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REPS CRISIS: JUDGE WASHES HANDS OFF SUSPENSION SUIT

By NBF News

The legal battle by seven members of the House of Representatives to quash their suspension from the lower legislative chambers on Monday witnessed a dramatic twist as the presiding Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta washed his hands off the case. His withdrawal followed allegations of bias raised by Speaker Dimeji Bankole.

Mr. Dino Melaye and six of his colleagues were suspended over their roles in the recent show of shame on the floor of the House by the leadership of the House of Representatives.

They, however, approached the court to seek redress and have their suspension lifted while contending that the action was unconstitutional, null and void and of no legal consequence.

At the resumed hearing of the suit yesterday, Justice Auta refused to adjudicate over the interlocutory application following a protest letter from the Speaker of the House, Dimeji Bankole (1st defendant) who raised allegations of a likelihood of bias against him.

The letter which was addressed to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Dan Abutu was written by counsel to the Speaker and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN).

In the said letter, Bankole alleged that 'His lordship, the respected Justice Ibrahim Auta had already made a detrimental pronouncement on the merits of the case against our client, even without hearing the parties.'

Justice Auta was reported to have said the suspension slammed on the lawmakers would deny some sections of the country, representation in the House of Representatives.

The above statement did not go down well with the leadership of the House who viewed it as prejudicial and bias.

In the said letter, Bankole stated: 'We strongly believe that the respected presiding judge, having made a categorical pronouncement on the merits of the case is disqualified from adjudicating on it any further and / or should disqualify himself forthwith.'

Auta had after reading the letter in the open court said he was morally inclined to remit the case file to the Chief Judge for re-assignment to another judge in view of the development.

'In view of this letter, I cannot proceed further with this case. I will therefore send back the case file for re-assignment,' Auta ruled.

The Speaker had, while responding to the suit, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case seeking to nullify the indefinite suspension placed on the seven lawmakers.

At the hearing of the suit filed before Justice Ibrahim Auta, lawyer representing the Speaker, Mister Sikiru Oke told the court that he needed time to respond to the originating summons filed by Messr. Femi Falana on behalf of the lawmakers.

Counsel to the House of Representatives and the clerk of the House also requested for time to enable them respond to the processes filed.

Justice Auta, shortly before adjourning the suit to July 19, for hearing stated that both the originating summons and the preliminary objections would be heard on the next date since, according to him, the suspension of the seven members of the House had shut out a section of the country from being represented in the House of Representatives.