The politics of Electoral Act amendment is getting hotter and more interesting. I must acknowledge and appreciate the work of Dr Ali Ahmad, Speaker of Kwara State’s House of Assembly on this subject matter. It would have been a little more difficult for me to offer my perspective, due to inadequate knowledge of legal practice. But Dr Ahmad’s submission titled; “Court of Law or Court of Bills: When Courts are Without Standing,” assisted in no small measure.
Having interfaced with the erudite scholar and law teacher some years ago, then as chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary, I can attest to his sound knowledge of the law and high level of diplomacy. Undoubtedly, Ahmad ranks among the list of eminent Nigerians qualified to offer an informed perspective on this issue, having served in the three arms of government at different times.
He is an astute academic, holds PhD in law and rose to become Associate Professor and Dean of a Law Faculty. He was Attorney-General and commissioner for Justice, he was in the House of Representatives where he chaired the committee on Judiciary, and is now the Speaker of Kwara State’s House of Assembly.
Ahmad presumably practised in jurisdiction familiar with the presidential system, as he was called to the New York Bar in school, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and his Doctor of Juridicial Science (SJD) at the George Washington University Law School, Washington DC. This puts him on high pedestal to discuss the concept of Separation of Powers and the limit of the Judiciary under the presidential system of government.
According to him, both in the United Kingdom where we cut our democratic tooth, and in United States of America where we copy the presidential system of democratic governance, no court has ever issued an injunction against the parliament for concluding a legislative process. While his submission can hardly be faulted on legal grounds, I am surprised that the politician refused to acknowledge the place of political scheming in his article.
When the National Assembly transmits a bill to the President for assent, the legislative process is completed and the bill is at the mercy of executive powers, or overriding veto of the National Assembly.
More so, the President raised a legal argument and its validity can only be determined by the judiciary. While I agree that the court cannot base its judgement on a bill, or amendment to an Act which is yet to become a law. It would not have been premature to have approached the court for proper interpretation and the court would act according to its discretion.
Although, I do not, with my own understanding of the constitution, believe that ongoing amendment to the Electoral Act, as regards sequence of elections, contradicts the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise, undertake and supervise elections as provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution.
Irrespective of my conviction, I choose to view the issue from the opposite. If there were valid legal issues to raise, a political party preparing to participate in the election would be correct to approach the court for clarification. And the court, in its wisdom, may decide to halt the process so as to avoid legal fireworks ahead of the forthcoming general election.
When the court granted an interim injunction to halt the recall process of Senator Dino Melaye, many felt the judge had compromised but the embattled Senator hailed the ruling. When the same court, ordered that the Independent National Electoral Commission, “shall proceed with the signature verification exercise,” the story became different.
The court is not and should not act as anyone’s instrument, not the president or anyone, no matter how powerful or influential. Therefore, if the intention of the amendment to the Electoral Act is indeed genuine, there won’t be a need for a fire brigade approach.
I am very certain that not even the Supreme Court will stop the constitutional process of overriding the President’s veto, once the requirement is met. The delay is political and of course very familiar. I also feel the National Assembly has played into the hands of the Judiciary by selectively obeying court orders.
Dr Ahmad’s predecessor, Hon Razak Atunwa, recently displayed an order by Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, which held that the House of Representatives could not continue with an investigative hearing on the Law School hijab controversy with Miss Firdaus. In this case, the National Assembly honoured the court order and suspended the investigation.
But on several other matters, including suspension of ‘erring’ lawmakers, the National Assembly blatantly refused to obey court orders. This double standard isn’t right for our democracy, it’s capable of setting wrong precedence!
Dark Days For 8th Assembly
In the last one week, the National Assembly lost two serving lawmakers from both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Deputy majority leader of the House of Representatives, Umar Jibril, died after a protracted illness, while shortly after, demise of Senator Bukar Mustapha, the senator representing Katsina North, was announced by his family.
It also came about two weeks after another senator, Ali Wakili, passed away, and the House, about year ago, also lost a member from Ifako-Ijaiye federal constituency, Adewale Elijah Oluwatayo. It is indeed a moment of sober reflection for members of the National Assembly, while I pray against losing another lawmaker during the life of this 8th Assembly, I also urge our esteemed legislators to achieve a legacy while in office, it could be anyone!