Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja has suspended judgment in a legal action seeking the sack of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and 53 others over their defection from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) last year.
The court suspended the verdict scheduled for delivery following the appearance of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mahmoud Magaji, who made a case of fair hearing for the national lawmakers.
Although Justice Abang expressed reservation on the inability of the legislators to defend the suit brought against them by a civil group, Legal Defence and Assistance Project, (LEDAP), he nontheless consented that since the lawmakers have woken from their slumber, it would be in the interest of justice to hear their own side of the story.
“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”, he said.
Abang, 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.
In his ruling on an application moved by Mogaji, Justice Abang ordered the respondents to file their processes and served them on the plaintiff by Thursday and that the plaintiff upon receipt of the respondents processes must reply within five hours.
Justice Abang who fixed hearing in the matter till Friday, ruled that he had adjourned till today in view of the circumstances of the suit. LEDAP had dragged Saraki and the 53 other 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 group, 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.
They had argued the matter in court with only a counsel to the Senate President being represented once while the other defendants never sent representation.
The court, being satisfied that the processes were served on all parties but they chose to disrespect the court and stay away, allowed the plaintiff to argue his case and fixed April 11 for judgment.
When the matter was called on Thursday for judgment, counsel to Saraki and the other lawmakers, Mr. Mahmud Magaji, (SAN) urged the court to tarry in delivering judgment to hear from the defence team in order to 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 further contented that in law, once an issue of jurisdiction was raised, it behoved 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.
The counsel to the plaintiff, Mr. Ede Uko, however, argued that the defendant’s counsel was only attempting 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 said.
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.
Uko further argued that the conduct of the defence in the matter was not worthy of sympathetic consideration since they were duly served with all processes of the court and they even briefed a counsel to handle the matter.
He said it was not the fault of the plaintiff that the said counsel failed to appear in court again seeing that the defence had nothing to file but to concede to the claims of the plaintiff.