… As lawmakers appeal judgement
Following the High Court ruling on Monday sacking 20 lawmakers of the Cross River State House of Assembly for defecting from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress, armed policemen on Tuesday morning took over the complex.
The policemen drawn from the anti-kidnapping squad and regular policemen were also seen around the routes leading to the House of Assembly.
Movement into the Assembly complex on Diamond Hill was restricted.
Meanwhile, the Twenty lawmakers have lodged seven grounds of appeal to set-aside the judgement.
The Appellants, comprising of two members of the House of Representatives and 18 members of the Cross River State House of Assembly, in the notice of appeal they lodged through their consortium of lawyers led by Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, maintained that the trial court erred in law and occasioned a miscarried of justice against them.
They told the appellate court sitting in Abuja that trial Justice Taiwo Taiwo entertained the suit PDP instituted against them, and delivered judgment without jurisdiction.
According to the Appellants; “The trial court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to have entertained the suit leading to the instant appeal.
“Arising from the hostile nature of the suit that gave rise to this appeal, the failure of the trial court to order pleadings denied the Appellants the opportunity to properly present their case thereby stripping them of their constitutional right to a fair hearing.
“Originating Summons ought rightly to be resorted to only where rights of parties depend on the construction of enactment only without reference to hotly disputed facts.
“The Appellants predicated the reasons and grounds for their act of defection on the raging crisis and division that rocked the National leadership and State leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (1 st Respondent) at the material time, the facts of which were hotly disputed and refuted by the Plaintiff/ Ist Respondent.
“Consequently, the suit leading to the instant appeal was not suitable for Originating Summons procedure.
“The Appellants had applied for transfer of the suit leading to this appeal from the Abuja Judicial Division to the Calabar Judicial Division of the Federal High Court where the cause of action arose and the subject matter is situated.
“The trial court refused to transfer the suit to the Calabar Judicial Division of the Federal High Court in defiance of the practice direction as contained in the said circular issued by the Honourable Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
“The trial court erroneously heard the Appellants’ motion for transfer of the suit to the Calabar Judicial Division of the Federal High Court contemporaneously and together with the Notice preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court and the substantive Originating Summons.
“The Appellants had protested the procedure adopted by the trial court but the Honourable trial Court bluntly refused to hold the protest even when its attention was fully drawn to the motion for transfer which ought to have been taken first and pronounced upon one way or the other.
“Hearing the Appellants’ motion for transfer of the suit to the Calabar Judicial Division of the Federal High Court simultaneously with the Notice preliminary objection challenging jurisdiction and the substantive Originating Summons constitutes an abuse of court process and procedure.
“The failure of the trial court to transfer this suit that gave rise to this appeal to the Calabar Judicial Division ofthe Federal High Court in Calabar, Cross River State where the I st Respondent’s alleged cause of action arose amounts to forum-shopping, Judge-shopping and abuse of court process”.
The Appellants argued that the issue of ownership or transfer of votes is a matter for determination by an Election Tribunal and not a regular Federal High Court vide Originating Summons.
“Therefore, the issue of defection cannot be tied with ownership or transfer of votes•such as to confers jurisdiction on the Federal High Court.
“Reference to ownership of votes or transfer of votes amount to a surreptitious way of challenging the election and return of the Appellants before the Federal High Court, rather than before an Election Petition Tribunal.”
Besides, the Appellants, maintained that the trial court erred in law when it failed to consider their defence that they had already been expelled from the PDP before they later joined the APC.
“Appellants had justifiable constitutional reasons to join the Yd Respondent after being expelled from the 1 st Respondent.
“The question of expulsion of the Appellants as backed by documentary evidence was never challenged by the 3rd Respondent.
“The crisis and divisions at the national body of the Ist Respondent at the material time constituted a constitutional exception to the constitutional bar to the defection/cross – carpeting by the lawmakers as provided for in the proviso to section 68(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as altered.
“The decision of the trial court has occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice”, the Appellants added.