A Federal High Court in Abuja, on Monday, dismissed the suit filed by the senator representing Kogi West, Dino Melaye, challenging the validity of the process of recalling him by some his constituents.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, in his judgment, ordered that the Independent National Electoral Commission “shall proceed with the signature verification exercise.”
The judgment effectively terminated the earlier ex parte order made by another judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Justice John Tsoho, on July 6, 2017, directing parties to the suit to maintain the status quo.
But Justice Dimgba, to whom the case was later re-assigned, ordered that INEC “shall proceed” with the recall process, subject to the service of the petition, the full list and signatures of persons in support of the recall process on Melaye.
The suit, FHC/ABJ/CS/567/2017, was filed by Melaye, his party, the All Progressives Congress, and some registered voters in the senatorial district – Mrs. Iyabose Owolabi, Afolabi Olufunke, Sanya Folake, Salihu Abdullahi and Michael Olowolaiyemo.
The suit was filed against INEC and some defendants whose application to join the suit as defendants was later granted by the court.
The joined defendants are the authors of the recall petition – Chief Olowo Cornelius, John Anjorin and Mallam Yusuf Adamu.
In his judgment on Monday, the judge noted that the 90 days period, within which the Constitution empowers the INEC to conduct a referendum on receiving the recall petition, had been paused since June 23, when Melaye commenced the suit.
He ordered that the period would only continue running from Monday (yesterday).
The judge directed INEC, who was represented by his lawyer, Mr. Olawale Ibrahim, to issue an amended recall timetable, giving the senator a minimum of two weeks to enable the lawmaker to defend himself against the recall process.
Justice Dimgba ordered that the amended timetable should also be served on Melaye.
He held that contrary to Melaye’s contention, there was no provision in Section 69 of the Constitution requiring his constituents to afford him fair hearing before sending such petition to INEC.
The judge stated, “Appraising these provisions which are very clear by themselves, I do not believe that the argument is sustainable that members of an electoral district, intending to file a petition to recall him, are under any duty to inform him beforehand of the reasons for his recall, and to afford him a chance to respond to any allegations they may have against him as a precondition for the preparation and submission of a petition to that effect to the electoral body.
“These are clearly well-defined provisions. The duty of an aggrieved electorate is to submit a petition backed by appropriate signatures to the electoral body, in this case the 1st Defendant, and the duty of the 1st Defendant is also well- defined, which is to verify the signatures and signatories supporting the petition, and if satisfied that they are genuine and the number meets the constitutional threshold, to then proceed to conduct a referendum for the recall of the legislator.
“There is no scope to first inform him of any reasons or to furnish him with the particulars of the loss of confidence.
“The language of the Constitution is ‘loss of confidence’, and that is all that the petition needs to say.”
Justice Dimgba added, “It is also important to note that going by the constitutional text, the constituents of an electoral district are not under any duty to serve their elected representative sought to be recalled a copy of their petition seeking his recall.
“Their obligation is to serve or forward the said petition to the electoral body indicating their lack of confidence in him, and it is then left for the electoral body to communicate this development to the affected member in a manner sufficient to enable him to prepare for the process.”
In dismissing Melaye’s contention as argued by the senator’s lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), that INEC must serve the petition on him for the recall process to start, Justice Dimgba said, “INEC is not an adjudicator between the first plaintiff, Melaye, and his constituents.
“So the question of INEC having to hear from the plaintiff before issuing the guidelines or imposing a requirement for the constituents to hear the legislator before issuing a petition in the guideline, is not that supported either by the express or implied provisions of the law and the Constitution.
“If at all there is a dispute requiring some hearing, it is a dispute between the legislator and the electorate, who alone must be the unfettered judges of his performance.
“And it is a dispute to be resolved and settled on the ballot paper during the recall referendum.”
But Justice Dimgba held that despite not being provided for in the constitution, INEC ought to serve Melaye with the petition and the accompanying documents in the spirit of good administration.
The judge added, “But the first defendant failed to serve the 1st Plaintiff with a copy of this petition with its said letter of June 22, 2017.
“I think this is very wrong. Although the constitution does not expressly oblige the first defendant to serve the first plaintiff with a copy of the petition, which it has received, asking for his recall, the constitution also does not expressly oblige the first defendant to notify the first plaintiff of a recall petition against him.
“But the first defendant nevertheless did so, and I believe rightly so, because that accords with the principles of good administration and of natural justice, which even if not explicitly stated in the Constitution, must form part of those constitutional traditions that are common to and must govern modern societies, especially democratic ones.”
The judge described Melaye’s suit as “hasty, premature and presumptuous”, noting that INEC had already scheduled the exercise for the verification of the authenticity of the signatures in support of the petition being complained about by the senator.
“He must first go into the verification (exercise) and only when he does not get justice that he can come to court,” Justice Dimgba ruled.
The judge also dismissed the argument that the number of signatures did not meet the threshold stipulated in the Constitution.
“It is therefore evident on the face of the available materials that there is no merit in this complaint as well, and which is hereby dismissed,” he ruled.
Meanwhile, Melaye described the ruling by the court as ‘appealable’.
The senator, in his reaction to the ruling on Monday, alleged that Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, INEC, top Federal Government officials and top security officers were behind his travails.
He said, “My great people of Kogi West Senatorial District of Kogi State, in the face of obvious persecution and appealable judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, today, let not your heart be troubled. Lies will never overtake or conquer the truth.
“The presence of the Kogi State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in court today, over a matter that Kogi State is not joined as a party, shows the clear collaborative efforts of INEC and the Kogi State Government.
“However, these combined efforts of Governor Yahaya Bello, INEC, top Federal Government officials and top security agents to harangue and stampede me out of the Senate against the will of the Kogi West constituents will fail woefully. He who is with me from above is greater than all of them put together.
“I will not stop speaking truth to authority. Kogi State Government must pay workers’ salaries and pay pensioners. We cannot all sleep facing one side of the bed.”
But some youths from the Kogi West Senatorial District hailed the court giving INEC the nod to proceed with the recall process against Melaye.
The youth, who stormed the Nigeria Union of Journalists premises in Lokoja on Monday, described the ruling as victory for democracy.
Spokesman for the youth, Ilugunka David, said they were out to express solidarity with the efforts to recall the senator, whom they described as poor representative of the people of Kogi West senatorial district.
Ilugunka said the recall would serve as a deterrent to the political class that power belongs to the people.