Rivers: Court declares 2024 budget signed by Fubara illegal

A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, set aside the Rivers’ N800 billion budget passed by five members of the house led by the Edison Ehie-led faction.

Justice James Omotosho, in a judgment, held that the presentation of the appropriation bill by Governor Siminalayi Fubara on 13 December 2023 and its passage by the lawmakers amounted to nullity, following an interim order made by the court on 30 November 30, 2023.

Justice Omotosho, who made an order of injunction restraining Governor Fubara and other defendants from interfering with the state’s assembly led by Martin Amaewhule, held that the passage of the bill into law was a willful breach of the court order.

The judge also stopped the governor or any member of the state executive arm from appointing or reposting any person as a clerk or deputy clerk of the assembly in contravention of the laws governing the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission.

He further made an order restraining the National Assembly from taking over the state’s assembly.

Court explains its decision

Justice Omotosho held that the decision of the court was premised on the earlier order made on 30 November 2023 and the facts that Mr Fubara, who was the 11th defendant in the case, withdrew his processes in opposition to the plaintiffs’ originating motion.

Having withdrawn his counter-affidavit and other processes in this case, the judge said, it is deemed that the governor has admitted the facts in the motion since it was not challenged.

Plaintiffs, defendants in the suit

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Rivers House of Assembly and Mr Amaewhule are 1st and 2nd plaintiffs in the suit.

In the amended originating summons dated 7 December 2023 but filed on 11 December 2023 by their team of lawyers, including Ken Njemanze, SAN, Ferdinand Orbih, SAN, the plaintiffs sued the National Assembly, Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader as 1st to 5th defendants respectively.

Also joined in the suit are the House of Representatives Speaker, House Deputy Speaker, House Majority Leader, House Minority Leader, and Clerk to National Assembly as 6th to 10th defendants.

They also sued the Governor of Rivers, the Attorney-General of Rivers, Commissioner of Finance, Accountant-General of Rivers, Rivers State Civil Service Commission, Inspector-General of Police and the factional speaker, Mr Ehie, who is also listed as Rivers Assembly’s Speaker in the suit, as 11th to 17th defendants respectively.

Reliefs sought

The plaintiffs sought an order directing all parties to maintain the status quo as of 29 November 2023.

They also sought an order of injunction restraining the 1st to 10th defendants (National Assembly) from entertaining any request from the 11th defendant (Fubara) to take over the performance of the functions of Rivers Assembly, including its role to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Rivers in respect of matters that are within its constitutional and legislative competence.

They sought an order of injunction restraining Governor Fubara from impeding or frustrating the assembly under Mr Amaewhule’s leadership as its speaker.

They equally sought an order restraining Mr Fubara, including the 12th, 13th and 14th defendants, from withholding any amount standing to the credit of Rivers Assembly in the state’s Consolidated Revenue Fund, including salaries and emoluments due and payable to the speaker, deputy speaker and other members of the house as well as to the clerk, deputy clerk and other members of staff of the assembly.

Alternatively, they sought an order of injunction restraining them from denying the assembly of the due funds for running its affairs including the payment of salaries, allowances, emoluments and meeting its financial obligations no matter how described, among other 11 reliefs.