Edo State House of Assembly Crisis. The True Position:
On May 9, 2014, three PDP members of the Edo State House of Assembly went to court to obtain an injunction ordering the House leadership not to declare their seats vacant or suspend them on any pretext. It is important to note that when 37 APC members of the Federal House of Representatives went to court to seek the same restraint the House Leadership and the National PDP asked a competent court of law to determine whether or not lawmakers should forfeit their mandates when they cross carpet. The courts are still interpreting that question.
Under the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, the grounds under which a member can cross-carpet are when his former party is in crisis or it is involved in a merger. The suspended members of the Edo State House of Assembly were members of the ACN who did not feel the need to move with the merger. On that score, they had right. It is instructive to note that Edo PDP demonstrated restraint when its legislator representing Esan Central Local Government, Hon. Victor Edoror, defected to the APC earlier in the year even though PDP was neither in crisis or in a merger. Our party saw it as his right to free choice until the question of ownership of mandate is settled legally.
The law relating to suspension of Honorable Members of the House is clear.
In the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Law CAP 87 Laws of the Bendel State of Nigeria, 1976, as applicable to Edo State of Nigeria, section 31, subsection 2 states that:
'In the case of an offence committed by a member of the House, the House may, in addition to or instead of any punishment specified in subsection 1 of this section, order his suspension from the service of the House for such period as it may determine:
Provided that such period shall not extend beyond the last day of the meeting next following that in which the order is passed, or of the session in which the order is passed, which ever shall first occur'.
When therefore a member is suspended in accordance with this law, the suspension cannot be indefinite. The word used in the proviso under that section is shall and shall is mandatory. It therefore means that any suspension placed on a member of the House must lapse at the next sitting of the House. The Speaker of the House or indeed the House, has no option in the matter. A recall of such suspended member by the Speaker or the House is unnecessary. It is also unnecessary for the affected member to go to court to seek a declaration that such suspension has lapsed before he should be admitted back to the House. See the decided cases of:
1. Suit No. NIC/ABJ/69/2011 between Hon. Zakawanu Garuba vs Edo State House of Assembly & Anor.
2. Suit No. NIC/EN/07/2012 between Hon. Levis Aigbogun vs Edo State House of Assembly & Anor.
Therefore the suspension not being indefinite as at the time Hon. Uyi Igbe and Hon. Philip Shuaibu went to court on June 11, 2014, the suspension had lapsed.
Even the House Rules that Hon. Uyi Igbe and his co-travelers purported relied upon is subject to the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Law earlier mentioned above which is the Principal Law.
1. Under the House Rules, members cannot be suspended in absentia. They must be present in the sitting of the House where the offence or offences would have been committed.
2. The offence/s for which any members can be punished must be committed on the floor of the House.
3. The offence/s must be reported by the Speaker or the Chairman immediately after the commission of the offence by the named member.
4. A sitting Deputy Speaker cannot be punished by a pronouncement unless by a two-thirds majority of members of the House
In all the drama of Hon. Uyi Igbe and his co-travelers in the sitting of the House on Monday June 9, 2014, none of the supposed suspended members was present in the House that day making it impossible for them to commit an offence on the floor of the House that day. The House sat for only fifteen minutes from 10.10am to 10.25am as contained in the VOTES AND PROCEEDINGS No. 279 of the House of Assembly of the same date.
The alleged offence/s on which the suspension was hinged were claimed to have been committed outside of the floor of the House.
In the aforesaid Votes and Proceedings, it was Hon. Ohonbamu Paul (representing Egor Local Government Constituency) instead of the Speaker who under Matters of Urgent Public Importance rose and drew the attention of the House, in his words, 'to the clandestine activities of some Honorable Members which has continuously undermine the peace that pervades the House'. According to him, 'the continuous nocturnal meetings held by [the suspended members] is capable of threatening the peace of the House and by extension, the state and this amounts to gross misconduct on their part'. Nocturnal meetings (night meetings). Could these be said to have held on the floor of the House? No. Assuming this is correct, when have nocturnal meetings become an offence or gross misconduct under our laws? Aside all of these, were the Honorable Members given fair hearing? The answer is in the negative as they were not given any hearing whatsoever
In the case of one of their own Hon. Festus Ebea (APC Esan South East) who was before the supposed suspension, the Deputy Speaker of the House the House Rules as well as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria made provisions for his suspension or removal from office to the effect that he cannot be removed from office except by a two-thirds majority of the membership of the House which is sixteen. In his own case, the members that sat were FAR LESS THAN sixteen.
In the case of Suit No. B/70/OS/2014 instituted by Hon. Uyi Igbe and Hon. Philip Shuaibu the said suit was filed at about 3.36pm on Wednesday June 11, 2014 an interim order was purportedly obtained the same day restraining ELECTED MEMBERS from 'forcibly gaining entrance into the premises and legislative quarters of the third claimant or so ever interfering with the sitting activities and other functions of the third claimant pending the determination of the motion on notice'. What an interim order!
We wonder how elected members can be said to be forcefully gaining entrance into the 'premises' wherein they are elected to represent their constituencies or how can they be seen to be interfering with the sitting activities and other functions of a House wherein which they are elected to represent their constituencies.
Despite all of these, an appeal has been lodged against the order and an application for stay of execution on the said order has been filed and same pending before the court. Yet there is also a pending application to vacate or set aside the order same having been made in error.
It is now trite law that when an appeal has been lodged against an order of a court and an application for stay of execution of that order filed, that application must be taken first before any step in respect of the said order. Thus all the hues and cries about an order being disobeyed should not arise and are certainly out of place. On the contrary, the APC members in the House are those who are in perpetual disobedience of court order and processes and causing tension where there ought to be none.
That in the case filed by the three supposedly suspended law makers in the Federal High Court in Suit No. FHC/B/CS/48/2014 against Hon. Uyi Igbe and others, one of the principal reliefs is claim for declaration for perpetual injunction restraining them from suspending the claimants. Yet in defiance of this suit, he went ahead with his co-travelers to suspend the said three law makers INDEFINITELY thus going in a roundabout manner to circumvent the ruling of Justice A.M. Liman to the effect that their seats should not be declared vacant pending the determination of the suit. Put succinctly, indefinite suspension tantamount to declaring their seats vacant.
It is an elementary principle of law that once parties are in court the res (the subject matter of the action must be safeguarded and not destroyed until the action is determined by the court). The res in this instance is the non-suspension of the three members until the case is determined.
It is to be noted that at the stage the interim order was granted in favor of Hon. Uyi Igbe and others, Chief Ferdinand Orbih was not given audience in court by the Judge, reason being that he should wait until his clients are served.
The PDP in Edo State wishes to state categorically that the APC and its government must tow the line of peace and call its members in the Edo State House of Assembly to order as the PDP will not fold its arms and allow the use of thugs to harass and embarrass members of the House. They must be advised to obey and have respect for the rule of law, the orders of the courts and due processes.
Chief Dan Osi Orbih