The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly cannot implement a court order asking it to stay an order sacking a state lawmaker who defected from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC), an aide to the governor, Udom Emmanuel, has said.
A lawmaker, Idongesit Ituen, who represented Itu State Constituency in the assembly, was sacked by a November 14 ruling of the Uyo Division of the Federal High Court.
But the court, acting on an application by Mr Ituen, later halted its earlier decision and then asked the assembly not to declare the lawmaker’s seat vacant.
“I am satisfied that there is merit in this application (and) that an order staying execution of the judgment of this Honourable Court delivered by Hon. Justice F. O. Riman, sitting at Federal High Court No 2, Uyo Judicial Division on the 14 November 2018, pending the hearing and determination of the Applicant’s Appeal at the Court of Appeal is hereby granted as prayed,” the judge, Fatun Riman, said on Wednesday, while ruling in favour of the lawmaker.
The snag, however, is that the speaker of the assembly, Onofiok Luke, had on Monday declared Mr Ituen’s seat vacant before the latest order by the federal court.
The governor’s aide, Ndem Andem, said the order for a stay of execution came a little too late.
Mr Andem, who is a special assistant to the governor on legal matters, spoke on Monday on the crisis rocking the state assembly when he appeared as a guest on a live radio programme, Akwa Ibom Rising, on Inspiration 105.9 FM, Uyo.
“Stay of execution cannot be granted on an action that has already been carried out,” said Mr Andem, a lawyer.
“The seat has already been deemed vacant, and stay of execution means that the status quo remains. What is the status quo?
“The status quo is that the seats had on Monday been declared vacant as provided by the constitution of our country. Mr Idongesit Ituen, and his co-travellers remain former members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, except a higher court gives a contrary ruling in their favour,” he said.
Apart from Mr Ituen, the speaker, Mr Luke, had on Monday declared vacant the seats of four other lawmakers who also defected from the PDP to the APC, even though the court was yet to rule on their cases.
The other four lawmakers are Nse Ntuen, Essien Udim State Constituency; Gabriel Toby, Etim Ekpo/Ika; Otobong Ndem, Mkpat Enin; and Victor Udofia, Ikono.
Mr Andem said there was no crisis within the PDP to justify the defection of the lawmakers as required by the constitution.
He said the APC lawmaker in the state, Asuquo Archibong (Urue Offong/Oruko State Constituency), who defected to PDP last year did so because, according to him (Andem), there was division in the APC.
“No APC member challenged the defection of Hon Archibong because it was difficult for any of the factions to lay claims on him,” he said.
The sacked lawmakers, five of them, held their own “sitting” on Monday and, in turn, ‘removed’ Mr Luke from office as speaker, and then “elected” Mr Ntuen as the “new speaker”.
The APC leadership in the state, while throwing its weight behind the five lawmakers, said on Wednesday it no longer recognises Mr Luke as the speaker of the assembly.
Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly consists of 26 members.
The Nigerian constitution says a speaker or deputy speaker can only be removed from office by a resolution of House of Assembly by the votes of not less than two-third majority of the members of the House.
It would, therefore, require the votes of 17 lawmakers, at least, to remove Mr Luke as the speaker of the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly.
There has been tension in the oil-rich state because of the crisis in the state assembly.
Some youth, who are members of the APC, on Monday protested at the assembly complex over the sacking of Mr Ituen.
The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly was sealed off on Wednesday morning by the police in the state, following the crisis.