Abuja – A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has granted leave to Senator Godswill Akpabio, to personally challenge a suit seeking his removal from office for allegedly defecting from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress.
Trial judge, Justice Okon Abang granted Akpabio’s plea on Monday after the senator’s counsel, Sunday Ameh SAN, had moved his application for leave to allow him file a further affidavit of facts.
The plaintiff, Legal Defense and Assistant Project (LEDAP) filed the suit against Akpabio and 53 others who had defected from one party to the other.
By the suit, which was filed last year, LEDAP is praying the court to declare the seat of the affected National Assembly members vacant over their defection in 2018.
Justice Abang had already heard parties in the matter on April 30, and fixed May 17 for judgement before Akpabio filed his application.
Akpabio’s contention was that he was not served with the originating summons personally and that he came to know about the case recently.
Akpabio insisted that since the matter is not a class action, it behooves on the court to allow him defend himself and explain why he took the decision to join APC.
However, the plaintiff opposed the application on the ground that it was aimed at arresting the judgement of the Court already slated for May 17, 2019.
But ruling on Akpabio’s application on Monday, the judge agreed with submissions of his lawyer, Sunday Ameh SAN, that the suit “is not a class action hence, the applicant is entitled to be heard before judgment is delivered.
Abang held that it would not be proper to shut the applicant out of the case, when he was not aware of the pendency of the case, adding that it is mandatory to hear all parties before a decision is taken.
“Service of originating process on a person cannot be presumed, it cannot be waived” Abang said, adding that “He must be heard, it is his fundamental right”.
The court said in accordance with section 36 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the 3rd defendant (Akpabio) is entitled to fair hearing.
Justice Abang further disagreed with the plaintiff that the application was an abuse of court process aimed at arresting the judgment fixed for May 17.
Subsequently, Justice Abang fixed May 14, for parties to adopt their processes, adding that the court may still go ahead with the judgment on May 17.
Akpabio who was elected Senator in 2015 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had in 2018 decamped to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Akpabio in his motion had prayed the court for an extension of time to personally file his response before decision is taken in the originating summons filed by LEDAP.
He contended that he was not consulted by the leadership of the National Assembly in defending the suit.
Akpabio insisted that his attention was not drawn to the suit by the Clerk of the National Assembly, neither was he personally served with the suit.
He added that he did not author the letter of engagement of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mahmoud Magaji, who has been representing the 54 lawmakers in the suit.
Akpabio insisted that the suit was not a class action, hence he is at liberty to use a counsel of his choice.
In his response counsel to the plaintiff, Ede Uko, urged the court to discountence the application as it was meant to arrest judgment slated for May 17.
He argued that Apkabio was afforded time for fair hearing but refused to furnish the court with the facts of the case, adding that he cannot now turn around to seek leave of court to file any process after the matter has been heard and adjourned for judgment.
Recall that the lawmakers which include, Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, in their response had asked the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the suit lacked merit and an abuse of court process.
The defendants had submitted that the plaintiff, which instituted the suit against them and praying for their removal from the National Assembly has no locus standi to institute the case.
Meanwhile, Akpabio has insisted that he did not defect to the APC.
“I only moved to APC; there is difference between movement and defection, Akpabio told newsmen.
“I filed the application so as to prove to the court that I did not defect because my moving to APC from PDP was due to some factors, Akpabio said.