By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
Reprieve came the way of the Peoples Democratic Party caucus at the House of Representatives as the Federal High in Abuja has ordered the House, its Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila and others to stop a probe of leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party caucus over their last year’s statements on the presidential election appeal at the Supreme Court and Kogi State governorship election.
The presiding judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgment delivered on the suit filed by the PDP caucus leaders, held that the probe was unconstitutional as it was a violation of their rights to freedom of expression, and freedom of association.
The plaintiffs who had filed their suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/68/2020 on January 27, 2020, were the PDP Caucus Leader, Chinda Kingsley, Deputy Caucus Leader, Chukwudi Onyema, Umar Barde, and Caucus Whip, Muraina Ajibola.
It would be recalled that the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ethics and Privileges had in November 2019 launched an investigation against the four lawmakers following allegations that they issued public statements in their capacities not recognised by the House, misleading the general public and causing confusion and disaffection in the House of Representatives.
Consequently, the House passed a resolution for the probe of the lawmakers following a motion on “Breach of Legislative Privilege” , sponsored by a member, Ben Igbakpa, who accused the four lawmakers of breaching section 60 of the 1999 Constitution as well as House Standing Order 1 (1 & 2).
However in his judgment on Monday, Justice Ekwo held that the statements issued by the plaintiffs were released in their personal capacity as Nigerians and based on the roles assigned them by the PDP as its Caucus Leader, Deputy Caucus Leader, Caucus Whip and Deputy Caucus Whip in the House of Representatives.
Justice Ekwo therefore declared, “The investigation or further investigation of the plaintiffs by the 4th to 20th defendants on the basis of any action done or decision taken by them, including the press statements” published by them “within the ambit of their lawfully assigned party duties by the PDP” as illegal and unconstitutional, being in violation of the Plaintiffs’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
He also declared that “by the provisions of sections 39 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), the laintiffs, as honourable members of the House of Representatives of Federal Republic of Nigeria are at liberty to lawfully express themselves and associate among one another as members of any lawful caucus, including the 21st defendant’s caucus in the House of Representatives.”
He also issued an order of perpetual injunction, “restraining the 4th to 20th defendants (members of the House Privileges and Ethics Committee) or any other Committee of the House of Representatives/the House itself from investigating or further investigating the plaintiffs and/or taking any disciplinary decision/action against them including suspension or interfering/tampering with their legislative duties, responsibilities and/or entitlements as members of the House of Representatives, on the basis of any action done or decision taken by them, including the press statements”
He added that “if any such disciplinary decision/action has been taken against the plaintiffs, it is hereby set aside”.
He also issued an order of Injunction restraining the PDP from reversing “its solemn position on the mandate and authority it gave the plaintiffs to act as its Caucus Leader, Deputy Caucus Leader, Caucus Whip and Deputy Caucus Whip respectively in the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
The respondents restrained by the court judgment included: Gbajabiamila, the Clerk of the National Assembly, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Kolawole Lawal, and his deputy, Ibrahim Miasu.
The others are members of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Agbo Ottah, Barwa Beji, Bulus Maren, Abubakar Ahmad, Ahmad Yusuf, Abdulkadir Armaya’u, Ofumelu Ekene, Chukwuegbo Gregory, Chinedu Martins, Egbona Alex, Edionwele Eghoghon, Chikere Anayo, Alli Taofeek, Johnson Abiodun and Adeyemi Adeniyi.