By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, yesterday, nulifies the National Assembly Electoral act which re-orders the sequence for 2019 general elections.
Delivering ruling in the suit challenging the election sequence, Justice Mohammed held that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is the only body that has constitutionally backing to organise, undertake and supervise elections in the country.
The parties to the suit are the National Assembly, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The court, therefore, granted as prayed reliefs 1 to 10 of the Plaintiff (Accord Party)in the suit number, FHC/ABJ/CS/232/2018.
In the same vein, it nullified section 25 of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2018, which sought to alter sequence for the forthcoming general elections.
The judge in the ruling also noted that the INEC had already released its timetable for the 2019 elections before NASS commenced moves to amend the Electoral Act, adding that NASS moves and actions contravenes paragraph 15a of the 3rd Schedule of the 1999 constitution, as amended.
The court maintained that the right was constitutionally vested on INEC could not be removed by the NASS through its belated process to amend the Electoral Act.
However, the court declined to compel President Muhammadu Buhari to reject the 2018 Amended Electoral Act on the basis that the President has already withheld his assent to it.
“I am persuaded by argument of the plaintiff that it is the sole responsibility of the 3rd defendant (INEC) to conduct elections, and further in doing so, the 3rd defendant has the power to fix dates for elections.
“The power given to INEC to fixed a date and conduct election cannot be taken away by an amendment of an electorial action.
Also, the court dismissed the National Assembly’s notice of preliminary objection praying for the dismissal of the suit.
He dismissed the suit on the grounds that it was not jusitifiable, that the plaintiff lacked the locus standi to initiate the suit.
He maintained 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.
At the last adjourned date, adopting his final brief of evidence, consel to NASS, Mr. A. B. Daudu SAN, maintained that the suit was premature since the NASS has not passed the Bill into law.
The Attorney General of Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami, SAN, submitting his brief, accused the NASS of attempting to usurp the powers of the NASS.
“My lord the 2nd defendant has filed friendly process to the case of the plaintiff. I call the process friendly in the sense that we did not file any objection to the Originating Summons.
“Arising further with the case and position of the plaintiff, we most humbly adopt their submissions in totality. We oppose the preliminary objection filed by the 1st defendant (NASS).
“For the purpose of determining whether the jurisdiction of this court can be properly invoked or otherwise, I submit that what is before your lordship for consideration, is a legislative conduct that is constitutionally recognised .
“Section 4(8) of the 1999 constitution is express and categorical as far as the invocation of the jurisdiction of this court is concerned. This court has the power to invoke its jurisdiction when the question borders on the issue of legislative powers of the NASS”
He argued under section 58 of the constitution, such legislative powers included the passing of Bills by both the Senate and House of Reps.
Also arguing in support of the suit, counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, Mr. Femi Falana SAN, told the court that the plaintiff was duly registered as a political party, adding that he is in support of all the reliefs being sought by the plaintiff.
Driving further his argument, counsel to the plaintiff, Chief Woke Olanipekun, SAN, told the court that former President Goodluck Jonathan had few days before he vacated office, also refused to sign the Constitution Alteration Bill into law.
He said following a suit by the AGF, the Supreme court, on May 7, 2016, restrained the NASS from exercising any further power under section 58(5) of the constitution with a view to passing the bill with 23rd majority since the President had declined his assent.