Senior lawyers in the country and their umbrella body, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), yesterday waded into the controversy trailing the alteration of election sequence by the National Assembly and subsequent attempt by the federal lawmakers to veto President Muhammadu Buhjari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 into law.
Specifically, the legal experts insisted that as it stands, the ball is in the court of the judiciary, which has the final say on issues pertaining to provisions of the constitution.
Accordingly, they urged the Senate to go on appeal if it is not satisfied with the ruling of a Federal High Court which temporarily barred the National Assembly from overriding the refusal of the president to sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 into Law.
Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP on Senate’s resolution to write the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, and ask him to warn his judges to respect the principle of separation of powers, the NBA and the members of the inner bar said the proper thing for the Red Chamber to do is to go the Court of Appeal to contest the decision of the lower court.
The Senate had on March 15, 2018 resolved to petition the National Judicial Council (NJC) over the decision of a Federal High Court to stop the lawmakers from taking any further action on the amended bill, which was rejected by the president.
The upper chamber said the judiciary had no power to stop them from carrying out their primary duty of making laws.
But disagreeing with Senate’s resolution to write the CJN, the lawyers insisted that no any arm of government, whether the legislative or executive, has the right to disobey the decision of a court of law, and that anything to the contrary will amount to an invitation of anarchy or resort to self-help if that is permitted.
Nigeria, they contended, operates constitutional democracy, with the three arms of government given respective defined roles, just as they noted that it is the duty of the judiciary to pronounce on validity of any law enacted in the country.
The NBA argued that whoever is not satisfied with the pronouncement of the court of law on such validity is left to go ahead to contest it, saying writing the CJN to caution the judges on what to pronounce upon or not is not proper for the legislators
President of the NBA, Abubakar B. Mahmud (SAN), told our correspondent that the Senate was wrong to have questioned the authority of the judiciary to halt the plan by the National Assembly to proceed with the Electoral Act (Amendment) bill 2018.
He urged the Senate to be mindful of the fact that if the executive refuses to implement laws made by the National Assembly, the legislature can do nothing but run to the judiciary.
Asking the lawmakers to be careful of their utterances, the NBA president averred that neither the judge who granted the order nor the lawyer who applied for the order committed any act of misconduct.
His words: “We operate constitutional democracy with each of the three arms of government having defined roles. It is the duty of the court to pronounce on validity of any law. So, if the court pronounces on any law that is not valid, there is only one ground to take, which is to appeal against that decision until the final court decides.
“I am surprised that the Senate reacted that way. Every arm of government is bound by the decision of the court of law, and must obey it until the court above states otherwise. Anything short of obeying court decision will amount to invitation for anarchy in the land”.
On his part, a constitutional lawyer, Alasa Ismail, noted that what the court did was to merely suspend the process and not a permanent stop to it.
According him, it is a brief restraint for a few days for a matter that is in court, adding that the judiciary, being the only organ empowered by the constitution to resolve disputes between the executive and the legislature, has only taken exigent steps in that direction.
Ismail said, “The Senate is a creation of law and can’t be a lord onto itself. It has to be guided by the law it enacts and the entire laws of the land. The court did not put a permanent stop to the process but merely a suspension. It is a brief restraint for a few days for a matter that is in court.
“The judiciary is the only organ empowered by the constitution to resolve disputes between the executive and the legislature, which is the reason the court acted to avoid damages”.
Another constitutional lawyer, Muktar Isa said “Senate was wrong to question the authority of the judiciary to halt the plan by the National Assembly to proceed with the Electoral Act (Amendment) bill 2018. Is it because the court making the decision is the court of instance?”
The Supreme Court had on May 7, 2015 set precedence on the instant case when it granted interlocutory injunction restraining the National Assembly from overriding the veto of former President Goodluck Jonathan on the 2015 amendment to the 1999 constitution.
The highest court in the land threw a spanner into the proposed plan by the National Assembly to override the president’s veto on amendments to the constitution that were endorsed by the state Houses of Assembly.
In a ruling by a seven-man panel of justices led by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the apex court had ordered the lawmakers to maintain status quo on the matter until June 18.
