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THE VALIDITY OR OTHERWISE OF THE ELECTIONS OF BARRISTER ONOFIOK LUKE AND MRS. FELICIA BASSEY

10320454_1689132771332701_4122397152960703558_n AS SPEAKER AND DEPUTY SPEAKER RESPECTIVELY OF AKWA IBOM STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY VIS-À-VIS THE VACANT SEATS CREATED BY THE NULLIFICATION OF THE ELECTION OF 4 STATE CONSTITUENCIES.

So much have been said following the election of Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke and Rt. Hon. Felicia Bassey as Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. In fact, some people have even argued that the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly (as at then) was not properly constituted since 4 (four) seats had been declared vacant as a result of the nullification of the elections of those State Constituencies by the Court of Appeal.
This article is therefore intended to bring to fore these issues and argue same in line with extant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended (hereinafter referred to as the 1999 Constitution), other Statutes, the Standing Orders of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and judicial authorities.
By way of introduction, it is important to state that the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has 26 (twenty six) Seats or Constituencies. This apparently satisfies the provision of Section 91 of the 1999 Constitution which states, “subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a House of Assembly of a State shall consist of three or four times the number of Seats which that State has in the House of Representatives divided in a way to reflect, as far as possible, nearly equal population provided that a House of Assembly of a State shall consist of not less than twenty-four and not more than forty members”. (Underline supplied for emphasis)
It appears that those who argue with vehemence that the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly was not properly constituted derive their strength largely from the foregoing provisions of the 1999 Constitution. It is worth emphasizing here that the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly though has 26 (twenty six) Seats or Constituencies, 4 (four) of those Seats had been declared vacant as a result of the nullification of those State Constituencies’ election by the Court of Appeal leaving the House with 22 members. As a matter of fact, the seats of the former speaker and his deputy were part of those nullified and declared vacant.
The contentious question or issue was, is it legal or constitutional for the remaining 22 (twenty two) members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to continue carrying out its legislative mandate given the clear provisions of Section 91 of the 1999 Constitution aforesaid?
It is settled law that provisions of the Constitution are not to be interpreted in isolation but that other provisions must be taken into consideration in the exercise. See Rabiu V. State (1980) 8-11 SC 130. Therefore, a critical look at other provisions of the 1999 Constitution is germane for the effective determination of the issues at stake. In the light of the above, we shall then analyze Sections 92(1)(2)(a), 95(1), 96(1) and 102 of the 1999 Constitution.
We shall take the liberty of reproducing the aforementioned Sections of the Constitution verbatim et literatim as follows;
Section 92 (1) “there shall be a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of a House of Assembly who shall be elected by the members of the House from among themselves.
(2) The Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly shall vacate his office –
(a) if he ceases to be a member of the House of Assembly otherwise than by reason of the dissolution of the House”
Section 95 (1) “At any sitting of a House of Assembly, the Speaker of that House shall preside, and in his absence the Deputy Speaker shall preside”.
Section 96(1) “The quorum of a House of Assembly shall be one third of all the members of the House”.
Section 102 “A House of Assembly may act notwithstanding any vacancy in its membership, and the presence or participation of any person not entitled to be present at or to participate in the proceedings of the House shall not invalidate such proceedings”.
From Section 92 (1) above, it is apparent that the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House are to be elected by the members of the House from among themselves. This Section is worded in plain English and it admits of no extrinsic interpretation.
The provision in Section 92(2)(a) obviously gave rise to the election of the present Speaker of the House and his deputy since the previous ones ceased to be members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly having lost their seats at the Court of Appeal. Put differently, the reason a new Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly were elected can be found in Section 92 (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution.
Similarly, Section 95(1) is worded in plain English and it is to the effect that in the absence of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker shall preside. This explains why the former Deputy Speaker presided over the election of the new Speaker. See also Order 1 Rule 8 of the Standing Orders of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly which states, “in the absence of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker shall perform all the duties and functions of the Speaker”.
Section 96(1) talks about the quorum of the House of Assembly which shall be one third of all the members. We shall deal extensively on this provision later in this article.
For these issues to be effectively dealt with, there is need for a community reading of all the provisions of the 1999 Constitution highlighted above. In the case of Rabiu V. The State Supra, eminent jurist, Sir Udo Udoma (of blessed memory) had this to say @ page 148 “mere technical rules of interpretation of statutes are to some extent inadmissible in a way so as to defeat the principle of government enshrined in the Constitution. And where the question is whether the Constitution has used an expression in the wider or narrower sense in my view this court should whenever possible and in response to the demands of justice, lean to the broader interpretation unless there is something in the text or in the rest of the Constitution that narrower interpretation would best carry out the objects and purposes of the constitution”.
The language of the 1999 Constitution highlighted above is clear and unambiguous. It is a principle of interpretation that the language of the Constitution where clear and unambiguous must be given its plain evident meaning and that a Constitutional provision should not be construed so as to defeat its evident purpose. See Fawehinmi V. IGP (2002) 7 NWLR (PT.767) 606 @ 678.
It will be standing logic and good reasoning in the head if we concede to the argument that in the absence of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker pursuant to Section 92 (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly cannot have presiding officers; or that by reason of 4 (four) seats of the House of Assembly being vacant, the House should cease to function or be in comatose. That could not have been the intention of the framers of the 1999 Constitution. It is therefore the humble view of this writer that Section 91 of the 1999 Constitution especially the proviso thereof merely specified the number of Seats each Houses of Assembly in Nigeria must have for it to be properly constituted. The sitting of the House of Assembly is not regulated by Section 91 of the 1999 Constitution but by Sections 96(1) and 102 of the 1999 Constitution depending on the business the House of Assembly is convened to transact at that legislative sitting.
