Wike vs Fubara: Protest as Abuja court nullifies Rivers 2024 budget
The Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday nullified the N800bn budget signed into law by the Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara.
Justice James Omotoso ordered Fubara to present the budget afresh to the legislature.
But civil society organisations, on Monday, staged a protest at the Rivers State Government House in Port Harcourt, warning Fubara against presenting the budget afresh.
The CSOs contended that it would be unconstitutional for the government to present the budget afresh.
Fubara had in December signed the N800bn 2024 budget after the budget was passed by a faction of the state Assembly, comprising five lawmakers.
The Rivers Assembly became divided following a move by 27 lawmakers loyal to ex-governor Nyesom Wike to impeach Fubara.
The attempt by the lawmakers to impeach Fubara brought to public notice the breakdown in the relationship between Fubara and Wike, his political godfather.
When it was time to present the 2024 budget to the Assembly, Fubara shunned the 27 pro-Wike lawmakers, led by the Speaker, Martins Amaewhule, and rather presented the budget to five lawmakers, led by Edison Ehie, who were loyal to him.
In the heat of the crisis, the 27 pro-Wike lawmakers defected from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress.
The pro-Fubara lawmakers subsequently declared their seats vacant.
In response, the pro-Wike lawmakers filed a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1613/2023 to challenge the move to declare their seats vacant.
Listed as defendants in the suit were the National Assembly, the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President, the Senate Majority Leader, and the Senate Minority Leader.
Also listed as defendants were the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Majority Leader, Minority Leader, and Clerk of the National Assembly.
The Governor of Rivers State, Attorney-General of Rivers State, Commissioner of Finance, Accountant-General of Rivers, Rivers State Civil Service Commission, Inspector-General of Police, and Edison Ehie were also listed as defendants.
The pro-Wike lawmakers sought, among others, an order of injunction restraining the National Assembly from taking over the functions of the Rivers State House of Assembly amid the crisis rocking the state.
They also prayed the court to set aside everything done by the five pro-Fubara lawmakers, including the passage of the 2024 budget.
Delivering judgment on the case on Monday, Justice Omotosho declared “the purported sitting of Ehie and four other lawmakers who sat to pass the budget of the state as null and void.”
The order seeking to set aside the appreciation bill signed by the governor despite an interim order is hereby granted,” the judge held.
He then ordered the governor to re-present the budget to the legally constituted House of Assembly led by Amaewhule.
The judge also faulted the redeployment of the Clerk and Deputy Clerk of the Rivers State Assembly by the governor, saying it was beyond the power of the governor.
Justice Omotosho held, “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.”
He ordered that the Clerk and the Deputy Clerk to resume office immediately and unhindered.
The judge also granted the order restraining the governor from continuing the demolition or construction of the Rivers State building.
The court also restrained the governor from frustrating the House of Assembly under Amaewhule from sitting or interfering in the affairs of the House
This court hereby declared that the Governor of Rivers State, by himself or by members of staff of the Rivers State Public Service, are not entitled to take steps aimed at interfering in the affairs of the River State House of Assembly, in the performance of their duties, “ Justice Omotoso held.
The judge also held that the governor could not withhold the funds of the lawmakers in the state’s Consolidated Revenue Fund.
The first plaintiff is entitled to funds or amount standing to the credit of the Rivers Assembly in the state’s Consolidated Revenue Fund, including salaries and emoluments, and that same cannot be stopped by anyone, including the governor, “ the judge said.
But a coalition of civil society organisations in Rivers State on Monday protested in front of the Government House in Port Harcourt and warned Fubara not to represent the 2024 Appropriation bill to the Amaewhule-led Assembly.
The CSOs said having defected from the PDP to the APC, the pro-Wike lawmakers had lost their seats.
Speaking to the protest, the chairman of the coalition, Enefaa Georgewill, said, “We have watched with keen interest desperate efforts made by few people and anti-democratic elements to avert democracy and undermine the sacred office of the executive governor of our dear state.
“The Martin Amaewhule-led House of Assembly does not exist in the eyes of the law by the provision of Section 109 (1) (g) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
To pretend to constitute itself and continue conducting the business of legislation on behalf of Rivers State is untoward, illegal and reprehensible.
“The governor’s action should be controlled and dictated by our laws. Anything outside that is null and void. The office of the President, the office of the Governor, the office of the parliamentarians be it at the national, state or at the local level are all products of law.
“Therefore, any attempt for the governor to deviate from those dictates and spirit of our laws, such a position taken by the governor or any other person is declared null and void.
We won’t equally fail to challenge any action of the governor that does not follow the dictates of our laws.”
He added that the Amaehwule-led faction of the Assembly ceased to be recognised following their defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress.
On his part, the spokesman for the Rivers State Civil Society Organisation, Solomon Lenu, described Justice Omotosho’s judgment as a “judicial aberration,” saying the judge should be sanctioned.
“It is fast getting to a point where Nigerians will lose faith completely in the judiciary and resort to self-help which will lead to anarchy.
“It is also important to state that Justice Omotosho, in his ruling today, carried out a judicial aberration by importation of a plea not sought in the suit filed by the Martins Amewhule faction of the state Assembly,” he said.