By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
Justice Ahmed Mohamed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, yesterday, stopped the National Assembly from taking any further action on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, pending the hearing of the suit filed by Accord Party.
The court ordered all the parties to maintain status quo on the election sequence in which the Independent National Election Commission must conduct the 2019 general election at least till March 17, when the matter will be heard.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, on Tuesday, informed the National Assembly that he had withheld his assent to the bill which was earlier passed by both chambers of the National Assembly.
Counsel to the Plaintiff, (Accord Party) Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, had through an oral application urged the court to stop the NASS from taking any step on the Electoral Bill, pending the determination of the case.
“My lord the Senate can commence process to override the President almost immediately by securing 2/3rd majority. As at yesterday, the letter of the President refusing to accent to Bill which is the subject matter of this litigation, was read on the floor of the Senate and it is also on all the national dailies today.
“We urge the court to order that further action on the Bill titled Electoral Act (amendment bill) 2018, be stepped down pending the hearing and determination of out motion that was filed on March 7, 2018.
“The court should order that parties must respect the doctrine of lispendis which forbids any party in litigation, whether or not there is an application for injunction, not to do anything that will fragment or extinguish the Res of the litigation.
“If they act under section 58(5), my lord there will be a constitutional crisis, anarchy, chaos and there will be no return to status quo ante belum; so, prevention they say is better than cure,” Olanipekun submitted.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, the 2nd Defendant in the matter, was not represented in court.
Counsel to INEC (3rd defendant) Mr. T. M. Inuwa, said it was not opposing the application for the issuance of a restraining order against the NASS.
Opposing the application, counsel to the 1st Defendant (NASS), Miss Ogbozor, insisted that such preservative order should not be granted on the basis of an oral application.
“My lord we submit that the weighty application the plaintiff has made which has consequential implications, if granted, cannot be made orally.
The grant of the preservative order as prayed by the plaintiff is simply the grant of the motion on notice.
“It denies the 1st defendant of its right to fair hearing on serious issues that have been raised relating to the powers of the National Assembly to conduct its constitutional duties.
“Secondly, he who comes to equity must do so with clean hands. The Bill which the plaintiff is challenging by this action, was sent to the President for assent almost 30 days ago.
“The plaintiff has not said they were not aware of the Bill as at the time it was sent to the President for his assent.
“They rather sat back and waited until now to claim that there will be damage on them if further action is taken on the Bill by the National Assembly.
“In any event that the action of the plaintiff succeeds, the remedy of nullifying whatever action taken by the NASS, will still be adequate.
“However, on our own part, if the 1st defendant is restrained from performing its primary duty which is law making, this court would indirectly interfere with the constitutional powers of that arm of government.
“We therefore submit that this is not the case of prevention is better than cure, but a case of prohibition which is equal to denial”.
She argued that the fact that the Senate read President Buhari’s letter on Tuesday, was extraneous to the case before the court.
“We conclude by submitting that the plaintiff, having not complied with the rules for bringing such application before the court, is not entitled to the reliefs being sought. Especially where the reliefs are predicated on facts that do not constitute the reasons for which the motion on notice was filed”, she submitted.
Delivering the ruling, Justice Mohammed invoked section 6(6) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, which he said empowered the court to protect the Res (subject matter) of the substantive suit pending before it.
“It is hereby directed that the parties shall maintain status quo at least between now and the next adjourned date, when the court will hear the Plaintiff motion on notice for an order of interlocutory injunction.
“Hearing notice is to be issued on the 2nd defendant following his absence and lack of representation.
“These orders are made pursuant to section 6(6) of the 1999 Constitution.
“The suit is adjourned till March 20 for the Plaintiffs’ motion on notice.”