Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Senator Godswill Akpabio has secured the leave of the Federal High Court to personally challenge a suit seeking his removal and 53 others from office over their alleged defection from one political party to another.
Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja division of the court, who granted the application, agreed with counsel to Akpabio, Mr Sunday Ameh, SAN, that the suit is not a class action hence, the applicant is entitled to be heard before judgment is delivered.
The suit was filed last year by an advocacy body, Legal Defense and Assistant Project (LEDAP), which had prayed the court to declare the seat of the affected national legislators vacant over their defection to the two major political parties in 2018.
Recall that the lawmakers which include Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara in their response asked the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the suit lacked merit and an abuse of court process.
The defendants had submitted that the plaintiff, which instituted the suit against them and praying for their removal from the National Assembly has no locus standi to institute the case.
Justice Abang after listening to argument from parties had on April 30, adjourned till May 17 for judgment.
However, barely two days to the adjourned date for judgment, Senator Akpabio approached the Federal High Court for permission to personally challenge the suit seeking their removal from office on grounds of their defection.
Ruling on Akpabio’s application on Monday, the judge agreed with submissions of his lawyer, Sunday Ameh, SAN, that the suit is not a class action hence, the applicant is entitled to be heard before judgment is delivered.
He held that it would not be proper to shut the applicant out of the case, when he was not aware of the pendency of the case, adding that it is mandatory to hear all parties before a decision is taken.
“Serving of originating process on a person cannot be presumed, it cannot be waived,” he said, ” He must be heard, it is his fundamental right”.
Justice Abang further disagreed with the plaintiff that the application was an abuse of court process which is aimed at arresting judgment slated for May 17.
He subsequently adjourned the matter to May 14, for parties to adopt their processes, adding that the court may still go ahead with the judgment on May 17.
Akpabio who was elected Senator in 2015 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had in 2018 decamped to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Akpabio in his motion had prayed the court for an extension of time to personally file his response before decision is taken in the originating summons filed by LEDAP.
He contended that he was not consulted by the leadership of the National Assembly in defending the suit. Akpabio insisted that his attention was not drawn to the suit by the Clerk of the National Assembly, neither was he personally served with the suit.
He added that he did not author the letter of engagement of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mahmoud Magaji, who has been representing the 54 lawmakers in the suit.
Akpabio insisted that the suit was not a class action, hence he is at liberty to use a counsel of his choice and to personally defend him.
In his response counsel to the plaintiff, Ede Uko, urged the court to discountence the application as it was meant to arrest judgment slated for May 17.
He argued that Apkabio was afforded time for fair hearing but refused to furnish the court with the facts of the case, adding that he cannot now turn around to seek leave of court to file any process after the matter has been heard and adjourned for judgment.