14 lawmakers-elect of the Edo State House of Assembly whose seats were recently declared vacant by the Speaker, Frank Okiye, said they are going to press for contempt charges against him.
Washington Osifo, one of the affected lawmakers-elect, told PREMIUM TIMES that the speaker’s action breached a fundamental principle in law since the 14 lawmakers-elect have a pending court case against him.
The 14 lawmakers were among the 15 excluded from the controversial inauguration of the state assembly in June because of the power-tussle between the national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, and the Edo governor, Godwin Obaseki.
All the 24 state legislators in Edo are members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Nine out of the 24 lawmakers met at night to inaugurate the assembly and elect a speaker, Mr Okiye.
Their exclusion of the others, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, was to prevent Mr Oshiomhole’s loyalists from taking control of the state legislature, an action which led to Mr Osifo and the 13 others filing a court case against the speaker and the others.
“Whereas the matter is in court, they have gone ahead to violate the elementary principle of law that says no party in a matter in court can do anything to render the position of the court that would eventually be, nugatory,” Mr Osifo said, claiming that he was speaking on behalf of the other 13 lawmakers-elect.
“That in itself is contempt.
“He is pre-empting the court and attempting to tie the hands of the court and the court does not take it lightly with anybody who does that.”
Mr Osifo said they would press for contempt charges against the speaker, adding that the speaker would not have still had the right to declare the seats vacant even if there was no court case against him and the house.
“Assuming the matter wasn’t even in court, he has no right to do that. There is no position in the law, whether in the rules of the house or in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any known law that gives power to the speaker to declare a seat vacant. A seat that has not been occupied, mind you.
“There are procedures for declaring a seat vacant. The law envisages that there is a number of period in a calendar year for which a legislator must sit and if you do not sit, it is grounds to declare your seat vacant. The law also says you must show compelling and cogent reasons you didn’t attend sitting.
“What are compelling and cogent reasons? Compelling and cogent reasons would be a situation outside your control which includes health issues.
“In this case, nothing can be more compelling and cogent in the eyes of the law than to say a matter is before the court challenging the validity or otherwise of a process that you were supposed to be part of that you were not part of.
“In the eye of the law, that seat has been vacant because it has never been sat on. And because that seat has never been sat on, you cannot legally be said to have vacated a seat that is (already) vacant,” Mr Osifo said.
Mr Okiye, however, told PREMIUM TIMES he is empowered by the Nigerian Constitution to declare the seats vacant.
“There are certain constitutional provisions that the court cannot stop,” he said. “The speaker has the discretion to give effect to the provisions of the constitution,” said the speaker.
“In the eyes of the parliament, those constituencies did not have representatives,” he added.