Ovie Omo-Agege, senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District at the National Assembly, have won, albeit temporarily, the law suit he filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja, challenging his 90-day suspension by the Senate leadership, and his victory once again highlights the illegality that has now become the norm in the legislative arm of government.
Omo-Agege, a lawyer by profession, was suspended for allegedly portraying the senate in bad light. His offence was that he and some of his colleagues were against the senate’s amendment of the electoral act, and by so doing reordering the 2019 election timetable which had already been fixed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He and his group argued that INEC is an independent body, therefore the senate has no power to change its timetable. They also claimed that the reordering of the election timetable by the senate was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.
This did not go down well with the other members of the senate who claimed that Omo-Agege’s comments put the senate in bad light, he was therefore suspended for 90-days, despite the fact the he had taken the matter to court.
On May 10, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba nullified Omo-Agege’s suspension. He ruled that the decision of the senate to premise the suspension on the fact that Omo-Agege took the matter to court, was an affront on government and abuse of the senate’s powers.
“Access to court is a constitutional right which cannot be taken away,” Dimgba said.
He also held that the constitution only allow the Senate to suspend its member for not more than 14 days, therefore Omo-Agege’s suspension was null and void.
A culture of illegality
Over the years, the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly had employed lengthy suspensions as a means of silencing legislators whose voices they consider dissenting, thereby denying their constituencies of adequate representation as guaranteed by the constitution.
Prior to Justice Dimgba’s ruling of May 10, senior lawyers in Nigeria had said that none of the two chambers of the National Assembly has the powers to suspend its members.
One of such lawyers is Femi Falana, who represented Dino Melaye in court after he was suspended indefinitely from the House of Representatives in 2010.
Falana, in an interview in March 2017, said: “Dino Melaye and 10 others were suspended indefinitely, I went to court for them and the court said: ‘Under your own rules, you cannot suspend a member for more than 14 days, under what law did you suspend these 11 members of the House of Representatives for an indefinitely period of time?’”
Speaking further on the subject during another interview in April this year, Falana said only the court or the electorate can remove a serving lawmaker from office.
“No legislative house can suspend or remove a member. It is only a court of law or the constituency that elected them can order the removal or suspension of their representative,” he said.
“This is because when you remove or suspend a legislator, his constituency no longer has a representative in that house and that is not legal.”
In September 2016, Abdulmumin Jibrin, former Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriation, was suspended for 180 legislative days for accusing Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House, and other principal officers of budget padding.
Jibrin claimed he had facts to support his allegation. He approched the EFCC and the ICPC to present his evidences. He even appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the matter, all to no avail.
Even after the 180 days elapsed, the House leadership said Jibrin will not resume his office until he had first apologised to the Speaker and the other principal officers.
1 year today of denying my constituents representation in the House and 1 year taken off my 4 year CONSTITUTIONAL mandate…ONLY IN NIGERIA! pic.twitter.com/ofxnyoOLS5
— Abdulmumin Jibrin (@AbdulAbmJ) September 28, 2017
Jibrin was only recalled in March this year, 18 whole months after he was illegally suspended, and that was after he apologised, according to Dogara.
Ali Ndume, from Borno State, was the senate majority leader until he fell out with the powers that be and was replaced with Ahmad Lawan.
He was suspended for 90 legislative days in March 2017, for allegedly embarrassing Bukola Saraki and Dino Melaye by calling for an investigation into allegations against the two lawmakers.
Saraki was said to have imported a bullet-proof car into the country without paying the appropriate import duty and as a result, the car was impounded by officials of the Nigeria Customs Service.
Melaye, on the other hand, was accused of parading a forged certificate from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, when he did not actually graduate.
An investigative panel eventually cleared the lawmakers but Ndume paid for it. He was eventually recalled in November 2017 after serving his suspension in full.
As it stands today, Omo-Agege has resumed his place in the senate, even though the senate says it has appealed Justice Dimgba’s ruling.