Rivers Crisis: Court Bars INEC From Conducting Bye-Elections To Fill Vacant State Assembly Seats

The Federal High Court in Abuja has restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) from conducting fresh elections to fill the seats of the deposed Rivers State House of Assembly Speaker, Hon. Martins Amaewhule, and 24 others.

Justice Donatus Okorowo of the said court gave the order pending the determination of the hearing and determination of a motion on notice filed by the affected lawmakers.

The court also granted an order of interim injunction restraining INEC, the People’s Democratic Party and the state assembly or their agents from declaring vacant or taking any steps whatsoever to declare vacant the seats of the plaintiffs at the Rivers State House of Assembly.

They were also barred from withdrawing the plaintiff/applicants’ respective certificates of return and conducting fresh elections to fill in the seats of the plaintiffs pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.

The orders were contained in a certified true copy of the ruling of the court dated December 15 made available to THE WHISTLER on Sunday.

Amaewhule and 24 other lawmakers who are said to be loyalists of the FCT Minister, Nyesom Wike, filed the exparte motion dated December 15.

The lawmakers defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress, hence the new Speaker, Hon. Edison Ehie, declare their seats vacant.

The Amaewhule-faction of the state assembly via its motion sought the court’s protection barring the state assembly and security agencies from stopping them from performing their legislative functions, enjoying their rights and privileges as lawmakers and removing their security attachments.

But the state assembly in its motion on notice dated December 15 and seen by THE WHISTLER asked the court to dismiss the case of the applicants and decline jurisdiction on the matter.

The state assembly’s lawyer, Lukman Fagbemi, contended that the court in Abuja “is not imbued with territorial jurisdiction to entertain this suit”.

Fagbemi argued that the purported dispute between the lawmakers arose from Portharcourt, insisting it is outside the jurisdiction of the FHC Abuja.

In its ruling on the applicant’s exparte motion , Justice Okorowo granted an interim injunction against INEC, PDP, the State House of Assembly and Inspector General of Police and the State Security Service.

In line with the prayers of Amaewhule and other lawmakers, the court temporarily held that the applicants should not be stopped from performing their legislative functions.

The matter was then adjourned to December 28 for hearing.

This is coming days after the Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt restrained Amaewhule, and his deputy, Hon. Dumle Maol, from using thugs to gain access into the assembly complex.

The restraining order also applied to the new Speaker, Hon. Edison Ehie, who alongside the House of Assembly, instituted a suit against Amaewhule and Maol.

The feud between Governor Simi Fubara and his predecessor, Nyesom Wike, now the Minister of FCT, is believed to be the cause of the disagreements between the lawmakers.

Recall that part of the Rivers State House of Assembly complex at Moscow Road, Port Harcourt, was burnt on October 29, 2023.

The lawmakers subsequently moved their sitting to another venue.

The applicants sought an order from the court blocking the factions from entering the facility at Moscow Road as well as disrupting the assembly.

Upon hearing the submissions of counsel to the parties, Justice M.W. Danagogo restrained them pending the determination of the motion on notice.

The judge held, “An order of interim injunction restraining the Defendants and the 2nd Claimant/Applicant either acting by themselves or through their agents, servants, privies, assigns or any person(s) acting in whatsoever manner and howsoever called or described, from further use of armed thugs accompanied by police personnel in riot gear to gain access to the Rivers State House of Assembly complex at Moscow Road, Port Harcourt, Rivers State which was burnt, destroyed, damaged and rendered uninhabitable as a result of the fire that engulfed the Assembly Complex on 29th day of October, 2023, contrary to the order of the executive Governor of Rivers State relocating the sitting of the 1st Claimant to a secure and more conducive venue to ensure that the activities and meetings of the House are not disrupted during the period of the renovation of the burnt building, pending the determination of the motion on notice already filed.”

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