By Chibuike Nwabuko
ABUJA – Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, on Thursday, withdrew the suit he filed to commit the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, to prison for disobeying court orders.
The lawmaker who is representing Delta Central, had in a form 49 (contempt of court charge) he filed before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, alleged that Saraki refused to comply with the judgment that nullified his suspension from the Senate.
Omo-Agege’s lawyer, Dr. Alex Iziyon, SAN, told the court that though his client was sequel to the verdict that was delivered in his favour on May 10, allowed entry into the Senate chambers, he said that Saraki refused to okay the payment of his entitlements.
He further secured leave of the court to serve the contempt charge on both the Senate and Saraki, through substituted means.
Meantime, at the resumed hearing of the matter on Thursday, Omo-Agege notified the court of his intention to withdraw the charge.
Izinyon, SAN, informed the court that his client was paid on October 12, barely 24 hours after Saraki was warned by trial Justice Nnamdi Dimgba to either pay the judgment debt or appear in person to take his plea on the contempt charge against him.
He said that Saraki had shortly after he was served with the order the court made on October 11 to compel his appearance, sent one of his Special Assistants to clarify that Omo-Agege was issued nine separate cheques to cover for all his entitlements.
Izinyon said though he later confirmed receipt of the the cheques, it was discovered that there was a shortfall of N6million in the entitlements that ought to have accrued to his client.
He said when Saraki was notified of the development, his aide acknowledged that the Omo-Agege’s claim was correct and admitted that the shortfall arose from an error of computation.
The Applicant’s lawyer said the error was promptly corrected and the N6m paid to his client.
Consequently, he prayed the court to discontinue further proceedings on the contempt charge. On his party, Saraki’s lawyer, Mr. Efut Okoi, said he was not opposed to the application for withdrawal of the matter.
After he had heard from both parties, Justice Dimgba struck out the case. It will be recalled that the court had on May 16, refused a joint application that Senate and Saraki, who were sued as 1st and 2nd Defendants, filed for the stay of execution of the judgment that voided Omo-Agege’s suspension from attending plenary for 90 legislative days.
The Defendants told the court that they have gone before the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal to challenge the judgment.
The Senate and Saraki had through their lawyer, Mr. Mahmud Magaji, SAN, prayed the court to suspend omo-Agege’s resumption, pending hearing and determination of the appeal against his recall.
The high court had in the contested judgment, held that the reason the Senate adduced for suspending Omo-Agege from plenary, was unconstitutional.
The court noted that the Ethics and Privileges Committee of the Senate recommended that Omo-Agege should be suspended to punish him for instituting legal action against the legislative house.
Justice Dimgba held that while the Senate has the powers to sanction its erring members to protect its integrity, he said no institution or authority has the powers to deny any citizen his right of access to the court.
Besides, the Judge noted that whereas sections 67(4) of the Senate Standing Rules 2014 and section 21(2) of the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act, okayed the suspension of any erring lawmakers for 14 legislative days, the Senate went ahead and handed Omo-Agege 90 days suspension.
“The suspension of the plaintiff for 90 days is ultra-vires of powers of the 1st defendant (Senate)”, the court held, adding that “any suspension of member of the Senate such exceeds 14 days is null and void and unconstitutional”.
The court ordered the Senate to recall the plaintiff immediately and equally pay him any salary or allowance that accrued to him within the period he was illegally suspended.
The court however dismissed Omo-Agege’s claim that he was denied fair hearing by the Senate Committee, stressing that “documents before the court showed that the plaintiff was afforded the opportunity to be heard”.
It equally dismissed preliminary objections the Senate and Saraki filed to challenge its jurisdiction to hear the suit.
Justice Dimgba held that the court has powers under section 4(8) of the 1999 constitution to intervene in affairs of the Senate, “whether internal or external, when it acts beyond it’s powers or in breach of the constitution”.