An Uyo Division of the Federal High Court on Wednesday put the brakes on its earlier decision sacking a state lawmaker who defected from the Peoples’ Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress.
Idongesit Ituen, the lawmaker, represented Itu State Constituency before he was sacked by a November 14 ruling of the federal court headed by Fatun Riman, the judge.
Mr Ituen filed an application for a stay of execution of the court judgment on the same day.
The judge – after listening to Mr Ituen’s lawyer, Uyo-Obong Jumbo of Juris Advocates, Uyo, and Ekemini Udim and G. A. Umoh, lawyers to the Speaker, Onofiok Luke, and the PDP respectively – ruled in favour of the lawmaker.
“I am satisfied that there is merit in this application (and) that an order staying execution of the judgment of this Honourable Court delivered by Hon. Justice F. O. Riman, sitting at Federal High Court No 2, Uyo Judicial Division on the 14 November 2018, pending the hearing and determination of the Applicant’s Appeal at the Court of Appeal is hereby granted as prayed.”
Mr Ituen had, immediately after his defection, filed a suit in the court in September this year to pre-empt the speaker of the assembly from declaring his seat vacant.
Mr Riman had dismissed the main suit and granted all the reliefs sought in Mr Luke’s counterclaim which included, “An order of court restraining the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly or any other person acting on his behalf (including the staff of the House of Assembly) from further recognising Hon. Idongesit Ituen as a member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly”
The court also gave an order “directing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately conduct a bye-election to fill the vacant seat of Itu State Constituency at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly”.
The speaker, Mr Luke, has filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, Calabar, against the stay of execution order by the federal high court.
“The learned trial judge erred in law when he granted a stay of execution of a judgment that had already been executed,” the speaker said as one of the grounds of appeal.
Mr Ituen and four other lawmakers have been locked in an epic battle with the speaker over their defection.
The other four lawmakers are Nse Ntuen, Essien Udim State Constituency; Gabriel Toby, Etim Ekpo/Ika; Otobong Ndem, Mkpat Enin; and Victor Udofia, Ikono.
The speaker, probably taking a cue from the sacking of Mr Ituen, had also declared the seats of the other four lawmakers vacant, for defecting from the PDP to the APC, even when the court was yet to deliver judgment on their cases.
The lawmakers, five of them, held their own “sitting” and, in turn, ‘removed’ Mr Luke from office as speaker, and then “elected” Mr Ntuen as the “new speaker”.
The APC leadership in the state while throwing its weight behind the five lawmakers, said on Wednesday it no longer recognises Mr Luke as the speaker of the assembly.
Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly consists of 26 members.
The Nigerian constitution says a speaker or deputy speaker can only be removed from office by a resolution of House of Assembly by the votes of not less than two-third majority of the members of the House.
It would, therefore, require the votes of 17 lawmakers, at least, to remove Mr Luke as the speaker of the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly.
There has been tension in the oil-rich state because of the crisis in the state assembly.
Some youth, who are members of the APC, on Monday protested at the assembly complex over the sacking of Mr Ituen.
The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly was sealed off on Wednesday morning by the police in the state following the crisis.