Court voids Rivers N800bn 2024 Budget passed by 5 members

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*Photo: Gov Fubara *

A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, set aside the Rivers’ N800 billion 2024 budget passed by five members of the house led by its factional Speaker, Edison Ehie, and signed into law by Gov. Siminalayi Fubara on Dec. 14, 2023.

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Justice James Omotosho, in a judgment, held that the presentation of the appropriation bill by Gov. Fubara on Dec. 13, 2023, its passage by the lawmakers and subsequent signing into law by the governor amounted to a nullity following a subsisting interim order of the court.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Justice Omotosho had, on Nov. 30, 2023, made an interim order restraining Fubara and other defendants from preventing the assembly, under the leadership of Martin Amaewhule, from carrying out its statutory functions and businesses.

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The judge, among others, also restrained Fubara from removing the assembly’s clerk or its deputy and withholding funds meant for the legislative house, pending the determination of the substantive suit.

Justice Omotosho extended the interim order on Dec. 7, 2023 when parties returned to court.

NAN reports that the Rivers House of Assembly and Amaewhule were 1st and 2nd plaintiffs in the ex-parte motion marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1613/2023 dated and filed Nov. 29, 2023.

However, while the order was still pending, a budget presentation was done by the governor before the five-member house on Dec. 13, 2023 inside the Rivers Government House and signed into law on Dec. 14, 2023.

Besides, the budget presentation also coincided with the demolition of the assembly complex by the state government, preventing Amaewhule-led faction from sitting and allegedly withholding funds meant for the legislative house.

Meanwhile, in the amended originating summons dated Dec. 7, 2023 but filed Dec. 11, 2023 by their team of lawyers including Ken Njemanze, SAN, Ferdinand Orbih, SAN, among others, the plaintiffs sought an order directing all parties to maintain status quo as at Nov. 29, 2023.

They sought an order of injunction restraining Fubara and other defendants from impeding or frustrating the assembly under Amaewhule’s leadership as its speaker, among others.

Delivering judgment, Justice Omotosho held that since the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs were unchallenged by the defendants, particularly Fubara (11th defendants), having withdrew all his processes filed in the suit, the application by the plaintiffs seeking the restoration of the status quo as at Nov. 29, 2023,  succeeded.

The judge, therefore, described the passage of the bill by the lawmakers and its signing into law by Fubara as “a wilful breach of the court order.”

He said “the order of court is valid until it is set aside.”

According to him, the deliberation on appropriation bill presided over by the 17th defendant (Edison Ehie) amounts to a void act in the eye of the law.

He described the act as strange and contemptuous with serious consequence.

The judge said the court was bemused that a bill such as appropriation bill would be presented before unconstituted members.

Justice Omotosho held that the fact that Fubara, who was 11th defendant, did not file any counter affidavit, having withdrew all his processes, made the suit to be meritorious.

He said having withdrawn his counter affidavit and other processes in this case, it is deemed that the governor has admitted the facts in the amended originating motion since it was not challenged.

“Therefore, no appropriation bill of Rivers State House of Assembly has been presented neither has any of such bill passed into law.

“An order of injunction is hereby made restoring the status quo as at Nov. 29, 2023 when the suit was filed, including the presentation of the budget and the passage of the budget into law,” he declared.

He also made an order restraining Fubara from making any budget presentation before any other person except Amaewhule.

Justice Omotosho held that the governor had no power to stop the salaries, including the emoluments of the speaker, his deputy and other members of the house, including their staff from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the state as an organ of government.

“The 11th defendant has no power to tamper with the funds of the plaintiffs.

“No governor has power to withhold funds meant for other arms of government as such act is tantamount to tyranny,” he said.

He said the court, as a custodian of constitution, would resist any attempt to jeopardise the democratic norm.

The judge issued an order restraining Fubara from frustrating House of Assembly under Amaewhule from sitting or interfering in its affairs.

He described as unlawful Fubara’s redeployment of the clerk and deputy clerk out of the assembly, stating that such decision amounted to an affront on the democratic principle of separation of power.

The judge, therefore, restrained the governor or any members of the state executive arm from appointing or reposting any person as a clerk or deputy clerk of the assembly in contravention with the 1999 Constitution and laws governing the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission.

He further made an order restraining the National Assembly (NASS) from taking over the state’s assembly or accepting or treating any request from Fubara to any effect.

Justice Omotosho, who directed Fubara to promptly release all monies standing to the credit of the House of Assembly, ordered the Inspector-General (I-G) of Police and his agents to immediately give adequate security to the assembly and the speaker as required.

He declared that Ehie, who had sought to be joined as an interested party in the suit, lacked capacity to file the application, having withdrawn as a speaker and member of the assembly.

Justice Omotosho held that the decision of the court was based on the earlier order made on Nov. 30, 2023 and the facts that Fubara, who was 11th defendant in the case, withdrew his processes in opposition to the plaintiffs’ originating motion.

NAN reports that in the suit, the plaintiffs sued the NASS, Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader as 1st to 5th defendants respectively.

Also joined in the suit include House of Representatives Speaker, House Deputy Speaker, House Majority Leader, House Minority Leader, Clerk to NASS as 6th to 10th defendants.

They also sued Governor of Rivers, Attorney-General of Rivers, Commissioner of Finance, Accountant-General of Rivers, Rivers State Civil Service Commission, Inspector-General (I-G) of Police and Rt. Honourable Edison Ehie, who is also listed as Rivers Assembly’s Speaker in the suit, as 11th to 17th defendants respectively.(NAN)

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