Defection: Saraki, Dogara, 52 other lawmakers know fate May 17

Senate President Bukola Saraki and Reps Speaker Yakubu Dogara

The Federal High Court Abuja, has fixed May 17 to deliver judgment in a suit  seeking the removal of Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and 52 other lawmakers.

Justice Okon Abang fixed the date on Monday after taking arguments from all parties involved in the matter.

An advocacy group, Legal Defence and Assistance Project, (LEDAP) dragged the lawmakers to court seeking a declaration that they were no longer members of the National Assembly having defected to other political parties before the expiration of their tenure.

The defendants comprise 17 Senators, 37 members of the House of Representatives, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the clerks to both houses.

At the resumed hearing, Mr Mahmud Magaji, SAN, counsel to Saraki and the other senators insisted that the plaintiff had no locus standi to institute the suit since it was not a political party, politician, constituent of the lawmakers or an executive member of either of the political parties.

He concluded that they were meddlesome interlopers who instituted the suit to annoy the defendants, Nigerians and their constituents who voted them to represent them.

“Allowing this suit will amount to slapping Nigerians and I urge the court to resist the temptation and dismiss the suit.”

Mr Josh Amupitan, SAN, counsel to Dogara and the other members of the House of Representatives, for his part, urged the court to discountenance the argument of the plaintiff that it had locus standi because it was a registered organisation.

“They claim that they are a registered NGO and that since this is an issue of public interest litigation, they have the locus.

“We have referred the court to our address where we said that public interest litigations in Nigeria are limited to statutory cases.

“The Supreme Court only allows the expansion of locus standi because of the provisions of criminal procedure act which recognises the rights of a private prosecutor.

“Public interest litigation is limited to cases of fundamental rights especially where the exercise of such rights has been vested on public officers or public institutions like INEC, the senate president or the speaker.”

Amupitan added that the plaintiff had failed to provide any document before the court to back its claim that there was a defection.

He urged the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the plaintiff was a stranger and an interloper in the matter.

Arguing on behalf of the plaintiff, Mr Jubrin Okutepa,SAN,maintained that his client had the requisite locus standi to appear in court.

On the argument that his client had not been able to prove the defection, let alone division, Okutepa said that facts admitted, need no further proof.

“Since they themselves have admitted that they defected, the allegation that we have not proved defection is a moot point and not a life issue.

“The defendants themselves put up a defence of division.”

Okutepa urged the court to grant the reliefs of the plaintiff and resist the temptation to accept the submission of the defendants which he said appeared attractive but was a dangerous omen for the Nigerian society.

Justice Abang in a short ruling noted that the court had on April 11, suspended delivering judgment in the suit, even though the judgement was ready, because of an application from the defendants to be heard.

“They have been heard and the matter will be determined on its merit.”

He adjourned the matter until May 17 for judgement.

LEDAP, in their suit filed on Sept. 14, 2018, prayed the court for an interpretation of Section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 Constitution.

This was with regards as 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 due to a member of the National Assembly and that 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.