The bid by the National Assembly to override President Muhammadu Buhari suffered a setback yesterday as Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the National Assembly to refrain from taking any action on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which the president refused to append his assent.
The Accord Party had dragged the National Assembly, the Attorney General of the Federation and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the court headed by Justice Ahmedd mohammed, praying it to stop the National Assembly from re-ordering the sequence of the general election. The party is asking the court to determine 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.
During proceedings yesterday, counsel to the plaintiff (Accord Party), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), urged the judge to issue a "preservative order" that would restrain the National Assembly from taking any step that would jeopardise the res (subject matter) of the suit already pending before the court for determination.Counsel to the National assembly, Miss Chinelo Ogbozor, had earlier sought an adjournment from the court to enable her respond to the plaintiff's motion on notice.
In strong opposition to the plaintiff's request, Ogbozor, urged the court to decline Accord Party's oral application for a preservative order, arguing that in acceding to such an application, the National Assembly would be denied fair hearing.She further argued that her client was within time to respond to the plaintiff's motion on notice, which was served on them on March 12, saying the application was not ripe for hearing.
"The motion is not ripe for hearing. By the rules of this court, motions can't be taken before 48 clear hours of service. By Order 26 (5) of the rules of this court, we are entitled to seven days within which to respond to any motion. My Lord, our time is still running and we wish to respond to this application promptly. To that extent, we will be asking for time to respond to the motion," Ogbozor submitted.Counsel to INEC, Mr. Tanimu Inuwa, in his own submission, informed the court that the electoral umpire was not opposed to the plaintiff's application.
After taking their submissions, Justice Mohammed stood the matter down for some hours to prepare his ruling in the case.After about two hours, Justice Mohammed returned from his chambers and held that it is imperative to protect the substance of the suit till the next adjourned date.
The judge said, "I hereby make the following orders. It is hereby directed that the parties shall maintain the status quo ante bellum at least between now and the next adjourned date, when the court will hear the plaintiff's motion on notice for an order of interlocutory injunction.
"Hearing notice is hereby ordered to be issued to the 2nd defendant (AGF) following his absence an lack of representation. These orders are made pursaunt to Section 6 (6) of the 1999 Constitution. The suit is adjourned till March 20 for the plaintiff's motion on notice," the judge held.
Reps Vows To Gazette Rejected Amendment
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives yesterday vowed to gazette the amended Electoral Act, which President Muhammadu Buhari refused to assent to.It said it will re-transmit the reordering of the election sequence for passage, even as it has commenced the process of vetoing the Peace Corps bill.
In making its position on the rejected Electoral Act, the House however said it agreed with two of the three reasons given by the president for withholding his assent, assuring that it will expunge the items before re-transmitting the new election sequence.
Speaking at a briefing, the chairman of the House committee on media and public affairs, Hon. Abdurazaq Namdas, maintained that the House has not infringed on the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by legislating on the sequence of elections.
He said, "The president has actually written to us and withheld assent to the Electoral Act and stated his reasons for doing so. I want to say that as a responsible Parliament, we've agreed with two of the three reasons given by the president.
"We agreed with the first one that the amendment of section 138 of the principal Act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process. On this, we have agreed with the president.
"We have also agreed with the reason advanced on the amendment of Section 152 of the principal Act, which raises constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections. This too we have agreed with. We know that we don't have the power to act on that".
On the controversial election sequence, Namdas said, "However, we are in disagreement with the president over his first reason, which states that sequence of election in Section 25 of the principal Act may infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of INEC to organise, undertake and supervise all elections provided in Section 15 (a) to the third schedule of the constitution.
"Our reasons for disagreeing on this matter are that if you look at section 4 of the Legislative Powers Act, item 22, let me quote. It states that, "The National Assembly has powers over elections to the offices of president and vice president, or governor and deputy governor and any other office to which a person may be elected under this constitution, excluding elections into a local government council or any office in such council.
"So, if the Legislative Powers Act gives us these powers, it means that we have the powers to work on the order of elections as stated. Again, if you go to section 76 of the constitution, it states that, "Elections to each House of the National Assembly shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission."The lawmaker further explained: "However, there is a clause: In accordance with the Electoral Act. This was added in the First Alteration. It says INEC has powers to fix dates, but even at that, it has to act in accordance with the Electoral Act.
"Thirdly, the entire Electoral Act talks about organizing elections. If we do not have powers to organize the elections, that means we don't have powers to even pass the Electoral Act itself".
He continued, "in view of this, we will re-gazette the Electoral Act itself and expunge the areas that we're in agreement with the president and in line with the constitution. We'll bring back the bill for debate. We'll follow the procedure of first, second and third readings, and re-transmit it to the president for assent. That is all I have to say on Electoral Act".On other bills which the president declined assent, the spokesperson revealed that the House is already in the process of overriding him on 10 bills.