Senior lawyers in Nigeria have cautioned against the resort to self-help and anarchy following the declaration of the 16 lawmakers of the Plateau State House of Assembly elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and later sacked by the Court of Appeal that they would resume legislative duties today after the recess that commenced in December last year.
Majority leader and member representing Bokkos state constituency, Hon. Ishaku Maren, made the disclosure while addressing newsmen in Jos, the state capital
LEADERSHIP reports that the 16 lawmakers were removed from office by the Court of Appeal which faulted their party primaries; however, the Supreme Court subsequently condemned the Court of Appeal for its decision, saying the premise was an intra-party affair and there were copious precedents for the appeal court to draw from. In effect, the Supreme Court’s pronouncement showed that the Appeal Court’s removal of the PDP lawmakers was a miscarriage of justice. But unfortunately for the affected lawmakers, the court of appeal is the final court for adjudicating election petitions for legislators.
But Hon Maren, who was flanked by the other 15 PDP legislators, has declared that the sacked lawmakers would return to their offices.
He noted while they were on recess, two judgements were passed regarding the status of the state house of assembly members, with the first one given by the Court of Appeal.
“They said one cannot put something on nothing; that PDP on the Plateau has no structure, and on that premise that they sacked all the 16 PDP legislators,” he said.
According to Maren, a superior court, the Supreme Court, subsequently gave its own verdict regarding the same issues and said the case brought before the Court of Appeal in its entirety was fraudulent because the Court of Appeal lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the entire matter, and by it was still referring to the submission that one cannot build something on nothing.
Maren said the Supreme Court also argued that it was even a wrong destination that such a case will be taken to, and by implications it shows that the verdict of the Court of Appeal is a nullity and it was disregarding that judgement in its entirety.
“But to our greatest dismay, the so-called Court-of-Appeal legislators are deceiving themselves – that they are coming to the House of Assembly complex tomorrow to resume legislative duties.
“We are confident to tell the general public that we are products of democracy. We are validly elected by the majority of votes that were cast in our various constituencies.
“Our constituencies are ready to accompany us to tomorrow’s sitting because they voted us to represent them at the state house of assembly. They are not ready to compromise; that is why they are ready to accompany us up to the state assembly complex tomorrow for our sitting,” he said.
According to Maren, the law clearly states that where there is injuries they will be certainly be a remedy.
He pointed that the Supreme Court also mentioned that it had ruled on series of issues relating to Plateau case, yet the justices of Appeal Court neglected such precedent.
“On this note, I want to call on the leadership of this country, our president as well as the National Judicial Council (NJC) to save our nascent democracy by calling the President of the Court of Appeal to account because all that happened in the Court of Appeal is based on her authority and judgement,” he said.
Maren further queried the motive for setting up just one panel to entertain over 20 cases from one state and alleged that some of their rivals from APC were bragging that all the PDP legislators would be sacked in one day, and it came to pass.
We Will Use All Options To Reclaim Their Mandate – PDP
Meanwhile, the state chapter of the PDP has vowed to do everything within the law to reclaim the mandate of the sacked lawmakers.
The state publicity secretary of the party, Mr. John Akans, made the disclosure while speaking to LEADERSHIP in an exclusive interview in Jos, the Plateau State capital.
According to him, it is a mandate freely given to them by the people of the State and the party PDP will not abandon this mandate because its responsibility as a political party is to hold people’s mandate in trust.
“They have given us the mandate and, therefore, we will not in any way abandon the mandate given freely by the people. The party at the beginning, when it noticed that something was happening or fishy during Justice Tukur’s tribunal sitting – when he was delivering his judgement out of context, the party in its own thinking and experience wrote a petition to the NJC, drawing its attention to what Justice Tukur was doing that was outside the constitutional provision.”
He said their petitions and the one written by other political party parties prompted the NJC to set up a committee headed by Justice Walter Onnoghen (rtd) to review the conflicting judgement by the Court of Appeal.
