By Ogochukwu Isioma, Abuja

Lawmakers-elect of the Edo State House of Assembly have reacted to the recent court order restraining the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from conducting bye-elections to fill 14 seats of the House purportedly declared vacant by the illegal speaker, Mr Frank Okiye.

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had on Tuesday ordered the electoral umpire to maintain status quo pending the hearing and determination of the Motion of Notice brought before it by the 14 lawmakers who were prevented from the June 17, 2019 nocturnal inauguration of the Edo Assembly.

The presiding judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, who gave the order, said Mr Okiye who was not represented in court, be issued with the hearing notice and adjourned the matter till January 28. INEC did not oppose the applications filed by the lawmakers.

In his reaction, spokesman of the affected lawmakers and member-elect representing Uhunmwode state constituency, Barr. Washington Osifo, while lauding Tuesday’s court order, said the action of Mr Frank Okiye was laughable.

According to him, it would amount to nullity and gross disrespect for judicial process for any party before a court to attempt to destroy a subject of litigation.

“It is laughable because the matter is before the court and when a matter is before a court, such action is sub judice”, Osifo said, adding, “we are challenging the illegal inauguration of the House, including the election of Okiye as speaker, and anything put on nothing cannot stand.”

“We’ve always maintained that whatever was done on the 17th of June, 2019, when minority were inaugurated over majority, was illegal. They unlawfully excluded us, nobody informed us that such inauguration was going to take place. And again it happened at nocturnal hour. So, everything is wrong with it.

“Even in the eyes of the law, there is no House of Assembly in Edo. We are still challenging the said inauguration in the High Court sitting in Benin. Okiye, despite being a party to that case, went ahead on December 4 and purportedly declared our seats vacant.

“For us, it’s laughable. You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. Both the House and Okiye who purportedly declared the seats vacant, we are challenging his election (as speaker) in court and he is a party to that.

“So, we wonder where he (Okiye) derived the power to do what he did because he doesn’t even have the seat or platform before the eyes of the law to carryout such action.

“To us, there is no Okiye, there is no House of Assembly and there is no Speaker. At best we are all members-elect seeking that proper inauguration of the House should be done.”

Continuing, Osifo said, “We are asking the court to compel the Clerk of the House to call the entire 24 members-elect of the House and conduct a proper inauguration. That’s all we are asking for.

“So, when they brought INEC into it, we challenged the declaration and asked the court to restrain INEC from carrying out the purported directive issued by a non-existing speaker when there is still an existing case challenging his inauguration and subsequent election as speaker of the House.

“He (Okiye) couldn’t have done what he did because parties in court are not supposed to take steps in anticipation of what the ruling of the court would be on matters before it. Otherwise, if you do that, you would have rendered the position nullity and the law frowns at it.”

Spokesman for the INEC, Mr Festus Okoye, could not be reached for comment. But a source close to his office, who pleaded anonymity, said the Commission obeys lawful court orders… an indication that the ruling of the federal high court in Abuja would be obeyed to the fullest.