By Vivian Okejeme, Abuja
The Federal High Court, Abuja Tuesday stopped the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from conducting fresh election to replace 14 House of Assembly members-elect yet to be inuagurated to take their seats.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed, held that the 14 seats will remain vacant pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit against the leadership of the house.
The restraining order was sequel to a motion ex-parte filed by the members-elect.
The plaintiffs in the matter are Victor Edoro, Washington Osifo, Vincent Uwadiae, Kingsley Ugabi, Michael Ohio-Ezomo, Sunday Aghedo and Chris Okaeben.
Others are Crosby Eribo, Aliyu Oshiomhole, Oshomah Ahmed, Ganiyu Audu, Ugiagbe Dumez, Uyi Ekhosuehi and Eric Okaka.
The lawmakers had approached the court, seeking an order of interim injunction restraining INEC from conducting by-elections in respect of their seats in the Edo State House of Assembly purportedly declared vacant by the speaker on December 4, 2019, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
The suit dated December 10, 2019 has as respondents Speaker, Edo State House of Assembly, Honourable Frank Okiye and INEC as 1st and 2nd defendants respectively.
Delivering ruling in the ex-parte with suit: number: FHC/ABJ/CS/1582/19 and filed by Damian Dodo SAN, on behalf of the 14 lawmakers, Justice Mohammed ordered that parties in the suit should not take any further steps pending the determination of the motion before the court.
The judge had at the last hearing ordered the 1st and 2nd defendants to appear before the court on December 19 to show cause why the interim injunction being sought by the plaintiffs vide their motion ex-parte should not be granted.
Justice Mohammed also ordered that the enrolled order to show cause on motion ex-parte for interim injunction, motion on notice for interlocutory injunction and the originating processes should be served on the respondents.
The judge, who ordered that hearing notices be issued on the respondents, had then adjourned the matter till December 19 for Okiye and INEC to appear and show cause.
Although the court did sit at the adjourned date (December 19, 2019) parties in the suit were given January 7, 2020. for further proceeding.
When the matter was called yesterday counsel to the applicants, Ikhide Ehighelua reminded the court about the motion ex-parte filed on December 10, 2019.
“My Lord, my learned friend from INEC is here today,” he said.
Responding, INEC’s lawyer, Femi Adeyemi, though acknowledged that the commission was served with all the processes, including the enrolled order, said it was not served with the motion ex-parte.
Adeyemi, who told the court that INEC’s position on the matter was to be neutral, said the electoral umpire did not oppose the application filed by the plaintiffs.
“My Lord, our position is that we want to retain our neutrality,” he told the judge.
He hinted that he had not filed an affidavit in support of the commission’s position.
Justice Mohammed, however, said based on provisions of Order 26 Rules 11, 12 and 13 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, 2019, where a defendant is asked to come and show cause, the defendant is expected to file an affidavit in evidence and not an oral evidence.
“What you are telling me here is evidence. I understand you very well. You filed an affidavit that you want to be neutral.
“File an affidavit and explain there even if it is a two paragraphs, but not to stand at the bar and explain,” the judge said.
The court held that INEC having decided not to oppose the applications filed by the lawmakers, the commission should restrain itself from taking further step since the matter was still pending in court.
Justice Mohammed in addition ordered INEC to file an affidavit in support of its position and to show cause why the interim injunction should not be granted before the next adjourned date.
The Judge ordered that the 1st defendant, Mr Okiye, who was not represented in court be issued with the hearing notice.
Meantime, the matter had been adjourned till January 28.