By Tobi Soniyi
A Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday struck out the suit filed by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), seeking to remove four governors who defected from the party to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Justice Gabriel Kolawole, in a ruling that lasted about two hours, held that the suit’s originating processes were invalid on the grounds that they were wrongly issued and served on the defendants.
The PDP had last December, sued the governors, including former Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), asking the court to declare the defecting governors’ seats vacant, and for INEC to conduct elections for their replacement.
Nyako’s name was removed from the suit shortly after his impeachment.
The remaining four are Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano) and Abdulfatai Ahmed (Kwara).
The party had, upon an order of court, served the originating processes on wrong address, which it claimed was the headquarters of the APC.
The court upheld the arguments of the governors and consequently set aside the service of the suits on them.
On June 27, the party again obtained an ex-parte order for substituted service of the originating processes through newspaper publication, which it published on July 3 in Thisday newspapers.
The defendants again, faulted the procedure adopted by the PDP in serving them, arguing among others, that the plaintiff failed to first obtain the leave of the court to serve through substituted means, and that the originating processes were not endorsed as required under the Sheriff and Civil Processes Act (SCPA).
Justice Kolawole’s ruling yesterday was on the applications filed by Ameachi, Kwankwaso and Ahmed.
He upheld the governors’ argument that the originating processes, issued in the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, and meant for service outside jurisdiction ought to be endorsed as required under Section 97 of the SCPA.
He held that the plaintiff acted in violation of the provision of Section 96 of the SCPA as it ought to have applied for and obtained the court’s leave before engaging in substituted service.
The judge rejected the argument by lawyer to the PDP, Alex Iziyon (SAN) to the effect that the governors could be served through their new party’s address.
Justice Kolawole held that it was “preposterous, audacious and breathtaking” for the plaintiff to argue that the defendants, sued individually in personal capacity, could be served through the office of the party to which they defected to.
He further held that, having been described as governors of Rivers, Kano and Kwara states, who carry out most of their functions in their states’ capitals, it was wrong to assume, as argued by the plaintiff, that they reside or operate from the APC headquarters in Abuja.
The judge also held that since APC was not a party in the suit, which was meant to sack the governors, it was wrong to provide the APC’s address as the place where the governors could be served.
On the plaintiff’s argument that the defendants had exceeded the seven days limit for them to challenge the order for substituted service, the judge held that the provision of Order 26 Rule 11 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules does not apply in view of the fact that the order made on June 27 for substituted service was an ex-parte order, which is not covered by the provision.
He consequently declared the originating summons filed by the PDP invalid by virtue of its not being endorsed as required by law.
“This suit is struck out as this originating summons has been declared invalid,” the judge held.
He also extended his findings to cover Wamakko, who he noted, had equally filed similar application.