A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to halt any move to conduct elections to fill seats declared vacant by the Edo House of Assembly.
The Edo House Speaker, Francis Okiye, had on Dec. 4, 2019, declared seats of the embattled 14 elected members of the Assembly vacant. The affected members had previously refused to attend plenary due to issues surrounding inauguration of the House.
Vacation judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, who gave the order in an ex-parte motion with suit: number: FHC/ABJ/CS/1582/19, filed by Mr D.D. Dodo on behalf of the 14 lawmakers, Tuesday, urged parties to maintain status quo pending the determination of the motion before the court.
Okiye had in Dec. 4, 2019 declared vacant the seats of 14 members-elect said to be loyal to the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress , Adams Oshiomhole, for deliberately refusing to present their certificates of return to the Clerk of the Assembly for inauguration.
They were alleged to have failed to present themselves for swearing in since the inauguration of the Seventh Assembly on June 17, 2019.
According to the Speaker, if the lawmakers-elect come for sitting now, they cannot meet the mandatory 180 sitting days as enshrined in the constitution.
The affected members-elect are Vincent Uwadiae, Ovia North-East II; Ugiagbe Dumez, Ovia North-East I; Washington Osifo, Uhunmwode; Victor Edoror, Esan Central; Kingsley Ugabi, Etsako East and Michael Ohio-Ezomo, Owan West.
Others are Sunday Aghedo, Ovia South-West; Chris Okaeben, Oredo West; Crosby Eribo, Egor; Aliyu Oshiomhole, Etsako West II; Oshomah Ahmed, Etsako Central and Ganiyu Audu, Etsako West I.
Okiye, while declaring the seats vacant, said that the 14 members-elect ‘defiantly refused’ to come forward to do necessary documentation as part of the conditions for their inauguration as members of the Assembly.
“They have refused to represent their constituents in the Assembly, invariably denying them effective representation.
“At this point, I am declaring the seats of the 14 members-elect vacant, in accordance with Section 109, subsection 1(F) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended),” he said.
Okiye consequently called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct by-elections within 90 days in the affected constituencies.
Meanwhile, the 1st and 2nd defendants in the suit are Speaker, Edo State House of Assembly, Okiye and INEC, while the plaintiffs are the 14 members
The plaintiffs had approached the court, seeking an order of interim injunction restraining INEC from conducting by-elections in respect of their seats in the state’s assembly purportedly declared vacant by the Speaker on Dec. 4, 2019, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice dated Dec. 10, 2019.
Justice Mohammed had, at the hearing, directed the 1st and 2nd defendants to appear before the court on Dec. 19 to show cause why the interim injunction being sought by the plaintiffs vide their motion ex-parte should not be granted.
Mohammed also ordered that the enrolled order to show cause, motion ex-parte for interim injunction, motion on notice for interlocutory injunction and the originating processes should be served on the respondents.
At the resumed hearing on Tuesday, Ikhide Ehighelua, Counsel to the 14 lawmakers, reminded the court about the motion ex-parte filed on Dec. 10, 2019.
Femi Adeyemi, Counsel to INEC, although he acknowledged that the commission was served with all the processes, including the enrolled order, said it was not served with the motion ex-parte.
Adeyemi, who told the court that INEC’s position on the matter was to be neutral, said the electoral umpire did not oppose the applications filed by the plaintiffs.
“My Lord, our position is that we want to retain our neutrality,” he told the judge.
He hinted that he had not filed an affidavit in support of the commission’s position.
Justice Mohammed, however, said based on provisions of Order 26 Rules 11, 12 and 13 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, 2019, where a defendant is asked to come and show cause, the defendant is expected to file an affidavit in evidence,not oral evidence.
“What you are telling me here is evidence. I understand you very well. You file an affidavit that you want to be neutral.
“File an affidavit and explain there, even if it is two paragraphs, but not to stand at the bar and explain,” the judge said.
Delivering his ruling, the judge ordered INEC to file an affidavit in support of its position and to show cause why the interim injunction should not be granted before the next adjourned date.
Justice Mohammed, who ordered that the 1st defendant, Okiye, who was not represented in court, be issued with the hearing notice, adjourned the matter till Jan. 28.
The Edo State chapter of the APC has been polarised between loyalists of Gov. Godwin Obaseki and those of Oshiomhole .