by Paul Osas
Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State, who lost the Nigeria Governors’ Forum elections to Governor Rotimi Amaechi, but insists on heading a minority faction of the group, has asked an Abuja High Court to dismiss a suit filed by Governor Babatunde Fashola (SAN) of Lagos, which seeks to restrain him from parading himself as Chairman of the forum.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi was re-elected as Chairman of the NGF on May 24, 2013. Opposed to the election and with the support of both the PDP leadership and the presidency, Jonah Jang has carried himself as the chairman, even convening a meeting recently. Gov. Fashola therefore sought to challenge those actions in court.
In the suit filed by his counsel, Femi Falana (SAN), Fashola said that Governor Jang’s claim to the chairmanship was baseless and thus should be restrained by the court from parading himself as Chairman of the forum.
Governor Jang, Asishana Bayo Okauru (the NGF’s Director-General), Osaru Onaiwu (the new sole administrator appointed by the Jang faction) and the Registered Trustees, Nigeria Governors’ Forum were names as first to fourth defendants in the suit.
But Jang and Onaiwu, in a preliminary objection filed by their counsel, Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), told the court that Fashola lacks the locus standi (legal right) to institute the action and prayed the court to strike it out.
Oyetibo prayed the court to terminate Fashola’s suit at the interlocutory stage on the following grounds:
“The Writ of Summons was not issued in accordance with procedural due process; the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory lacks jurisdiction to entertain the plaintiff’s claims. Even if the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory has jurisdiction to entertain the plaintiff’s claims, the plaintiff lacks locus standi to bring the suit.”
He argued that any dispute within NGF cannot be taken to an Abuja High Court by virtue of part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), which prescribes that disputes should be resolved at the Federal High Court instead. He said that the way the suit is couched – between the Governor, Lagos State and the Governor, Plateau State, the plaintiff has suggested a dispute between Lagos and Plateau State governments, which automatically strips every court of jurisdiction, save the Supreme Court which is bequeathed with the exclusive jurisdiction to determine or resolve disputes between governments of states or state governments and the Federal Government.
He added that since Fashola neither claims to have contested the election for NGF, he lacks a legal right to institute or sustain the action. Oyetibo also argued that Governor Amaechi whom Fashola claimed won the election, has neither complained to the court that his mandate had been usurped or been named or joined as party to the suit.
Other grounds as stated by Oyetibo include:
“Traditionally, the NGF does not hold elections to produce a chairman. It is the practice that the Chairman of the forum is appointed by
consensus of the members. Where a consensus cannot be reached, the candidate supported by a simple majority would become the chairman.
“In pursuance of the fact above, Governor Amaechi was informed that 19 of the 36 governors of the states of the federation have indicated in writing their decision to support Governor Jonah Jang as Chairman of the NGF.
“Despite the fact above, Governor Amaechi still insisted that there must be an election and that he must preside at the meeting.
“At this stage, Governor Amaechi produced ballot papers which he had unilaterally printed without prior authority of other members of the NGF and started distributing same for the purpose of the so-called election.”
Now, video evidence taken by one of the governors clearly showed that Gov. Amaechi won the election by 19 votes to 16 votes. However, one of the grounds on which Jonah Jang is asking the court to terminate the suit by Fashola seems to turn that evidence on its head.
Here’s what Oyetibo remarkably claimed:
“When Governor Amaechi refused to step down as Chairman of the forum, but insisted on presiding to conduct the election, 18 of the 35 members present at the meeting immediately indicated their unflinching support for Governor Jang as the new Chairman of the forum without prejudice to their objection to the insistence of Governor Amaechi on presiding over the election process.
“Despite the fact that 18 of the members present supported the first defendant as the new chairman of the forum, Governor Amaechi and the second defendant still went ahead to announce to the public that Governor Amaechi emerged as the winner of the election.
“As soon as the announcement was made, 18 of the 35 Governors who were present and supported the first defendant stormed out of the venue of the purported election to demonstrate their disapproval of the political charade.
“A press release was subsequently issued by the second defendant to the effect that Governor Amaechi had been elected as Chairman. A copy of the publication containing the press release would be relied upon at the trial,” Oyetibo said.