Sequence of Election: Court of Appeal Okays National Assembly’s Amendment

Sequence of Election: Court of Appeal Okays National Assembly’s Amendment

The last may not have been heard on the proposed National Assembly re-ordering of 2019 election sequence as the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, on Wednesday, ruled against the high court judgment that stopped the National Assembly from carrying out the re-ordering. In a unanimous judgment, the full panel of justices held that

The last may not have been heard on the proposed National Assembly re-ordering of 2019 election sequence as the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, on Wednesday, ruled against the high court judgment that stopped the National Assembly from carrying out the re-ordering.

In a unanimous judgment, the full panel of justices held that the Federal High Court in Abuja lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit that challenged the constitutionality of section 25 of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2018, which sought to alter the sequence.

The Court of Appeal described the action instituted by the Accord Party as a deliberate attempt to prevent the National Assembly from carrying out its constitutional duties. It ruled that the high court ought to have dismissed the suit for being frivolous, premature, inchoate and non-justiceable.

The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who delivered the lead judgment, held that the lower court was bereft of the vires to assume jurisdiction and void a bill that was still undergoing the legislative process of becoming a law. Though the appellate court noted that section 4(8) of the 1999 Constitution gave the judiciary powers to review the exercise of legislative functions and determine the constitutionality of acts of the NASS, it said such judicial powers do not negate the principle of separation of powers enshrined in sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Constitution.

The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal instituted by the NASS, with the Justice Bulkachuwa-led panel emphasising that a Bill does not become an Act of the NASS until it is assented to by the President pursuant to section 58 of the constitution. It maintained that the constitution gave the President the right to the decline his assent to a Bill, following which such document would be returned to the NASS for further legislative action that could result in dumping of the proposed law or an override of the President by two-third majority vote by both chambers of the legislature.

“A court of law has no jurisdiction to decide on a Bill still undergoing legislative process. Such decision becomes null and void since it is not yet a law or an Act of NASS”, Also, “the court cannot grant an injunction to restrain the legislature from performing its legislative duties. It should however be sounded clear that the court has the jurisdiction to strike down any law or Act of the NASS when found to be in contravention of any section of the Constitution”. The appellate court held that the suit by Accord Party was “an action that was designed to obstruct the legislative powers of the NASS to make law”. It further observed that as at the time the suit was filed before the high court, the NASS had yet to conclude its legislative duty as far as Amendment of the Electoral Act 2018 was concerned.

The appellate court warned that a situation where suits are filed to challenge Bills that are still undergoing legislative processes was capable of disabling the legislature. It held that Accord Party failed to show how the proposed amended election sequence would affect its right as a political party, adding that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which was listed as the 3rd Respondent in the appeal, did not file a suit to challenge the purported infringement on or usurpation of its powers by the NASS.

“The plaintiff’s locus standi in this case has not yet been disclosed. A claimant must have some justifiable interest that would suffer or show that he has an injury or damage to suffer. “I am satisfied and I hold that this 1st Respondent’s action at the lower court was not justiceable. The suit was an academic exercise that did not raise any live and genuine issue in controversy for determination. “The suit is frivolous and clearly an abuse of court process. I resolve the issue in favour of the Appellant. The judgment of the Federal High Court delivered on April 25 is hereby nullified.

“On the whole this Appeal succeeds, it has merit. The judgement of the high court is hereby set-aside”, the appellate court held.
It is yet to be seen if this judgement would be appealed at the Supreme Court. But, if the President refuses to append his assent to the Bill, it is doubtful if the National Assembly could muster the required two-thirds majority to veto it as the Assembly is now polarized.

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