In a significant development, the Federal High Court in Abuja has issued an order restraining the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from conducting by-elections for the 27 defected lawmakers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State. The court’s decision comes in response to a suit marked FHC/AB3/CS/1681/23 filed by the lawmakers seeking to prevent the declaration of their seats as vacant.
The lawmakers, including prominent figures like the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Martins Amaewhule, and 26 others known to be loyalists of the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) on December 11. Their seats were subsequently declared vacant by the state’s PDP chapter.
The suit listed the lawmakers as the plaintiffs, with INEC; Peoples Democratic Party; Rivers State House of Assembly; Clerk Rivers State House of Assembly; Inspector General of Police; and the Department of State Services as the 1st to 5th respondents.
In their legal action, the lawmakers requested an order restraining the defendants, particularly INEC, from declaring their seats vacant or taking any steps towards such a declaration. They also sought to prevent INEC from conducting fresh elections to fill their seats until the court had heard and determined the case.
On December 15, Justice Donatus Okorowo delivered the judgment, granting an interim order to halt the process. The judgment read, “An order of interim injunction is hereby granted restraining the 1st and 3rd Defendants/Respondents…from declaring vacant or taking any steps whatsoever to declare vacant the seats of the Plaintiffs/Applicants at the Rivers State House of Assembly.”
The court also ordered a temporary halt to the withdrawal of the lawmakers’ respective Certificates of Return and the conduct of fresh elections in Rivers State pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
This legal development is expected to have significant implications for the political landscape in Rivers State and may further fuel discussions on the dynamics of party defections and the legal consequences that follow such actions. The court will continue to hear the case, with the interim orders remaining in effect until a final determination is reached.