February 23, 2024

The Federal High Court in Abuja has barred Nigeria’s electoral commission, INEC, from organising by-elections to replace 27 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly whose seats were declared vacant.

Donatus Okorowo, the judge, gave the order on Friday but PREMIUM TIMES got a copy of the ruling on Sunday night.

A factional speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Edison Ehie, last Wednesday declared vacant the seats of 27 lawmakers who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

While Mr Ehie is being backed by Governor Siminalayi Fubara, the 27-member faction led by Martin Amaewhule is loyal to Nyesom Wike, a former governor and current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Messrs Siminalayi and Wike are locked in a fierce political battle over the control of Rivers State political structure in the PDP, which the FCT minister accuses his successor of destroying.

Mr Ehie had secured an interim order through an ex-parte application from the Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt, enabling him and three of his colleagues who are loyal to Governor Fubara to do legislative business without interference from the Amaewhule-led faction.

An ex-parte application is one that does not require the participation of all sides before a decision can be taken by the court.

However, in a bid to forestall any by-elections from being held to fill their seats, the Wike-backed faction of the lawmakers through their lawyer, Peter Onuh, in an ex-parte request filed on 13 December, urged the Federal High Court in Abuja to restrain the Rivers State House of Assembly, INEC, and the PDP from taking actions that could undermine their rights.

Also, Mr Amaewhule and his group who are the applicants in the suit, prayed the court to restrain the State Security Service (SSS), the Inspector General of Police and the Clerk of the Rivers State House of Assembly from depriving them of their rights as lawmakers, including withdrawal of police security.

In the interim ruling on Friday, the judge, Mr Okorowo, restrained INEC and the Rivers parliament “from declaring vacant or taking any steps whatsoever to declare the seats of the plaintiffs at the Rivers State House of Assembly.”

“An interim injunction is hereby granted restraining the 1st defendant (INEC) from conducting fresh elections to fill the seats of the plaintiffs (the 27 lawmakers) in the Rivers State House of Assembly, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.”

The judge barred the six defendants in the case from interfering with the 27 members of the Rivers State House of Assembly from conducting their legislative duties as speaker, deputy speaker and members of the parliament.

Mr Okorowo restrained the Inspector-General of Police and the SSS “from denying or refusing to provide security to the plaintiffs or withdrawing their security details.”

Thereafter, the judge adjourned the suit until 28 December for hearing.

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