Alex Enumah in Abuja
A Federal High Court in Abuja Wednesday told the National Assembly that it lacks the power to dictate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the order in which elections, particularly the 2019 general election, should be conducted.
A plaintiff, Accord Party, had approached the court for an order setting aside Clause 25 of the Electoral Amendment Bill, 2018, which seeks to alter the sequence of general elections.
INEC had in January released the dates for the conduct of the 2019 general election, with the presidential and National Assembly elections coming before the governorship and state assembly elections.
But the legislature through the Electoral Amendment Bill is proposing to change the sequence.
Following the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the amendment bill, the plaintiff approached the court to intervene in the matter, arguing that the legislature, if not prevailed upon, could by a two-thirds majority pass the bill into law.
Accordingly, the plaintiff in the originating summons sought an order setting aside Clause 25 of the Electoral Amendment Bill, among other demands.
Delivering judgment in the suit Wednesday, Justice Ahmed Mohammed held that it was the sole responsibility of INEC to conduct, fix dates and determine the sequence of elections in the country.
Justice Mohammed, while stating that the Constitution is supreme to 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.
He further held that the National Assembly, passing the amendment after INEC had fixed dates for the elections, clearly acted in breach of the principle of separation of powers.
â€œI hold that Section 25 of the Electoral Amendment Bill, 2018, which is the section that contravenes the provisions of the Constitution is hereby declared a nullity.
â€œThe power of INEC to organise and conduct elections in this country cannot be taken away by the Electoral Act,â€ he declared.
The judge further stated that if there should be a change in the date of the elections, 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 the power to set aside the action of the National Assembly in respect of a bill, he agreed with the plaintiff that once the first defendant passed a bill, its job is completed.
He, therefore, granted prayers 1-10 and reliefs 11 and 12 sought by the plaintiff.
â€œSection 25 of the Electoral Amendment Bill is hereby declared a nullity,â€ Justice Mohammed ruled.
Earlier, the judge had overruled the objections of the defendants to the originating summons of the plaintiff and held that the plaintiff had the locus standi to institute the legal action as its affidavit evidence had shown that it is a registered political party in the country.
He also held that the plaintiffâ€™s case was not academic and not an abuse of the court process.
â€œThe plaintiffâ€™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,â€ he said.