• Says NASS has power to change election sequence
• APC, INEC keep mum
• PDP, Saraki hail ruling
Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The National Assembly won a major victory, yesterday, as the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal affirmed its power to rejig polls sequence.
In a unanimous ruling, the appellate court set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court which nullified the election re-ordering provision of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018.
The judgment dismissed the earlier verdict of the Federal High Court which stopped the National Assembly from overriding the assent of the president on the bill.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja had, in a judgement on April 25, upheld a suit by Accord Party (AP) that the National Assembly attempted to usurp the exclusive power of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by seeking to dictate the sequence of elections.
But the Court of Appeal held that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
NASS had in the appeal marked CA/A 485/2018, filed on June 14, prayed the court to declare that it has the constitutional powers to amend the Electoral Act to re-order the election sequence already released by INEC.
In her lead judgment, President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who headed a five-man panel, held that the suit was premature as a bill could not be challenged in the law court until it became an Act.
In upholding the appeal by the National Assembly, the appellate court further held that the AP, which instituted the suit lacked the locus standi to file the action.
Justice Bulkachuwa held that since the bill did not affect its rights or the obligations of the party, the “general interest” available to the public did not confer the rights on it to challenge the bill.
Though the appellate court noted that section 4(8) of the 1999 Constitution imbued the judiciary with the powers to review the exercise of legislative functions and determine the constitutionality of acts of the NASS, it said such judicial powers does not negate the principle of separation of powers enshrined in sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Constitution.
While upholding the appeal that was lodged by the NASS, the Justice Bulkachuwa-led panel stressed 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 decline his assent to a Bill, following which such document would be returned to 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.
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“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,” Justice Bulkachuwa held, adding that doing otherwise would amount to the court “unwittingly interfering with the doctrine of separation of powers.
“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 AP 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, 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 process, was capable of disabling the legislature. It held that AP failed to show how the proposed amended election sequence would affect its right as a political party, adding that INEC, which was listed as the third 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 first 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.”
When contacted, Mr. Rotimi Lawrence, spokesman of INEC retorted: “We have no comment on it.”
Similarly, the newly appointed acting spokesman of the APC, Yekini Nabena, equally declined comment, pleading that the ruling party will react officially on today.
But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, hailed the ruling. In a statement by his media aide, in Abuja, Saraki said it has 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 protecting the rights of individuals.