Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
The Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday nullified the National Assembly’s Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018 which sought to provide the order in which the Independent National Electoral Commission must conduct the 2019 general elections.
Delivering judgment in a suit filed by the Accord Party to challenge the bill, Justice Ahmed Mohammed held that the bill was in clear breach of the provisions of Paragraph 15(a) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution which empowered INEC to organise and conduct elections.
The judge also ruled that INEC, having issued its timetable for the 2019 general elections, the later passage of the bill to reverse the electoral body’s decision was in breach of the principle of separation of powers as provided under sections 4, 5 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution.
The court ruled that the powers conferred on INEC to conduct elections comprise the powers to decide the sequence of the elections and fix dates for the conduct of the elections.
It added that such constitutional powers could never be taken away by an Act of the National Assembly.
The court resolved all the issues formulated in favour of the plaintiff and against the National Assembly.
It also granted all prayers sought by the plaintiff except the one which sought to restrain President Muhammadu Buhari from assenting to the bill.
Justice Mohammed ruled on Wednesday that it was no longer necessary to grant such prayer since the President had refused to give his assent to the bill.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), agreed with INEC’s lawyer, the AGF, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN); and INEC’s lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), that the sole responsibility of INEC was to conduct elections into the various offices earlier mentioned.
The judge ruled, “I am left with no doubt that, in passing the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018, the 1st defendant was in clear breach of the provision of Paragraph 15(a) of the 3rd Schedule to the 1999 Constitution. (as amended).
“In this regard, I find comfort in the interpretation of Paragraph 15(a) of the 3rd Schedule to the 1999 Constitution given in the case of NDP vs. INEC (supra) to the effect that INEC, the 3rd defendant, in this case, has the constitutional responsibility of organising and conducting an election, and to that effect, it can issue timetable and it can also decide when election will hold.
“Now, since the 3rd defendant has already fixed the dates for the 2019 elections, it is the only body that can change the dates.
“The attempt made by the 1st defendant in passing Exhibit 1 (the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018) after the 3rd defendant has issued Exhibit 2 (the timetable earlier released by INEC for the 2019 elections) in clear and obvious breach of Paragraph 15(a) of the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“I find the decision of the Court of Appeal in Musa vs. INEC (2002) 11 NWLR Part 778 page 223 and 296 paragraph C.
“Flowing from the above pronouncement, the power given to the 3rd defendant in Paragraph 15(a) of the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution to organise and conduct elections in Nigeria, including fixing dates for such elections, cannot be taken away by an amendment purported to be done by the 1st defendant in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018.”
Justice Mohammed said the court had the power to set aside or nullify any Act or Bill of the 1st defendant (the National Assembly) that contravened the provision of the constitution.
He added, “In issuing the timetable, the 3rd defendant was carrying out an executive function. By trying to stop or reverse the decision of the 3rd defendant, the first defendant was clearly in breach of the principle of separation of powers embodied in sections 4, 5 and 6 of the constitution.
“Furthermore, the 1st defendant’s conduct, being in breach of Section 1(3) of the 1999 Constitution, it follows therefore that Section 25 of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 which is the section that contravened the constitution is hereby declared a nullity.”
Earlier, the court dismissed the National Assembly’s notice of preliminary objection praying for the dismissal of the suit.
It anchored the prayer for the dismissal of the suit on the grounds that the suit was not justiciable, that the plaintiff lacked the locus standi to initiate the suit, that the suit was an academic exercise and that the failure to join the President as a necessary party in the suit had rendered it incompetent.
But ruling, the judge dismissed all the grounds of the objection.
The judge ruled that contrary to the contention by the National Assembly’s lawyer, Mr Joseph Daudu (SAN), the bill did not have to mature into an Act to make a suit challenging its validity justiciable. (Punch)