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08 August 2019

Court stops National Assembly from taking over Edo Assembly

Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered parties to a suit challenging the alleged plans by the National Assembly to interfere in the affairs of the Edo State House of Assembly not to take any further steps on the issue pending the determination of the substantive case.

Justice Taiwo Taiwo, who is sitting as the court’s vacation judge, gave the order for parties to maintain status quo ante bellum, while adjourning the hearing of the substantive suit until August 22, 2019.

Justice Taiwo said the order was intended to prevent parties, particularly the respondents from foisting on the court a fait accompli.

The judge said: “The defendants have been served with court processes. As law makers, they ought to respect the laws made by them, and one of which, flowing from the law, is that when a matter is in court and parties are seized of the matter, all must ensure that the authority of the court is not is not trampled upon.

“Parties should allow the court to reach a decision one way or the other, with respect to the main issue before it. To this end, I shall make an order that the defendants’ counsel file their response to the originating summons within seven days from now, terminating on the 15th of August 2019.

“The plaintiffs shall respond within five days of the service on them of the response of the defendants.

Meanwhile the court will adjourn the hearing of the main mater and all pending applications to the 22nd of August 2019.

“Flowing from my starting point, the defendants and in fact, all parties must maintain status quo ante bellum in order not to foist a fait accompli on the court, pursuant to the accelerated hearing granted by this court in this suit.”

Before the court’s ruling, lawyer to the plaintiffs, Ola Olanipekun (SAN) had expressed fear and noted that there were threats by the respondents to tamper with the subject of the case.

The judge refused to hear the plaintiffs’ motion for interlocutory injunctions, but elected to hear the substantive suit and granted accelerated hearing.

The suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/815/2019 was filed on July 17 by the Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, Francis Okiye and some others, with which they seek to, among others, to stop the National Assembly from taking over the functions of the state Assembly.

The National Assembly and its Clerk were listed as plaintiffs.

It is the plaintiff’s contention that the National Assembly lacks the powers to assume the functions of a state Assembly that has been validly inaugurated.

The Edo State’s Seventh Assembly was inaugurated on June 17.

The inauguration became controversial as only nine out of the 24 members-elect were in the chamber during inauguration.

The Senate and the House of Representatives separately threatened to take over the Assembly should Governor, Godwin Obaseki failed to issue a fresh proclamation for the assembly’s inauguration.

The Senate proceeded to pass a resolution, giving the governor a week to issue the proclamation letter or risk the takeover of the Assembly by the federal legislators.

When the case earlier came up on July 31, Olanipekun noted that despite being served with court papers in relation to the case, the defendants, the Senate passed a resolution the previous day (July30, 2019) for the takeover of the assembly if the governor fails to comply with its resolution.

He said the defendants’ lawyers had also, on the previous day, served the plaintiffs a counter affidavit to their motion for interlocutory injunction and written address and also filed a memorandum of conditional appearance.

Olanipekun expressed disappointment that even when the governor had already issued a proclamation, which was duly gazette, members of the Assembly duly  inaugurated, with principal officers elected, while  the house has since been functioning, the National Assembly was threatening to take it over if the governor failed to issue a fresh proclamation.

But the House of Representatives has faulted the ruling restraining the National Assembly and its agents from taking over the Edo Assembly.

Chairman, House Committee on Media, Benjamin Kalu, said the ruling poses a problem to the principle of Separation of Powers and that the National Assembly will surely appeal.

His words: “This Ninth House believes in the democratic principle of separation of powers; which is why this court ruling poses a problem. It is a core constitutional duty of the National Assembly that the court has attempted to prevent.

“This is like the National Assembly telling the President not to present the National Budget or like the Executive stopping the Courts from giving a ruling or judgement.”

Kalu said no arm of the government has the right to abdicate power to another arm, adding that it is contrary to the doctrine of separation of powers that one arm of government should prevent another arm from carrying out its constitutional duty.

He said: “The Constitution in Section 11(4) is clear on this. Where the House of Assembly of any State is unable to perform its functions by reason of the situation prevailing in that State, the National Assembly may intervene and take over the legislative functions of that House until such a time as the House of Assembly is able to resume its functions.

“It is no coincidence that this particular duty of the National Assembly to take over a State House that is unable to function falls under the section of the Constitution that deals with ‘Public Order and Public Security’.

This is a matter of restoring public order and security in Edo State and the National Assembly has to perform its constitutional duty. It should not be a question for debate.

“Now maybe the courts can (if they find reason after the takeover) say that the takeover was wrong based on their own interpretation of Section 11 but not to preempt a constitutional role which is Sacrosanct.

“Surely, the doctrine of ripeness is applicable here.  In some democratic climes judicial restraint, which is procedural approach to the exercise of judicial review, urges judges to refrain from deciding legal issues, and especially constitutional ones, except where the decision is necessary in resolving a concrete dispute between adverse parties.

“As a substantive approach, it urges judges considering constitutional questions to grant substantial deference to the views of the elected arms of government and invalidate their actions only when constitutional limits have clearly been violated.”

He said though “we must respect it for now, the National Assembly will surely appeal the ruling.”

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