- Saraki hails verdict
Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Court of Appeal in Abuja Wednesday restored the powers of the National Assembly to reorder the 2019 general election to be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Justice Ramat Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja had in a judgment on April 25 this year, upheld a suit by Accord Party, to the effect that the National Assembly attempted to usurp the exclusive power of INEC by seeking to dictate the sequence of elections.
But in a unanimous judgment Wednesday on the appeal filed by the National Assembly, a five-man panel of the Court of Appeal, led by the court’s President, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, set aside the April 25 judgment by Justice Mohammed.
Justice Bulkachuwa, in the lead judgment, said the Federal High Court was without jurisdiction to hear the suit in the first place, because the suit was premature.
In his response to the judgment Wednesday night, Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, praised the appellate court for upholding the powers of the National Assembly to make laws for the country.
The court said the provision of a bill could not be challenged in court until it becomes an Act.
The appellate court was also of the view the plaintiff at the lower court, Accord Party, lacked the locus standi to institute the suit because the disputed provision of the bill did not affect the party’s rights or obligations as a political party.
The court said the “general interest” which is available to the public did not confer on Accord Party the rights to challenge the provision of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018.
According to the judgment, the decision of the trial court in entertaining the suit amounted to a breach of the Doctrine of Separation of Powers.
The court consequently reversed the judgment of the lower court.
The court stated that the suit of the Accord Party on the legality of the powers of the National Assembly to reorder elections was an academic exercise because the party has no legal right to do so in the first instance.
Specifically, the Court of Appeal president said the Accord Party failed to establish how its rights and obligations were adversely affected by the bill to reorder election other than that of the general interest.
The appeal court further stated that a bill has no legal effect to expose it to being challenged on the basis of the violation of the constitution of the country, until it has been passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly and assented to by the appropriate authority.
“The constitution does not envisage that a suit would be filed to challenge a bill at the embryonic stage of legislation because it has no binding effect until it has been assented to,” Justice Bulkachuwa said.
On the position of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) that the controversial election reordering provision had been deleted by the National Assembly and thus the appeal overtaken by the deletion of the provision, the Appeal Court however disagreed.
It noted that the appeal had life in itself.
Justice Bulkachuwa therefore upheld the powers of the National Assembly to legislate on reordering election, and dismissed the suit of the Accord Party, and the arguments of AGF and the INEC.
“Since the suit is not justiciable, it shows that it is frivolous and not a genuine litigation.
“This appeal is allowed. It has merit and the judgment of the Federal High Court is hereby set aside and the suit is hereby dismissed,” Justice Bulkachuwa held.
Following attempts by both chambers of the National Assembly to implement Section 58 of the Constitution, which allows the legislature to override the decision of the president to assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018, Accord Party had rushed to the court to seek the court’s determination on 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.
Joined as defendants are the National Assembly, the AGF and INEC.
In his judgment, trial judge, Justice Mohammed, held that the election timetable earlier released by the INEC could not be altered by the legislature.
The trial court accordingly ordered the legislators to refrain from taking steps to veto the president.
However in its appeal, the National Assembly which was the 1st defendant at the trial court, asked the appellate court to set aside the decision of Justice Mohammed, and dismiss in its entirety, the plaintiff’s claims in the originating summons.
In the notice of appeal filed through its lawyer, Joseph Daudu (SAN), the legislature stated that the trial judge, erred in law when he assumed jurisdiction to entertain and determine the suit and contended that the trial judge failed to appreciate that, until the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 was passed into an Act by the exercise of the legislative power of the National Assembly to override the veto or withholding of assent to the bill by the president, the same remained inchoate and not capable of vesting a justiciable civil right or obligation on any person, including the plaintiff.
The legislature further contended amongst others, that the lower court wrongly interpreted the provisions of Section 4(8) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), so as to reach the conclusion that the Federal High Court was vested with jurisdiction to impugn a bill perceived to be unconstitutional.
Saraki Hails Verdict
Reacting to the judgment Wednesday, Senate President, Saraki, praised the appellate court for upholding the powers of the National Assembly to make laws in the country.
Saraki in a statement by his Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Yusuph Olaniyonu, in Abuja, stated that the judgment 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 as protecting the rights of individuals.
He added that with the judgment, it was now clear that the National Assembly was right when it passed the bill stating the sequence of elections and 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.
“I have always believed in the need to test our laws in court by seeking judicial interpretations on contentious issues. By doing so, we will be expanding the scope of our laws, sharpening the rough edges of legislation and assserting our faith in the judiciary as a fundamental arbiter,” the Senate president stated.