The Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday, granted leave to a senator from Akwa Ibom, Godswill Akpabio, to be heard in a suit seeking his removal and 53 others from office over their defection from one political party to another.
A group, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), had on September 14, 2018, asked the Federal High Court to order that the members of the National Assembly who defected should vacate their seats.
In July 2018, 37 members of the House of Representatives defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC). About 32 of them joined the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), four joined the African Democratic Congress (ADC) while one did not announce his new party at the time.
On the same day, 14 APC senators defected to the PDP.
Meanwhile, being part of the defendants, the lawmakers which includes the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, in their response asked the court to dismiss the suit filed by the group on grounds that it is an abuse of court process.
The duo added that the suit lacked merit.
The defendants had submitted that the plaintiff, which instituted the suit against them and praying for their removal from the National Assembly, has no locus standi to institute the case.
The presiding judge, Okon Abang, after listening to the argument from parties, had on April 30, adjourned till May 17 for judgment.
However, barely few days to the adjourned date for judgment, Mr Akpabio approached the court for permission to personally challenge the suit seeking their removal from office on grounds of their defection.
Ruling on Mr Akpabio’s application on Monday, the judge agreed with submissions of his lawyer, Sunday Ameh, that the suit is not a class action, hence, the applicant is entitled to be heard before judgment is delivered.
Mr Abang held that it would not be proper to shut the applicant out of the case, when he was not aware of the tendency of the case, adding that it is mandatory to hear all parties before a decision is taken.
“Serving of originating process on a person cannot be presumed, it cannot be waived.”
“He must be heard, it is his fundamental right” Mr Abang said.
He further disagreed with the plaintiff that the application was an abuse of court process which is aimed at arresting judgment slated for May 17.
He subsequently adjourned the matter to May 14, for parties to adopt their processes, adding that the court may still go ahead with the judgment on May 17.
Mr Akpabio, who was elected senator in 2015 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had in 2018, decamped to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In his filed motion, Mr Akpabio, had prayed the court for an extension of time to personally file his response before a decision is taken in the originating summons filed by LEDAP.
He contended that he was not consulted by the leadership of the National Assembly in defending the suit.
Mr Akpabio insisted that his attention was not drawn to the suit by the Clerk of the National Assembly, neither was he personally served with the suit.
He added that he did not author the letter of engagement of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mahmoud Magaji, who has been representing the 54 lawmakers in the suit.
He insisted that the suit was not a class action, hence he is at liberty to use a counsel of his choice and to personally defend him.
Responding, the counsel to the plaintiff, Ede Uko, urged the court to discountenance the application as it was meant to arrest judgment slated for May 17.
He argued that Mr Akpabio was afforded time for fair hearing but refused to furnish the court with the facts of the case, adding that he cannot now turn around to seek leave of court to file any process after the matter has been heard and adjourned for judgment.
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