Contempt: Court blasts Edo lawmakers over Assembly crisis

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The Court of Appeal sitting in Benin city has dismissed in its entirety the application for stay of execution brought before it by four suspended lawmakers of the Edo State House of Assembly against the injunction issued by a Benin High Court.
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Hon Justice Morounkeji Ogunwunmiju, who read the ruling on behalf of his brother Justices ruled that “the said suspended members could not seek any relief from the Court of appeal while they were in contempt or disobedience of the Order of the High Court.”

Taken a swipe at the four lawmakers yesterday (Thursday), Justice Ogunwunmiju ruled that a party who was in contempt of a positive order of Court cannot be allowed to seek or obtain any relief from the Court while the contempt persists.

The Court further held that a party who believes that an order against him was made without jurisdiction is still bound to obey same until it is set aside.

The Court was of the opinion that the application for stay of execution was premature as the four suspended legislators should have allowed the High Court to hear and determine the Motion on Notice rather than rushing to the Appeal Court.

The lawmakers: Hon Festus Ebea, Hon Patrick Osayimwen, Hon Jude Ise-Idehen and Hon Friday Ogieriakhi had approached the Appeal Court to Vacate the Enrolment of Order of the Benin High Court.

It would be recalled that the four lawmakers had approached a Federal High Court, sitting in Benin City, and obtained an interim order to restrain the Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly from declaring their seats vacant, in line with section 109 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

They also prayed that both the Speaker and the House should be restrained from suspending them, as members of the House, on disciplinary ground.

However, while the Federal High Court ordered that the Speaker, Hon Uyi Igbe should not declare their seats vacant pending the determination of the suit, the Court however refused the prayer for an injunction restraining the Applicants from being suspended from membership of the House as Justice A.M Liman ruled that: “The disciplinary power of the House is not subject to the judicial review of the Court, accordingly the application to restrain the 2nd Respondent from suspending the applicants from the House is hereby refused”.

Subsequently, on Monday, June 9, 2014 the four lawmakers Hon Festus Ebea, Hon Patrick Osayimwen, Hon Jude Ise-Idehen and Hon Friday Ogieriakhi were suspended from plenary by the Assembly for “gross misconduct”, in accordance with the Rules of the House.

Also, the Speaker, Hon Uyi Igbe and the House approached the State High Court to restrain the four suspended Honourable members from forcing themselves into the Chambers of the House pending the determination of the case the House instituted against the four suspended members.

The State High Court subsequently, after hearing the arguments of both sides, granted an interim order restraining the four suspended honourable members from forcing themselves into the Hallowed Chambers. The court gave an order of Interlocutory Injunction:

“restraining the defendants by themselves or agents, assigns, privies, or other persons acting for, through or by them from forcibly gaining entrance into the Premises and Legislative Quarters of the 3rd Claimant or howsoever interfering with the Sitting Activities and other functions of the 3rd Claimant pending the determination of the suit.

“An Order directing the 1st and 2nd Defendants (Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 5, Benin City, Edo State and Commissioner of Police, Edo State) to provide adequate security for all sitting of the 3rd Claimant and for all its properties pending the determination of this suit.”

However, in flagrant disobedience of the Court Order, the four lawmakers have continued to sit in Chambers of the Assembly.

A court bailiff, Oarhe Sule, who was at the Edo State House of Assembly to serve contempt proceeding on the four suspended lawmakers got more than he bargained for as the impeached Deputy Speaker, Festus Ebea, refused to accept the court proceedings.

He said: “You want to serve me papers here. You are mad. Leave my sight.

“This idiot said he wants to serve me papers. That is how you go about to procure cheap and fake papers.”

“Go to hell with it,” Ebea shouted.

Chief Ferdinand Orbih, SAN stood in for the four lawmakers (Appellants) while Mr Ken Mozia, SAN, represented the Speaker, Majority leader and Edo State House of Assembly (Respondents)