Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt
State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, has quashed the perpetual injunction brought before it by one Livingstone Wechie seeking to stop the swearing-in of the only female lawmaker-elect, Hon Victoria Nyeche by the Rivers State House of Assembly.
One Livingstone Wechie had filed a suit against Nyeche, claiming that she used letter headed paper of the Assembly to petition the Chief Justice of Nigeria over the swearing in of the Chief Judge of the state, Hon Justice Adama Iyayi-Lamikanra.
He added that the petition was filed even though the House had not confirmed the nomination of Justice Lamikanra as the Chief Judge of Rivers State
Wechie also argued that Nyeche used the Rivers House of Assembly letterhead to write the petition at a time she had not been sworn in as member of the House was contrary to the provision of section 94 of the 1999 constitution.
He therefore argued that the action of the lawmaker amounts to fraud, impersonation, dishonesty and therefore, she should not be sworn in as a lawmaker.
But in his ruling, Justice Adolphus Enebeli said. has not shown a sufficient reason how swearing in Nyeche would injure his rights.
In the judgment which lasted about three hours, today, Justice Enebeli held that the provisions of the 7th Schedule and Section 94 of the constitution is clear and unambiguous.
While relying on section 484 of the Criminal Code, Laws of Rivers State, and section 107 of the 1999 Constitution (amended), the Judge held that only a competent court of criminal jurisdiction can stop Nyeche from being sworn in.
The Judge noted that while there are grounds for which a lawmaker or someone seeking to vie for election in the parliament can be disqualified and the said petition does not constitute one.
He said since the claimants did not come through criminal procedure, the court lacks the jurisdiction to grant the perpetual injunction sought.
On the substance of the petition, the judge condemned the action of Nyeche, saying it was capable of plunging the Rivers State judiciary into another round of judicial crisis. He said, while there is freedom of speech, the exercise of that right by the female lawmaker was overreaching.
The judge, therefore, held that until Victoria Nyeche takes her oath of office and allegiance as member representing PHALGA I, before the Speaker, she cannot exercise her legislative duties.
Justice Enebeli, further held that the pronouncement of Appeal Court binds on all authorities and therefore, the Speaker and Rivers Assembly ought to have sworn her in after the judgment declaring her winner.
He said: “That Hon Victoria Work Nyeche cannot lawfully take her seat as member of the Rivers State House of Assembly and use and enjoy the rights and privileged appertaining to that office without taking and subscribing before the Speaker of the House, Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Membership prescribed in the 7th Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“That only recognized and permissible legal ground for the disqualification of Victoria Wobo Nyeche for the criminal allegation of impersonation, fraud and deceit, via her petition dated 8/3/2016 from taking her seat at the House of Assembly or from taking and subscribing to Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Membership, is subject to her arrest, charge, trial, conviction and sentence imposed by competent court of law, exercising jurisdiction which procedure is lacking in this case and therefore this court is without competence to disqualify her.
“That this suit being one for a common Law and civil wrongs (impersonation, fraud and deceit), allegedly committed by the 1st defendant provides mainly for awards of damages, not for the remedy of disqualification sought for in this case.
“That the claim for an Order restraining the Speaker, the Clerk of the House of Assembly and the Rivers State House of Assembly from administering Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Membership on Victoria Wobo Nyeche is refused; it is not granted.”
While describing the suit as a Pandora of box of issues affecting the Rivers State judiciary, the judge regretted that a letter which was supposed to be of utmost confidentiality had become a subject of public domain.
He warned politicians to stop putting the courts in tight corner, saying, ” let me advise, litigants and politicians should not fight the court for which they expect justice.