A Federal High Court, in Abuja, Monday, fixed March 30 for judgment in a suit filed by some women groups for the Federal Government to implement the 35 per cent affirmative action.
Justice Donatus Okorowo fixed the date after counsel to the plaintiffs, Funmi Falana, and the lawyer to the defence, Terhemba Agbe, adopted their processes and argued their matter in the suit.
The plaintiffs, in the suit marked: FHC/ABC/CS/1006/2020, are the Incorporated Trustees of Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Women Empowerment Legal Aid, and Centre for Democracy and Development West Africa.
Others are Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Vision Spring Initiative, and Women in Politics Forum, among others.
The groups had sued the Federal Government and the Attorney General of the Federation as defendants in the suit.
They had sought the court order, ensuring the 35 per cent affirmative action policy of the Federal Government of Nigeria as contained in Sections 42, 147 (3) and 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the National Gender Policy, 2006, in the governance of the country, among others.
Falana informed the court that the matter was fixed for the hearing of her clients’ originating summons, urging the court to take the substantive suit and the preliminary objection together.
“Our application of an amended summon is dated 1st day of February, 2021 and filed same day.
“We have formed two questions for determination and we seeks six reliefs,” she said.
She said their grievance was the appointments in positions of office in the country was contrary to the policy of the government on 35 per cent affirmative action.
She noted that though the defence said in their preliminary objection that they groups had no locus standi to sue.
Falana cited previous cases, saying that it had been determined that “where the interest of the public is involved, any person or organisation has the right to go to court and that such applicant cannot be regarded as an interloper.”
She disagreed with the argument that there was no cause of action and that in the reliefs sought, there must be a substantive law that needs to be determined
“Our answer is that nothing can be more substantial than the the interpretation of the constitutional provisions and violation of such which we have alleged,” he said.
She urged the court to grant their prayers.
Responding, Agbe, who was counsel to the defendants, said contrary to Falana’s submission, the defence had just a single ground for their opposition.
“In opposition to the suit, we filed a preliminary objection on 30th day of March, 2021 and filed same day,” he said.
“Ours is that the plaintiffs’ case does not disclose any cause of action against the defendant.
“We have a written address in support of this and we humbly and vehemently urge your lordship to strike out or dismiss the case of the plaintiffs,” he said.
According to him, on our preliminary objection, we are saying that the case of the plaintiffs is built on Section 14 and Chapter Two of the Constitution which is unenforceable.
Agbe, who argued that Section 147 of the constitution also gives the president a guideline for appointment of ministers and other positions, said in doing this, what the law says is that the president should ensure that there is a minister from every state, but not based on sex.
“No matter how sentimental the plaintiffs appear in the matter to draw the sentiment of the court or public, ministerial appointment, etc, is guided by the law and at the discretion of the president to appoint those who can deliver,” he said.
He said the 35 per cent affirmative policy of the government cannot be enforced by the court but can be ensured through lobby, especially at the National Assembly.
“If our counter affidavit is set aside, it is our strong view that the plaintiffs are not entitled to the reliefs because the law does not favour them,” he added.
Still, Falana hinted that where a provision in Chapter Two of the constitution is linked to Chapter 4 or any other provisions under the constitution, such law becomes justiciable, citing previous case to back her argument.
Justice Okorowo adjourned the matter until March 30 for judgement. NAN