Following judgement of the Court of Appeal yesterday which reversed decision of the Federal High Court, Abuja that voided Section 25 in the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018, there are speculations that the National Assembly may revisit the bill ostensibly to restore Section 25 that re-ordered election sequence. The deputy chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce indicated that the National Assembly would likely re-forward the original bill containing Section 25 before it was vetoed by President Muhammadu Buhari. Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP, Senator Bruce said, ‘’Although I am going to consult with the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and other leadership and members of the National Assembly for collective decision, there is nothing stopping us from revisiting the Bill. The court verdict today is very apt, it really vindicated us that we have power to re-order the election sequence in the country’’.
But some senators aver that the National Assembly is precluded from revisiting the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill under this session by virtue of its procedural practice and the law.
Those who spoke with LEADERSHIP under anonymity yesterday said the National Assembly cannot approbate and reprobate or accept President Buhari’s veto of the bill and turn back to reject it simply because the Court of Appeal has held that they have the power to re-order election sequence.
The sources further contended that the lawmakers ought to have override the President when he decided to veto the Bill but rather chose to do otherwise by removing the contentious areas in the Bill he rejected, and re-forwarded for the second time for President’s assent.The Bill is before the President now for his assent and can’t be withdrawn by the lawmakers for the purpose of restoring the polls re-ordering section that is no longer part of the reviewed bill.
‘’They cannot bring back the same bill again in this same session or dispensation and remit to the President for his assent for the third time.
‘’Besides, the Court of Appeal is not the final court of the land. This matter is likely to be taken to the Supreme Court and the President may elect to assent to the bill before the apex court decides the matter.
‘’The amendment to the Electoral Act must be carried out six month before elections in February 2019, in other words, the President has to assent to the Bill before in this month of August otherwise INEC will conduct next year election base on the old Electoral Act 2010.
‘’It is rather wise to allow the President to assent to this Bill in view of other several innovations in it meant to remedy lots of weaknesses in the prevailing Electoral Act 2010’’, the sources stated.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja, has set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court which stopped the National Assembly from reordering provision of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018.
The court held that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit in the first place.
President of the court, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who headed a five-man panel of the court, ruled in her lead judgment that the suit was premature as a bill could not be challenged in the law court until it became an Act.
The court, in upholding the appeal by the National Assembly, also held that the Accord Party which instituted the suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja, lacked the locus standi to file the action.
Justice Bulkachuwa held that since the bill did not affect its rights or the obligations of the party, the “general interest” available to the public did not confer the rights on it to challenge the bill.
The Accord Party had dragged the National Assembly, the attorney general of the Federation and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the court headed by Justice Ahmed Mohammed, praying it to stop the National Assembly from reordering the sequence of the general election.
The party is asking the court to determine whether INEC is not the only institution constitutionally vested with the powers to organise, undertake and supervise elections, including fixing the sequence of elections to various elective offices in the country.After parties in the matter argued their briefs, Justice Ahmed Mohammed held in his judgment that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the only body that is constitutionally empowered to organise, undertake and supervise elections in the country.
“I am persuaded by the argument of the plaintiff that it is the sole responsibility of the 3rd defendant (INEC) to conduct elections, and further in doing so, the 3rd defendant has the power to fix dates for elections,” the judge held.
He noted that the National Assembly commenced moves to amend the Electoral Act after INEC had already released its timetable for the 2019 elections. The court held that the action of the National Assembly was in clear breach of paragraph 15 (a) of the 3rd schedule of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
Meanwhile, the President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has praised the judgement of the Court of Appeal which upheld the powers of the National Assembly to make laws, including the bill amending election sequence. The judgement dismissed the earlier verdict of the Federal High Court which stopped the National Assembly from overriding the assent of the President on the bill.
Saraki in a statement by his Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Yusuph Olaniyonu, in Abuja, stated that the judgement has further reinforced the belief of Nigerians that the judiciary remains the hope of the country in strengthening democracy, resolving conflicts between various arms and levels of government as well protecting the rights of individuals.
He added that with the judgement, it is now clear that the National Assembly was right when it passed the bill stating that the legislature reversed its decision on the issue, after President Muhammadu Buhari refused assent to the bill in the interest of peace and to forestall any legal obstacle on the way of the 2019 elections.
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