An Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Monday dismissed an application filed by a senator, Dino Melaye, against his planned recall.
Mr. Melaye had approached the court in July to challenge a decision of Nigeria’s electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to commence a process for his recall, following petitions filed by members of the Kogi West senatorial constituency where the lawmaker represents.
The court had ordered a suspension of the recall process, following Mr. Melaye’s application, but directed on Tuesday that the process should continue, after deciding that the application lacked merit.
The presiding judge, Nnamdi Dimgba, ruled that the electorate whose petition resulted in the recall had a right to request the removal of their senator from office since they are the ones who “gifted the position of the said office” to Mr. Melaye.
“The electorate voted the senator into office, they gifted him the office and they have the right to take back what they gifted.
“It is also important to know that going by the electoral laws, the members of the constituency do not owe the senator any right to inform him of their lack of confidence in him. All they owe is to inform the body, which will inform the senator in a manner deemed appropriate for him to prepare to defend himself,” Mr Dimgba said.
Citing electoral laws of the United States, the judge added that the law does mandate the electorate to exhibit its right of franchise, “only in good fate.”
“The electorate can vote for any reason, good or bad, the same rule applies for a recall process. Electoral constituents can act in a way they deem fit. It is beyond the powers of the court to determine how they (the constituency) can exhibit that right.”
The court also decided that INEC was not under any obligation to inform Mr Melaye of its decision to recall him.
“I do not believe that an agency seeking to recall the senator has a duty to inform him, before commencing the process, these are clear cut procedures. The duty of the commission is to access the petitions and verify that the signatories are authentic.”
Mr. Dimgba said the allegation of fraud and fictitious signatures had already been settled by “the constitutional provision of INEC to verify the signatories.”
“I, therefore, hold that the complaint brought before the court were hasty, premature and presumptuous,” said Mr Dimgba.
He added that the makers of the constitution included the provision for the removal of a senator, despite “inherent dangers.” He said that in developed countries like the United States, such a provision is not included in the constitution so that it could be misused by certain political actors.
Mr. Dimgba noted that “the court only has the powers to interpret the laws as they are.”
According to the judge, Mr Melaye’s allegation of lack of fair hearing cannot be treated in the court because the constitution has already provided an internal process inherent in INEC’s recall procedure for Mr. Melaye to determine whether he would be granted a fair hearing on not.
He added that unless Mr. Melaye exhausts the internal mechanism provided by law, he cannot complain of being denied a fair hearing.
Mr. Dimbga further said that the 188,588 voters who reportedly signed the petitions against the lawmaker were in conformity with the constitutional requirement for over half of the registered 360,100 voters who registered for the election in Kogi-west constituency.
The judge also noted that the recall timetable provided in court had indicated clearly that Mr. Melaye would be given a chance to defend himself during the process.
He added that any further right of hearing, required by Mr. Melaye would be “between himself and his voters whom he has a right to explain himself to.”
Justice Dimbga, however, noted that the complaint brought by INEC against Mr Melaye’s motion was invalid, stressing that “the motion was duly filed according to the rules of court.”
He added that although the constitution does not specify that INEC must provide Mr. Melaye with the details of the recall before commencing with the process, it also did not state that it should inform the Senator ‘at all.’
“The defendant, however, informed the senator and rightly so, because it is in conformity with the natural law of justice,” said Mr. Dimgba.
The judge also queried the failure of INEC to include the details of the petition, when it eventually informed Mr. Melaye about the recall, wondering how the electoral body “expects Mr Melaye to defend himself.”
The judge subsequently ordered that a copy of the petition, the signatories to the said petition, as well as the supporters of the recall process be made available to the applicant within two weeks before the next amended date of commencement’ of the recall.
The court decided that the 90-day benchmark for the referendum on Mr. Melaye’s removal from office would continue from Monday, September 11.
Mr. Melaye known for his outspoken nature on and out of the floor of the National Assembly on critical national issues is currently fighting the battle of his life to retain his seat after 188,588 reportedly signed a petition seeking his recall.
He has been known to take on political figures including a national leader of the All Progressive Congress, APC, Bola Tinubu and his state governor, Yahaya Bello.
He was recently enmeshed in a messy academic certificate forgery scandal which put him in an unhealthy spotlight until the authorities of the school concerned, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, came to his rescue to confirm that he indeed graduated from the institution.
Mr. Melaye has blamed the Kogi State Governor for being behind his present ordeal.