“You cannot declare that two candidates should go back for a rerun and then nullify others, saying they didn’t have structure. That was completely out of context and it showed clearly that the Court of Appeal was mischievous and was following a script written by somebody because it is the same political parties that sponsored them,” he argued.
According to Akans, once the report of the Onnoghen committee is out, the party’s lawyers will look at the window opportunity to reclaim the mandates from the APC lawmakers.
“We cannot consider the APC legislators as the true representatives of the people. So we stand on the mandate given to us by the people and we will defend the mandate, and by the grace of God those legislators at the end of it will secure their seats to represent the good people of their various constituencies,” Akans said.
Similarly, Plateau State Governor Caleb Mutfwang was also quoted to have declared that both political and legal solutions are being explored to address the injustice meted out to the Plateau PDP lawmakers removed from office by the appeal court over pre-election matters.
Lawyers Warn Against Self-help, Lawlessness
But lawyers have advised the sacked Plateau lawmakers to get another job or wait till the next general election in 2027 to contest another election to represent their constituencies. According to them, the threat to resume at the State Assembly tomorrow will amount to a contempt of court.
Senior advocate of Nigerian (SAN), Mr Abdul Balogun, said the Court of Appeal remains the final court in election cases as regards National and State Assembly election matters.
According to him, the only option available to the sacked lawmakers is to abide by the decision of the court.
“For them to threaten to resume at the state assembly is a contempt of court. The only option available to them is to abide by the judgement that sacked them. Doing otherwise is contempt”, he said.
Another lawyer, Mr Edward Omaha, advised the aggrieved lawmakers to look for another job.
According to him, the judgement of the court is binding on all parties and saying they will be resuming at the state assembly is contempt of the pronouncement of the court.
“Parties that suited themselves to court must abide by the judgement and doing otherwise is dangerous because they could end up in jail.
“Rather than threatening to resume, they should look for another job or wait for the next election in 2027”, Omaga said.
Similarly, Kunle Adegoke (SAN) said the decision to resume legislative duties today is not lawful.
Adegoke added that the judgment of the Supreme Court cannot automatically upturn the decisions of the Court of Appeal, which, for thes e cases, is the highest court recognised by the Constitution.
He also stated that it would, therefore, be illegitimate for the former PDP lawmakers to resume at the House of Assembly to discharge legislative duties with their removal because the court has recognised some other persons to take over their seats.
The lawyer said, “So they must comply with the decision of the Court of Appeal; otherwise, they will be resulting to self-help, which could lead to the breakdown of law and order, and it will be illegitimate for them to do this.
“Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal decisions were disagreed with by the Supreme Court, but that does not mean that the lower court decision has been vacated.
“I would instead appeal to the former lawmakers not to take the law into their own hands but to allow the matter to end as it is,” he stated.
Another senior advocate of Nigeria, Wahab Shittu, who agreed with his colleagues, said the decision of the sacked lawmakers is unlawful.
Shittu maintained that the PDP lawmakers cannot resume legislative duties as they contemplate, as this would be equivalent to a descent into anarchy where the law of the jungle reigns.
He said, “Ours is a democracy founded on the rule of law. Central to democratic governance is the independence and autonomy of the court system.
“The right of appeal for National Assembly and state House of Assembly elections terminates at the Court of Appeal. This is the position until our laws are amended. A pronouncement has been made, and this is final.
The said pronouncement may have occasioned a miscarriage of justice, but it remains the valid pronouncement,” the lawyer stated.
Similarly, a professor of Law, Gbenga Ojo, said all the parties must obey the court order, adding that the lawmakers cannot pick and choose which order of the court they will obey.
Professor Ojo further insisted there are punishments for lawbreakers, and if they went ahead, the Police will arrest and prosecute them.
He advised them to listen to their lawyers.
“The party has legal teams and advisers. They should tell them not to go through that path,” he advised.