COURT DISMISSES SUIT SEEKING TO STOP FUBARA FROM RE-PRESENTING RIVERS’ 2024 BUDGET

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COURT DISMISSES SUIT SEEKING TO STOP FUBARA FROM RE-PRESENTING RIVERS’ 2024 BUDGET

A Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, dismissed a suit seeking to stop Governor Siminalayi Fubara from re-presenting the N800 billion 2024 budget of Rivers State.

Justice Joyce Abdulmalik, in a ruling, also set aside the earlier interim order made on Jan 22, directing parties in the suit to maintain status quo pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.

Justice Abdulmalik held that a similar suit in the matter had already been decided by a sister court on the day the interim order was granted.

The judge also held that the plaintiff’s counsel, David Maduka, lost the opportunity that would have afforded him to be heard when he failed to address the court on the propriety of the instant suit in the face of the judgment already delivered in a similar case.

Recall that the five-member Rivers House of Assembly led by the then factional Speaker, Edison Ehie, had, on December 13, 2023, passed the appropriation bill sent to it by Fubara and the Governor assented to the bill on Dec. 14, 2023

But Justice James Omotosho, had, in the judgement delivered on Jan. 22, set aside the Rivers’ N800 billion 2024 budget passed by the five members of the house and signed into law by Governor Fubara on Dec. 14, 2023.

Justice Omotosho also restrained Gov. Fubara from frustrating the House of Assembly, under Martin Amaewhule-led leadership, from sitting or interfering in its constitutional and legislative functions.

The judge equally barred the National Assembly, the police and any member of the state executive arm from interfering in the assembly’s affairs.

But Justice Abdulmalik, on the same day, granted the ex-parte order filed by six elders of the state, who were plaintiffs in the suit.

They are Victor Okon Jumbo, a member of the Rivers State Assembly, representing Bonny State Constituency; Senator Bennett Birabi, Senator Andrew Uchendu, Rear Admiral O.P. Fingesi, Ann Kio Briggs and Emmanuel Deinma.

The judge, in a ruling, directed the parties not to take further steps, pending the determination of the application seeking to stop Fubara from re-presenting the already passed 2024 budget before the legislative house.

The plaintiffs equally, through their lawyer, Kayode Ajulo, SAN, sought an order declaring the seats of the 27 lawmakers who dumped the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for the All Progressives Congress, APC, vacant, among other reliefs.

They queried the constitutionality of a peace agreement, which they alleged that President Tinubu made Governor Fubara to enter into with the immediate-past governor of the state and current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike.

They maintained that the said agreement, signed on December 18, 2023, was not only illegal but amounted to an usurpation, nullification and undermining of the extant/binding relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The plaintiffs, consequently, prayed the court to among other things, determine whether Tinubu, Fubara and the Rivers Assembly had the rights and were entitled to enter into any agreement that had the effect of nullifying or undermining the constitutional provisions of Section 109 (I) (g) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.

Justice Abdulmalik, who fixed Feb. 28 to hear the application, directed that the defendants, which include President Bola Tinubu, Attorney-General of the Federal, Fubara, Rivers Assembly, Speaker and the Independent National Electoral Commission, be put on notice to respond to allegations raised.

However, the six plaintiffs filed another motion ex-parte marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1718/2023. In the motion dated Jan. 24 and filed Jan. 25, they sought an order granting an accelerated hearing in the suit.

They also sought an order abridging the time within which the defendants could file all their processes, including the plaintiffs’ reply and the court fixed the hearing for today.

When the matter was called, Maduka, who appeared for the six elders, told the court of their motion ex parte.

The lawyer urged the court to grant their two prayers.

But Justice Abdulmalik called Maduka’s attention to the Jan. 22 judgment delivered by Justice Omotosho.

She said at the time the interim order was granted, there was a judgment which is on a matter similar to the present suit.

The judge then ordered Maduka to address the court on the judgment which had already settled the case brought before her.

Responding, the lawyer said he was unaware of the judgment.

“I have not been able to see that judgment, my lord. If I had seen it, I would have been able to address the court,” he said.

Maduka prayed the court to stand down the matter to enable him get the judgment so he could properly address the court.

In her ruling, Justice Abdulmalik said she found that the extant suit bordered on Rivers Assembly matter which had been decided by a sister court.

She held that Maduka had lost the opportunity to afford him a fair hearing.

She said: “Therefore, I hold that the plaintiffs/applicants are privy to that judgement,” which barred the parties from acting contrary to the decisions of the court.

According to the judge, the plaintiffs/applicants are at liberty to study that judgment to know which way to go.

Therefore, she held that the motion ex-parte filed on Jan. 25 had been overtaken by the event.

Justice Abdulmalik, who vacated the earlier interim order, dismissed the suit in its entirety.Although Maduka stood up to explain that he was not deliberately avoiding addressing the court, the judge did not give him a listening ear

About Dons Eze

DONS EZE, PhD, Political Philosopher and Journalist of over four decades standing, worked in several newspaper houses across the country, and rose to the positions of Editor and General Manager. A UNESCO Fellow in Journalism, Dr. Dons Eze, a prolific writer and author of many books, attended several courses on Journalism and Communication in both Nigeria and overseas, including a Postgraduate Course on Journalism at Warsaw, Poland; Strategic Communication and Practical Communication Approach at RIPA International, London, the United Kingdom, among others.

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