By Benjamin Awua, Jalingo
A Jalingo High Court has declared that it has the jurisdiction to entertain the chieftaincy case filed by stakeholders from Gassol, challenging the appointment of Mr John Sokwa as the third-class chief of the newly created Kwararrafa Chiefdom in Gassol Local Government Area of Taraba State.
Justice Dauda Buba, in Jalingo, on Thursday, while ruling on an application by the Taraba State government, which had prayed the court to dismiss the suit instituted by the Gassol stakeholders on the ground that it lacked the powers to hear the case, explained that section 4 (3) of the Chiefs Appointment and Deposition Law of Taraba 2018 may not necessarily mean that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
He said, “In the case of any dispute, the governor, after due inquiry and consultancy with the persons concerned in the selection, shall be the sole judge as to whether any appointment of any chief or head chief is in accordance with this order.”
He argued that looking at above sub section, the governor should be the sole judge only after due inquiry and consultation with persons concerned in the selection of the chief or head chief.
He therefore, observed that section 4 (3) was not intended to oust the jurisdiction of any court, adding, “It appears to me that the role conferred on the governor by section 4 (3) is not more than that of an arbitrator, who shall take a decision alone after due inquiry and consultation with those concerned with the selection of a chief or head chief.
“Assuming without holding that I am wrong that the intendment of section 4 (3) is to oust the jurisdiction of the court, then in my view it is in conflict with the provision of the constitution and therefore null and void to the extent of its inconsistency.”
Justice Buba explained that section 272 (1) of the 1999 constitution as amended conferred unlimited jurisdiction on the High Court; even as he observed that “of particular interest is the provision of section 4 (8) of the constitution, which states inter alia: ‘Safe as otherwise provided by this constitution, the exercise of legislative powers by the National Assembly or by a House of Assembly shall be subject to the jurisdiction of courts of law and or judicial tribunals established by law’.”
Accordingly, he explained that “the National Assembly or a state House of Assembly shall not enact any law that oust or purport to oust the jurisdiction of a court of law or a judicial tribunal established by law.”
Noting that in the event of a recalcitrant conduct by the National Assembly or a state House of Assembly by enacting a law purported to oust the jurisdiction of any court, the constitution is supreme as provided by section 1 (1) of the document, Justice Buba, therefore, held that Section 4 (3) of the Chiefs Appointment and Deposition Law relied upon by the defendants was not intended to oust the jurisdiction of the court and so the court would hear the case challenging the appointment of Mr Sokwa as the third class chief of Kwararrafa chiefdom.
Ruling on the question of locus standi of the plaintiffs, Justice Buba said that while there was no any averment linking the second plaintiff, Sen. Ibrahim Goje with the Kwararrafa Chieftaincy tussle, same cannot be said of the first plaintiff, Ibrahim Jauro Isa.
He said, “Therefore without much ado, I am of the opinion that the second plaintiff has not shown that he has any locus standi to prosecute this matter.”
He therefore strckk out the name of Ibrahim Goje, the second plaintiff from the matter.
Justice Buba on the other hand, said the first plaintiff who had at various times been appointed ward and village head of kwararrafa, in accordance with native law and custom of the area could not be said to be lacking locus standi in prosecuting the matter.
He said, “Looking at the above facts vis-a-vis the Kwararrafa chiefdom (constitution) order No. 21 of 2018, I am of the opinion that the first plaintiff cannot be said be lacking locus standi to institute this action.
The plaintiffs had in October 2018 instituted an action against Mr Sokwa, the third class Chief of Kwararrafa Chiefdom in Gassol council area of Taraba as the first defendant, Governor Darius Ishaku as second defendant and the Attorney General of Taraba State as the third defendant.
The plaintiffs had approached the court to challenge the appointment, enthronement and coronation of Mr John Agbu Sokwa as the third-class chief of Kwararrafa chiefdom.
Among the eight prayers of the plaintiffs to the court was the declaration of the appointment, enthronement and coronation of the first defendant by the second defendant as unlawful, unwarranted, oppressive and contrary to the laid down practice and procedure of the appointment and installation of chiefs of Kwararrafa.
They were also seeking for an order restraining the first defendant from parading himself as the third-class chief of Kwararrafa chiefdom pending the determination of the case before the court.
The plaintiffs argued that the procedure followed by the second defendant in the appointment of the third class chief of Kwararrafa was wrong, as he was said to have been brought in from Wukari, in Wukari Local Government Area of the state and had no link whatsoever with the ruling families of the area under dispute.