For us to find merit in the above argument, it is apposite to re-examine Sections 92(1), 96(1), 102 and 188(1)(2)(4) of the 1999 Constitution. Let me again take the liberty of reproducing Section 188 (1) (2) (4) of the 1999 Constitution since reference to it has not been made hereinbefore.
Section 188 (1) “The Governor or Deputy Governor of a State may be removed from office in accordance with the provisions of this section.
(2) Whenever a notice of allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the House of Assembly. (underline supplied)
(4) A motion of the House of Assembly that the allegation be investigated shall not be declared as having been passed unless it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of ALL THE MEMBERS of the House of Assembly”. (underline supplied).
Section 92 (1) is to the effect that the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of a House of Assembly including that of Akwa Ibom State is to be elected BY THE MEMBERS of the House from among themselves.
Section 96(1) provides that the quorum of a House of Assembly shall be one-third of ALL THE MEMBERS of the House.
A careful look at the provisions of Sections 188(2)(4), 92(1) and 96(1) of the 1999 Constitution reveal the use of the words “by the members” and “all the members” which I have underlined.
It is submitted, that words in a Statute or any enactment are carefully used and the draftsmen are mindful of the use of those words. The framers of the 1999 Constitution did not intend that ‘all the members’ of a House of Assembly should take part in the election of its Speaker or Deputy Speaker hence the absence of the use of the word ‘all’ in Section 92 (1) of the 1999 Constitution. If the framers of the 1999 Constitution intended that ‘all the members’ of a House of Assembly should take part in the election of its Speaker and Deputy Speaker, it should have stated clearly as it is stated in Sections 96 (1) and 188(4) of the 1999 Constitution. Moreover, the framers of the Constitution did not also intend that at all times during the lifespan of a House of Assembly that members must be up to 24 (twenty four) before such a House of Assembly is properly constituted. It is submitted further that the existence of vacancies in the membership of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly cannot operate as a bar to the performance of legislative duties of the House by the remaining 22 (twenty two) members of the House pursuant to Section 102 of the 1999 Constitution. The proceedings of the House of Assembly cannot be invalidated by the fact that there is vacancy in its membership. See generally on the above the celebrated case of Hon. Michael Dapianlong & Ors V. Chief (Dr.) Joshua Dariye & Anor (2007) ALL FWLR (PT.373) 81 and Inakoju V. Adeleke (2007) 4 NWLR (PT.1025) 423.
The provision of Section 91 of the 1999 Constitution cannot be read in isolation and complete exclusion of other Sections of the same Constitution including inter alia Sections 92(1) (2), 95(1), 96(1), and 102.
The said Section 91 of the 1999 Constitution should be read in conjunction with and not to the exclusion of other provisions to understand the true intendment of the framers of the 1999 Constitution.
We should please note the opening sentence of Section 91 of the Constitution which is, ‘Subject to the provisions of this Constitution’ meaning that the said provision is subject to other provisions.
Let us draw analogy with the election of the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that of his deputy which is still fresh in our memories. I ask, was the President of the Senate and his deputy elected by all the members of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Not at all. Has the fact that they were not so elected affected their being President and Deputy President of the Senate respectively? Certainly not. So how can we now say that because there were vacancies in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly affecting the former Speaker and Deputy Speaker that new ones cannot be elected to replace them so that the legislative business of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly would not suffer. It will be a very uncomplimentary and uncharitable argument to argue otherwise.
It is appropriate and fair before we end this discourse to examine the issue of quorum of the House of Assembly. Section 96 (1) 1999 Constitution provide that a quorum of a House of Assembly shall be one-third of all the members of the House. A similar provision is contained in Order 1 Rule 15(1) of the Standing Orders of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly which states, “the quorum of the House shall be one-third of the members of the House and for the purpose of this rule one-third means nine members”. By the combined effect of those provisions, it means that if 9 (nine) members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly meet, a quorum is formed and the business of the House can be transacted depending on what business it is convened to transact.
By way of definition of quorum, we shall call in aid the Blacks Law Dictionary 9th Edition @ page 1370 which defines quorum in relation to Parliamentary law as “the minimum number of members (usu. a majority of all the members) who must be present for a deliberative assembly to legally transact business”. Although the Interpretation Act CAP 123 Laws of the Federation, 2004 has not specifically defined a quorum, however, it has offered useful insight in this regard. Section 27 (1) (a) of the Interpretation Act, 2004 states, “where a body established by an enactment comprises three or more persons, then any act which the body is authorized or required to do may be done in the name of the body by a majority of those persons or of a quorum of them”. The above lends credence to the fact that it is not only when the entire 26 (twenty six) members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly meet that the business of the House can be legally transacted rather a quorum of the House can be formed if a minimum of 9 (nine) members meet. See generally Sections 95 (1) (2), 96(1), 102 and Order 1 Rule 15 (1) of the Standing Orders of the House.
In the final analysis, therefore, and based on the reasons given above, it is the considered view of this writer that the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of any House of Assembly is strictly the business of that House of Assembly provided the extant laws and rules are followed. The input or interest of non-members of the House no matter how persuasive is immaterial and inconsequential.
The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly unanimously elected its Speaker and Deputy Speaker in strict compliance with the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution and its Standing Orders and the anxiety expressed by some members of the public is of no moment. They can best be described as mere busy bodies or meddlesome interlopers.
Kufre Bassey Okon Esq, an Uyo based Legal Practitioner and a public affairs analyst, writes from Uyo. (Culled from Akwa Ibom online)

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