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Court stops review of constitution • Immunity clause may be expunged from constitution

Posted by Sam Akpe, Tobi Soniyi and Ibanga Isine on 2006/03/07 | Views: 1315 |

Court stops review of constitution • Immunity clause may be expunged from constitution

Proponents of the controversial third term agenda ran into a hitch on Monday as an Abuja High Court sitting in Zuba, the Federal Capital Territory, warned the National Assembly against going ahead with the amendment to the 1999 Constitution.

Proponents of the controversial third term agenda ran into a hitch on Monday as an Abuja High Court sitting in Zuba, the Federal Capital Territory, warned the National Assembly against going ahead with the amendment to the 1999 Constitution.

Justice Olasunmbo Goodluck said until she determined the merit or otherwise of the application by Dr. Godwin Daboh and eight others for an interlocutory injunction, which sought to restrain the National Assembly from amending the constitution, the status quo ante bellum must be maintained.

The plaintiffs had filed the suit to stop the just concluded public hearing on the review of the 1999 constitution and the ongoing amendment to the 1999 Constitution.

The judge made the preservative order after she found out that the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN), had been served with all the court’s papers whereas a lawyer from the chambers of the AGF claimed otherwise.

The lawyer representing the AGF, Mr. D.I. Chika, had asked for an adjournment on the grounds that his boss had not been served with the originating summons.

Goodluck had checked the court’s records and noticed that the bailiff served the AGF with all the papers, including the originating summons, which the representative of the AGF said his boss had not yet seen.

The judge said that she was bound by the court’s records.

Counsel to the plaintiff, Chief Mike Ozhekome, took advantage of the situation and cited a decision of the Supreme Court in the Kotoye Vs. the Central Bank of Nigeria, which is to the effect that if a motion for an order of interlocutory injunction could not be heard due to no fault of the applicant, the court can make a preservative order in favour of the applicant.

The judge said, “Both counsel are hereby reminded that going ahead with the ongoing review amounts to subjudice.

“Both counsel are to advise parties in the suit to maintain the status quo in order to preserve the res (subject matter) of this suit.

“Counsel to the plaintiffs should write the respondents informing them of the new hearing date, which is Thursday March 9.”

Apart from the National Assembly, other respondents to the suit are the Deputy Senate President and the Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee, Senator Ibrahim Mantu and the AGF.

The plaintiffs – Daboh; Alhaji Ibrahim Ibrahim; Alhaji Aliyu Baje; Alhaji Ibrahim Hassan; Mr. Dipo Etti; Alhaji Nurideen Alao; Elder Chimezie Okpara; Alhaji Kabiru Kamba – are seeking among others:

• A declaration that having regard to the provisions of Section 2 (2) and 3 (1), 3(2), 3(3), 3(4), 3(5) and 3(6) of the constitution, the defendants lack the power to delineate the Nigerian federation into six geopolitical zones for the purposes of conducting public hearing towards amending the constitution;

• A declaration that the ‘term six geopolitical zones’ is alien to the constitution and thus cannot constitute a parameter for determining the constituent units of Nigeria for the purposes of amending the constitution;

• A declaration that the constitution recognises only the 36 states, the Federal Capital Territory and 774 Local Government Area as the constituent units of the country;

• A declaration that the National Assembly is not legally competent to carry out an amendment to the constitution without involving the people of Nigeria.

• An order compelling the lawmakers to hold public hearings in all the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT.

• An order of perpetual injunction restraining all the defendants from conducting public hearings, which are inconsistent with the relevant provisions of the constitution.

At the Federal High Court, Abuja, where six lawmakers filed a similar suit, the Judge, Justice Stephen Adah, chose April 3 as the date he would determine whether or not his court has jurisdiction to entertain the matter.

Adah fixed the date after listening to arguments by lawyers to the lawmakers and the Federal Government.

The six lawmakers are: Mr. Wunmi Mabajoye Bewaji; Tsegba Terngu; Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; Idris Tukur

Nadabo; Uche Onyeagucha; and Dr. Haruna Yerima.

While asking the court to throw away the suit, the AGF said that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case and that the lawmakers lacked the locus standi (legal right) to institute the action.

Ojo described the lawmakers as “busy bodies and rabble-rousers.”

But the lawmakers, through their lawyer, Mr. Rickey Tarfa, maintained that the National Assembly violated the provisions of the constitution and asked the court to void the decision of the constitution review committee.

And in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the Constitution began sitting, the report of the public hearing on the constitution confirmed that two geopolitical zones were in support of the third term project.

The zones are the North-Central and the North-East.

Specifically, the North -Central was said to have presented a unified position in support of three terms of four years, while the government of Yobe, Borno and Taraba states also supported the extension of tenure for the executive.

The report titled Report of Hearings in the Zonal Centres on Amendment to the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999, was published in two volumes and circulated to members of the committee only.

From the study of the report, it was clear that third term and immunity clause would characterise the sitting of the JCRC this week.

Lawmakers who spoke with our correspondents on Monday said the immunity clause as contained in Section 308 of the constitution would be redefined.

A senator who spoke on condition of anonymity explained that based on the report, the immunity clause would be expunged from the constitution "so that a governor can be prosecuted on criminal matters while in office”.

On the issue of tenure, he said Nigerians would have a rude awakening when the lawmakers unanimously vote against it.

When the sitting opened , members of the JCRC who met behind close doors were given copies of the reports of the zonal public hearings to study prior to the commencement of debate on Tuesday.

For about three hours, the committee met amidst tight security.

But there was panic at the venue around 11.05 am when an outage occurred.

Power was, however, restored after about eight minutes.

THE PUNCH, Tuesday March 07, 2006

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Comments (2)

Toluwalase Samuel Olufemi(Ijebu, Ogun, Nigeria)says...

Authority belongs to God, once He decrees it is final and binding

Ikponmwosa Osamede(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Your meaning of Osamede is wrong. Osamede means God has given me a crown