In a groundbreaking decision, the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal has reversed the dismissal of Rivers State lawmakers who were perceived to be aligned with the former governor, now serving as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Nyesom Wike.

The appellate court, in a judgment rendered, declared that the trial court did not possess the jurisdiction to hear and determine the issue of alleged defection of the lawmakers from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party through which they were elected, to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

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Earlier, on May 10, 2024, a Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt, in response to an exparte application, had ordered Hon. Martin Amaewhule to cease parading himself as the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly.

Furthermore, the trial court had restrained 24 other Assembly members from entering the legislative complex or engaging in any legislative activities in the name of the Rivers State House of Assembly.

Dissatisfied with the ruling, Amaewhule and the other lawmakers turned to the Court of Appeal to challenge the restraining order.

The appellants argued that the issue in question fell within the exclusive purview of the Federal High Court, as stipulated in Section 272(3) of the Constitution.

They implored the appellate court to reverse their removal from the Rivers State House of Assembly based on their defection to the APC.

In a judgment delivered on Thursday, a three-member panel headed by Justice Jimi Olukayode-Bada determined that the appeal had substantial merit and consequently ordered the reinstatement of the lawmakers as representatives of Rivers State.

Meanwhile, the National Democratic Coalition (NDC) has vehemently rejected the judgment of the appellate court, deeming it a profound setback for Nigeria’s democracy.

The coalition argues that the court’s decision grants politicians the freedom to switch parties without facing any repercussions, thereby undermining accountability.

In a statement, Dr. Samson Iroegbunam, the Executive Director of the coalition, accused the appellate court of providing legal cover for illegitimate actions. He asserted that the former lawmakers should not be permitted to exploit the law, which they themselves disregard.

The coalition expressed bewilderment at the Court of Appeal’s ruling, particularly with regards to its interpretation that only the Federal High Court, and not the state High Courts, holds jurisdiction over matters pertaining to tenures, vacancies in the House of Assembly, governors, and presidents.

The constitution, however, fails to explicitly specify which court should have jurisdiction to resolve disputes regarding the termination of an elected official’s tenure.