The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from conducting fresh election in 14 seats in the Edo State House of Assembly following declaration of the seats vacant by the controversial Speaker of the House, Frank Okiye.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed, who gave the order in a motion ex-parte with suit: number: FHC/ABJ/CS/1582/19 filed by Barrister D.D. Dodo on behalf of the 14 lawmakers, said the parties in the suit should hold on pending the determination of the motion before the court.
While the 1st and 2nd defendants in the suit are Hon.Frank Okiye, and INEC respectively, the plaintiffs are Victor Edoror, Washington Osifo, Vincent Uwadiae, Kingsley Ugabi, Michael Ohio-Ezomo, Sunday Aghedo and Chris Okaeben.
Others are Crosby Eribo, Seidu Oshiomhole, Oshomah Ahmed, Ganiyu Audu, Ugiagbe Dumez, Uyi Ekhosuehi and Eric Okaka.
The 14 lawmakers who rejected what they described as illegal inauguration of the House by 9 lawmakers out of 24 at night by Governor Godwin Obaseki and the clerk of the House, which led to the emergence of Okiye as Speaker, had on Dec 12, 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.
However at the hearing yesterday, Justice Mohammed 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.
He also ordered that the enrolled order to show cause, motion exparte for interim injunction, motion on notice for interlocutory injunction and the originating processes should be served on the respondents.
The judge, who ordered that hearing notices be issued on the respondents, then adjourned the matter till Dec. 19 for Mr Okiye and INEC to appear and show cause.
Counsel to the 14 lawmakers elect, Ikhide Ehighelua, reminded the court about the motion ex-parte filed on Dec. 10, 2019.
“My Lord, my learned friend from INEC is here today,” he said.
Femi Adeyemi, Counsel to INEC, though acknowledged that the commission was served with all the processes, including the enrolled order, he 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 file an affidavit in support of the commission’s position.
Justice Mohammed, however, noted that 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 and not an 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 a two paragraphs, but not to stand at the bar and explain,” the judge said.
Justice Mohammed, therefore, told Adeyemi that having decided not to oppose the applications filed by the lawmakers, the commission should restrain itself from taking further step since the matter was still pending in court.
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, Mr Okiye, who was not represented in court, be issued with the hearing notice, adjourned the matter till Jan. 28.
It Will be recalled that Governor Godwin Obaseki, had, on Dec 26, while addressing APC members in Owan West LGA of Edo State, boasted that the state state House of Asembly had declared the seats of 14 lawmakers vacant and that they have written the INEC to conduct fresh elections into the seats.
But spokes man of the lawmakers elect, Washington Osifo lampooned the governor, asserting ” both him and his illegal Speaker lacks the powers to declare our seats vacant even in the midst of their illegality. Obaseki will fail in his evil plot, our people elected us and not him who is on a failed mission to destroy Edo APC”.