BY MAHMOUD IDRIS
Thirty seven weeks after a Federal high court in Uyo sacked Mr Bassey Albert Akpan from the National Assembly and ordered the immediate inauguration of Hon Bassey Etim as the senator representing Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, the Senate is yet to comply with the subsisting court judgment.
Although the President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki had struggled to defend the legislature on its decision, yet, his position, rather than douse heightened tension in the polity, with many prominent Nigerians, including a former Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Omotunde Ilori, shout Saraki down.
The concerned Nigerians spoke in unison to the effect that the legal advice Saraki claimed he was awaiting to enable him obey the court judgment was unnecessary on the account that no such opinion could override a valid judgment of the court and that he was constitutionally bound to obey the court judgment on Etim’s inauguration even if the court was wrong!
Unfortunately, November 7, 2017, which makes it 254 days after the court had ordered Bassey Etim’s inauguration, the Senate has not only refused to dignify the court’s judgment but also violently violated the court’s verdict in the matter by allowing Mr Bassey Albert Akpan, the lawmaker that was sacked by the court from the Senate, to remain in office and continue to draw his salary and allowances illegally while he shut the giant gates of the National Assembly against Hon Bassey Etim whom the court ordered should be inaugurated.
Given the fact that Saraki’s Senate had obeyed similar court judgments on pre-election disputes in the present 8th Senate by inaugurating members who were victorious in courts notwithstanding pending appeals challenging such decisions, the attitude of Saraki’s Senate to the valid Uyo court judgment which compelled immediate inauguration of Etim gives the impression that Saraki’s Senate is not only an allegory of George Orwell’s Animal Farm where there are two standards for members but also that Saraki is unmistakably out to mock the judiciary, the rule of law and the organic law of the country in the instant case.
Exactly thirty six weeks ago, a Federal high court sitting in Uyo, in a judgment, sacked Mr Bassey Albert Akpan from the National Assembly.
Until then, Mr Akpan was the senator representing Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District at the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
The high court, in the judgment delivered on February 27, 2017, ousted Akpan from the National Assembly after it found that he (Mr Akpan) was not the valid and bonafide candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which won the 2015 general election for the Akwa Ibom North East senatorial seat.
The court, however, declared Hon Bassey Etim as the rightful owner of the seat and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificate of return of Mr Akpan and issue same to Hon Etim.
The trial judge in the matter also ordered Mr Albert Akpan to refund to the coffers of the National Assembly all he had benefited at the National Assembly including salaries and allowances since he was wrongly inaugurated.
The high court had made all the pronouncements on issues raised in the pre-election dispute between a former member of House of Representatives, Hon Bassey Etim and Senator Akpan.
Recall that both Mr Albert Akpan and Hon Bassey Etim had claimed to be the winners of the primary poll for the 2015 senatorial election into the Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District.
It was Hon Bassey Etim that invoked the original jurisdiction of the Federal high court at the time through an originating summons after he raised the alarm that he was robbed of his electoral victory at the primary poll conducted by the PDP.
But because both of them claimed to be the winners of the primary poll conducted by the PDP for the Akwa Ibom North East District, the high court ordered that Hon Bassey’s suit be converted from originating summons to writ of summons to enable both disputants call witnesses to give oral and tender documentary evidence required to assist it (the court) arrive at the justice of the case.
After the court heard both parties out, the presiding judge, Justice F.O Riman, in a considered judgment held that Hon Bassey Etim was the valid and bonafide candidate of the party for the senatorial seat but that Akpan had wrongly and illegally represented the district in the National Assembly.
INEC had since complied with the court order as it issued the certificate of return to Bassey Etim.
Although the Federal high court judgment has been submitted by Albert Akpan to the Calabar division of the Court of Appeal for review, all efforts by him to get mere interim order to stop execution of the court judgment had woefully failed.
But almost 35 weeks after INEC had complied with the court judgment and notwithstanding a letter written to the leadership of the senate by Bassey Etim that he was ready for his swearing-in, the Senate has not only refused to dignify the court’s judgment but also violently violated the court’s verdict in the matter by allowing Mr Bassey Albert Akpan, the lawmaker that was sacked by the court from the Senate, to remain in office and continue to draw his salary and allowances illegally while he shut the giant gates of the National Assembly against Hon Bassey Etim whom the court ordered should be inaugurated.
The case became more disturbing because Saraki’s senate had obeyed similar court judgments on pre-election disputes in the present 8th Senate by inaugurating members who were victorious in courts notwithstanding pending appeals challenging such decisions at higher courts.
For instance, the senate, on January 10, 2017, acted on a high court judgment in a pre-election lawsuit involving Senator Atai Aidoko and Senator Air Marshall Isaac Alfa who engaged each other in a legal battle over who between them is the authentic candidate of the PDP for the Kogi North East Senatorial District.
The pre-election dispute between Atai Aidoko and Air Marshall Isaac Alfa which is on all fours with Bassey Etim and Albert Akpan’s case commenced at the Federal high court, Abuja, with the two political juggernauts in the Kogi East senatorial district: Aidoko and Alfa, claiming to be the winner of the primary poll held by the PDP on December 7, 2014 for the senatorial district at the Idah Town Hall.
The matter therefore went to court as a pre-election dispute which Air Marshal Alfa won at the trial high court, the basis upon which he was admitted into the Senate.
– Idris, is an Abuja-based public affairs analyst