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party had scheduled to hold an emergency meeting today (Wednesday) to review the defection of its 27 members in the Rivers State House of Assembly who defected to the All Progressives Congress.

PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, who disclosed this during an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, insisted that the 27 constituencies’ votes belonged to the PDP and not to the lawmaker that defected.

On whether the PDP had written to the Independent National Electoral Commission, Ologunagba said, “All that is in the pipeline. The NWC will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday in Abuja to review the Rivers State issue.

“We will discuss, review the issue, and take immediate action. Rivers is a PDP state and we will not fold our hands. We will not allow this to stand.

“The seats of the respective 27 lawmakers are now vacant by virtue of the provision of Section 109 (1) (g) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The Supreme Court in the past ruled that the votes belong to the party. So, the 27 constituencies’ votes belong to the PDP.

“After the NWC meeting on Wednesday, Nigerians will hear from us. Our actions will be in line with the Nigeria constitution and that of the party.”

Ologunagba said the party would take appropriate action to reclaim its mandate, adding that the High Court’s confirmation of Governor Siminalay Fubara’s loyalist, Edison Ehie, as the authentic Speaker of the State House of Assembly was a welcome development.

He said “That is a welcome development. On our part, we shall take actions that are in line with Nigeria’s laws.”

INEC reacts

The Independent National Electoral Commission said it was waiting for the Rivers State Assembly Speaker to declare vacant the seats of the People Democratic Party lawmakers who decamped to the All Progressives Congress on Monday.

The national leadership of the PDP had said it would write to INEC to demand fresh elections to replace the 27 lawmakers.

Responding to this, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, on Tuesday said,  “The procedure is for the presiding officer (Speaker) of the State Assembly to declare the vacancies and write officially to INEC about it. It is after such communication that INEC can act.”

(Punch)

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