The Federal High Court in Abuja has nullified the suspension of the Delta Central Senator, Ovie Omo-Agege, by the Senate, describing the action as unconstitutional.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, in a judgment that lasted one hour on Thursday, held that while the National Assembly had the power to discipline its erring members, the premise on which Omo-Agege’s suspension was anchored was illegal.
Although the court refused to grant any of the seven prayers sought by the senator, it held that the suspension could not hold on grounds of the “violence” it did to the Constitution.
The judge noted that from the wording of the report of the Senate’s Ethics and Privileges Committee which recommended Omo-Agege’s suspension, he was punished for filing a suit against the Senate after apologising to the legislative house over the allegation leveled against him.
“Access to court is a fundamental right in the Constitution, which cannot be taken away by force or intimidation from any organ,” the judge ruled.
The judge also added that the Senate’s decision to punish Omo-Agege for filing a suit against the Senate and for punishing him while his suit was pending constituted an affront on the judiciary.
He added that even if the Senate had rightly suspended the senator, it could only have suspended him for only a period of 14 days — as prescribed in the Senate rules.
He also ruled that the principle of natural justice was breached by the Senate’s Ethics and Privileges Committee by allowing Senator Dino Melaye, who was the complainant, to participate in the committee’s sitting that considered the issue and also allowed him to sign the committee’s report.
The judge therefore nullified Omo-Agege’s suspension “with immediate effect.”
He also ordered that the senator be paid all his allowances and salaries for the period he was illegally suspended.
The Senate had, on April 13, suspended the senator for 90 legislative days over his comment that the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 seeking the re-ordering of the general elections was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.
Meanwhile, Omo-Agege had filed his suit on March 26, 2018, earlier before he was suspended by the Senate on April 13.
He sought, among other prayers in his suit, a declaration that his referral by the Senate and the Senate President’s referral to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions “for trial for expressing his opinion on the purport” of the bill “is an act calculated to interfere with or likely to constitute a breach” of his fundamental human right to freedom of expression without interference.
He claimed that his rights allegedly breached by the Senate were guaranteed by Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution and Article 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
He also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants and their agents from interfering with his rights and or privileges as a senator and preventing him from entering “or remaining within the precinct or chamber of the Senate or National Assembly or attempting to forcibly remove him from the chamber or precinct of the National Assembly or in any way impeding or undermining the plaintiff’s ability to function as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
He joined the Senate, its President, Dr. Bukola Saraki; and the AGF as the first to the third defendants respectively.