The Federal High Court in Abuja has invalidated the N800 billion budget signed by Rivers State Governor Simi Fubara. The court also directed the release of funds for the State Assembly.
Governor Fubara submitted the 2024 budget to a four-member House of Assembly for approval on December 13, amid a dispute with FCT Minister Nyesom Wike.
The court upheld a lawsuit by the Rivers House of Assembly and Speaker Martin Amaewhule against Fubara. The suit sought an injunction to prevent the governor from obstructing the assembly’s functions under Amaewhule’s leadership.
Martin Amaewhule, an ally of the FCT Minister, named various national figures as defendants. The plaintiffs accused Governor Fubara of interfering with the state lawmakers’ duties, violating the separation of powers.
The court’s decision includes an injunction against the National Assembly from considering any request by Governor Fubara to take over the functions of the Rivers Assembly. This includes the assembly’s role in making laws for the state within its constitutional and legislative competence.
“An order of mandatory injunction compelling the Inspector General of Police (whether by himself or by officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force under his command) to provide and continue to provide adequate Security and protection for the 1st Plaintiff under the leadership of the 2nd Plaintiff as the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly for the purpose of transacting the business of the 1st Plaintiff.
“An order restraining Fubara including the 12th, 13th and 14th defendants from withholding any amount standing to the credit of Rivers Assembly in the state’s Consolidated Revenue Fund, including salaries and emoluments due and payable to the speaker, deputy speaker and other members of the house as well as to the clerk, deputy clerk and other members of staff of the assembly,” the plaintiff’s prayed among other reliefs.
In the alternative, the plaintiff sought an order of injunction restraining the respondents from denying the assembly the due funds for running its affairs including the payment of salaries, allowances, emoluments and meeting its financial obligations no matter how described.
First, Justice James Omotosho, observed that the 17th defendant, Ehie, had said through his lawyer, Oluwole Aladedoye, that he had resigned from the River State Assembly.
Omotosho said Ehie lacked the capacity to sue or be sued in the case as he is no longer the speaker or a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
On the preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of his court, Omotosho held the suit was properly constituted before him.
Omotosho disagreed with the plaintiffs on the powers of the governor, noting that the power to make laws in a state are shared between the executive, the state house of assembly and local government areas.
With respect to the National Assembly taking over the functions of the state assembly, the judge said that can only happen when the state lawmakers are no longer sitting and transacting business as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and other relevant laws.
“There is nothing before this court showing that the River state house of assembly is unable to carry out its functions,” Justice Omotosho said the issue is resolved in favor of the plaintiffs.
On the removal of the clerk of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Emeka Amadi who was redeployed by the Rivers State Head of Service, Justice Omotosho, declared it null and void and invalid in the face of the law.
Omotosho said the constitution is clear that the appointment of a clerk and deputy clerk is done by the Rivers State Speaker and is subject to confirmation by the lawmaker, and that their appointment, remuneration is governed by the Rivers State House Of Assembly Law, even though they are civil servants.
The judge said the first plaintiff is entitled to funds or amount standing to the credit of Rivers Assembly in the state’s Consolidated Revenue Fund, including salaries and emoluments and that same cannot be stopped by anyone including the governor.
Omotosho said the court is against any plan to jeopardize democracy, warning that a governor should not “exceed his power.”
“The claim of the plaintiff succeeds substantially,” Omotosho said
The judge thereby declared that the governor of Rivers state, by himself or by members of the staff of the Rivers State public service are not entitled to take steps aimed at interfering into the affairs of the River state House of Assembly, the Speaker, in the performance of their duties.
The judge said the governor cannot withhold the due funds of the lawmakers in the state’s Consolidated Revenue Fund.
The judge subsequently restrained the national assembly from accepting any requests from the governor.
The judge also observed that the governor’s legal team had withdrawn all his processes in the matter, adding that it means that he admits all the facts stated by the plaintiffs.
The judge held that based on facts before his court,Amaewhule remains the valid Speaker of the Rivers State Assembly.
The judge said the purported sitting of Ehie and four other lawmakers who sat to pass the budget of the state is null and void.
Omotosho said “This court finds it strange that the governor” would destroy the Rivers State Assembly building as well as present an appropriation bill to four lawmakers.
He declared the presentation of the bill to the four lawmakers void.
The judge granted the order setting aside the purported appropriation bill signed, despite the interim order of his court, restraining him.
The judge also granted the order restraining the governor from continuing the demolition or construction of the Rivers State building.
The court said all the acts of the governor with four lawmakers is a nullity and he should go through the lawmakers presided by Martins.