You Have No Power to Reorder Election Sequence, Court Tells N’Assembly

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By Alex Enumah in Abuja

The Federal High Court, Abuja on Wednesday told the National Assembly that it lacks the power to dictate to the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) on the order in which elections, particularly the 2019 general election should be conducted.
The plaintiff, Accord Party, had approached the court for an order of setting aside clause 25 of the Electoral Amendment Bill, 2018 which seeks to reorder the sequence of the 2019 general election.

INEC had on January 9, 2018 released dates for the conduct of the 2019 general election, with the presidential and National Assembly election coming before the governorship and state assembly elections.
But the legislature through clause 25 of the Electoral Amendment Bill reversed the sequence made by INEC.

Following the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to accent to the amended bill, the plaintiff approached the court for intervention, arguing that the legislature if not prevailed upon could by a two-thirds majority pass the bill into law. The plaintiff in the originating summons sought an order setting aside clause 25 of the Electoral Amendment Bill, 2018.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining: The President of the Fedral Republic of Nigeria, represented by the second defendant, from assenting to the electoral act amendment bill, 2018 as passed by the first defendant.
“The first defendant from passing into law, by a two thirds majority, or any majority at all the said bill as already passed by it.”
Delivering judgment in the suit Wednesday, Justice Ahmed Mohammed held that it is the sole responsibility of INEC to conduct, fix date and determine the sequence of elections in the country.

Justice Mohammed, while stating that the constitution is supreme over any other law, held that if the constitution empowers anybody to act, no other power can reverse it, adding that INEC has been constitutionally empowered to organise and supervise elections and that power cannot be taken away from it.
The court further held that the National Assembly, passing the amendment after INEC had fixed the date for the elections clearly acted in breach of the principle of separation of power.

“I hold that section 25 of the electoral act 2018, which is the section that contravenes the provisions of the constitution is hereby declared a nullity”, he said, adding: “The power of INEC to organise and conduct elections in this country cannot be taken away by the Electoral Act.”

The judge further stated that if there should be a change in the date of the election, it should come from INEC since the constitution has conferred on it to do so and that power cannot be taken away by anybody.
While stating that the court has powers to set aside the action of the National Assembly in respect of a bill or Act, he agreed with the plaintiff that once the first defendant passed a bill, its job is completed.
He therefore granted prayers 1 to 10 and reliefs 11 and 12 of the plaintiff.
“Section 25 of the Electoral Amendment Bill is hereby declared a nullity,” he said.
Earlier, Justice Mohammed overruled the objections of the defendants to the originating summons of the plaintiff and held that the plaintiff has the locus standi to institute the legal action as its affidavit evidence shows that it is a registered political party in the country.
He also held that the plaintiff’s case is not academic and not an abuse of the process of the court.
“The plaintiff’s suit seeking for the interpretation of certain provisions of the constitution cannot be said to be an abuse of the process of the court,” he said.

In the originating summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/232/2018, the plaintiff had nine issues for determination by the court, including: Having regards to the combined provisions of sections 79,116,118,132,153,160(1) and 178 of the 1999 constitution as amended, the constitution read together with paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule to the same constitution, whether the third defendant (INEC) is not the only institution or body constitutionally vested with the powers and vires to organised undertake and supervise elections to the offices of the president, the vice-president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the governor and deputy governor of a state, the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each state of the federation, including fixing the sequence and dates of the elections to the said offices?

“Considering the combined provisions of sections 79,116,118,132,153,160(1) and 178 of the 1999 constitution as amended, the constitution read together with paragraph 15(a) of the third schedule to the same constitution, whether the 1st defendant (National Assembly) possesses the powers ans vires to propose any bill or pass any bill into an Act which directs or purport to direct, mandates, or purport to mandate, dictates or purport to dictate to the 3rd defendant to follow a particular sequence in the organisation and conduct of elections to the offices of president and vice-president, the governor and deputy governor of a state, the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each state of the federation?

“Whether having regard to the exercise by the 3rd defendant of its powers and in furtherance of its function and duty to organise, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the president and vice-president, the governor and deputy governor of a state, the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each state of the federation, as prescribed by sections 76(1), 116(1), 132(1), 153(1)(f) and 178(1) and sections 25 and 30 of the Electoral Act, 2010 and having come out with or announced a schedule or time table for 201, general election, the 1st defendant can later make a law to re-order, or prescribed a schedule inconsistent with the schedule or order earlier on made by the 3rd defendant under legislation which were at the time of the exercise valid and extant?”

The plaintiff further asked for a declaration that the third defendant is the only body and or institution constitutionally vested with the powers, vires and duties to organise, undertake and supervise elections to the offices of the president and vice-president, the governor and deputy governor of a state, the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each state of the federation, including fixing or assigning dates for the said elections and the sequence of same.
The plaintiff therefore asked the court for an order setting aside clause 25 of the Electoral Amendment Bill, 2018.

An order of perpetual injunction restraining: The President of the Fedral Republic of Nigeria, represented by the second defendant, from assenting to the electoral act amendment bill, 2018 as passed by the first defendant.
The first defendant from passing into law, by a two-thirds majority, or any majority at all the said bill as already passed by it.