The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) suffered a setback yesterday in its bid to sack the five governors who defected to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). A Federal High Court in Abuja voided its purported service of court processes on the defendants.
Mr. Justice Gabriel Kolawole, in a ruling, faulted the procedure adopted by the PDP in serving court documents on the defendants and held that the plaintiff’s failure to effect proper service had robbed the court of jurisdiction to proceed with the case.
The PDP, late last year, sued Governors Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto) and Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), following their defection to the APC. It urged the court to, among others, order them to vacate office.
Shortly after the filing of the suit, the party sought and obtained the court’s leave to serve the governors by substituted means, through the national headquarters of the APC in Abuja. Rather than serve on the address indicated in the order granted, the court’s bailiff unilaterally served on a separate address on the ground that the APC had relocated from its former address.
The governors, who felt dissatisfied with the bailiff’s decision, urged the court to set aside the purported service on the grounds that the documents were not properly served on them.
Ruling yesterday, Justice Kolawole upheld the governors’ argument that they were not properly served, an error that must be corrected before the court could take any further steps in the case.
The judge held that filing a separate motion for service, after it was granted leave for substituted service, was an admission by the plaintiff that its earlier service was defective.
Mr. Justice Kolawole held that it would have been in order had the plaintiff sought to serve the governors through the Attorneys-General of their states.
“The plaintiff’s motion on notice dated March 20, 2014 seeking an order for leave of court granting substituted service on any senior adult in the liaison offices of the various states is an admission that the service effected on the defendants is logically incongruous and defective.
“It is obvious that the address where the bailiff had purportedly served the defendants was invalid. It was inapplicable or erroneous and has ceased to be a valid address. It will not serve any useful purpose,” the court added.
Mr. Justice Kolawole went on: “The motion on notice amounts to putting the cart before the donkey. It is an abuse of court process. It is hereby dismissed. The plaintiff has returned to where it was after the December 13, 2013 order. As it is, the defected governors have not been properly served with the originating summons.
“The plaintiff should repackage itself and do the needful to get the defendants properly served. I uphold the application of the defendants seeking the setting aside of the purported service and striking out the motion on notice,” the judge held
He then adjourned indefinitely to enable the plaintiff effect proper service and file proof of such proper service before the court.
The PDP, in the substantive suit, argued that the governors should be sacked, because of their defection, adding that they had forfeited their offices to the party.
It said in the event that the five governors were sacked from office, the court should order the deputy governors or speaker of the Houses of Assembly or any officer next in rank, who is still its member, to assume the office of governor.
The PDP is asking the court for a declaration that by the combined provisions of sections 177 (c), 221 and 222 (c) of the 1999 Constitution, the five governors, who were elected under its platform, cannot continue to enjoy the mandate given to it (PDP) by the people/electorate of the concerned states as they (governors) have defected to another political party.
It also pleaded for a declaration that in the absence of any division in the PDP, the five governors have vacated or forfeited their seats upon their defection to the APC.