The ruling by the Supreme Court followed reservations by the legislators on the president’s veto of the alterations in which he said the National Assembly overreached itself in the alterations
President Jonathan had through the office of the former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), prayed the Supreme Court to issue an order of interlocutory injunction against both chambers of the National Assembly.
AGF Decries Threats, Intimidation Of Judge
Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar MalamI (SAN), yesterday chided the National Assembly for allegedly intimidating Justice Ahmed Mohammed of a Federal High Court in Abuja over his ruling on a matter bordering on the powers of the National Assembly to veto President Muhammadu Buhari.
The lawmakers had threatened to report Justice Mohammed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) in respect of his ruling on March 14, which temporarily barred the National Assembly from overriding the refusal of the president to sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 into Law.
AGF Malami appeared for himself as the 2nd defendant in a suit filed by Accord Party against the National Assembly, Attorney General of the Federation and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents respectively.
The AGF was reacting to a statement made by counsel to the National Assembly, Joseph Daudu (SAN), to the effect “that the judiciary is in the eye of the storm” following the criticisms for and against Justice Mohammed’s preservative order which asked parties to maintain status quo ante bellum, pending the hearing and determination of the substantial suit.
Malami said, “I am disturbed by the statement of counsel to the 1st defendant (National Assembly) that the judiciary is in the eye of the storm as a result of the court ruling. The National Assembly in effect said it would write to the CJN in respect of the preservative order made by Justice Mohammed.
“I must say that resorting to intimidation and threats by one arm of government, that is the Senate, threatening to report the Judge in the discharge of his duty is most unfortunate and sad”.
AGF Malami stated that the principle of separation of powers should be adhered to and promoted by the various arms of government, even as he said it is more so when the National Assembly has submitted itself to the jurisdiction of the court by way of making submissions.
“We have the duty and collective responsibility of supporting the entrenchment of the principle of separation of powers. The independence of judiciary is constitutionally guaranteed and we must work hard to ensure that it is sustained”, he added.
Lending his voice, counsel to the 3rd defendant (INEC), Femi Falana (SAN) urged the court not to be swayed by comments made outside the court.
“My lord, I urge the court to ignore such development so as not to be drawn into unnecessary controversy”, Falana stated.
During the hearing of the case, the court entertained an application filed by the Action Peoples Party (APP). The suit was marked FHC/ABJ/CS/2t32/2018.
After taking arguments of counsels, Justice Mohammed dismissed the joinder application on the ground that the 1st defendant can comfortably defend the case without any party joining it.
Stop Misinterpreting Laws, Senate Tells Critics
Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday warned critics to stop misinterpreting its Bills and resolutions.
The Red Chamber said such misinterpretations breed roadside appeal to entities that always see bills passed by the National Assembly as either self-serving or infractions on extant laws of the land.
Senate President Bukola Saraki gave the warning at a public hearing organised by the Senate committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters in Abuja.
The Bills are the Legal Practitioners Act (Amendment) Bill 2018, Data Protection Bill and Facial Mutilation Prohibition Bill.
Saraki who was represented by deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Na’Allah, said it is unfortunate that such critics were never present at legislative public hearing for the needed cross-fertilisation of ideas.
His words: “No particular position has been taken in respect of these bills. The reason why relevant stakeholders in their areas of focus were invited but unfortunately ardent critics of laws made by us are not here to make their inputs.
“These critics are no doubt, roadside appeal, and Supreme Court misinterpreting our laws and by extension, turning National Assembly decision upside down as being experienced with one of the bills recently passed and being litigated against.
“Our appeal to these critics is to stop misinterpreting our laws and make themselves available at the public hearing stages of passing such Bills’’.
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr Abubakar Malami, was represented by an official of the Ministry of Justice, Yusuf Abdullahi, who said Malami was in court in respect of litigation against Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018.
He said the ministry had a contrary view on the intendment of the Legal Practitioners Act (Amendment) Bill.
But, President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), said proposed amendments to the Act were very necessary in view of the fact it was archaic, having been enacted in 1962.