Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday adjourned to May 24 for definite hearing in a suit filed by the Peoples Democtratic Party (PDP), seeking to stop the National Assembly from deleting the controversial Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act, 2022.
The judge adjourned hearing in the matter to enable parties address him on the effect of the recent Court of Appeal judgment on the contentious Section 84 (12).
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, had last week, voided the judgment of the Federal High Court, Umuahia which had directed the federal government to delete the said section for being unconstitutional.
The appellate court, in its unanimous judgment, held that Justice Evelyn Anyadike of the Federal High Court in Umuahia did not have the necessary jurisdiction to make such an order because the plaintiff, who brought the case, did not have the locus to file the case in the first place.
The appellate court however, after setting aside the judgment of the lower court, delved into the merit of the case and came to the conclusion that the said Section 84 (12) was unconstitutional because it infringes on the fundamental rights of a class of persons (political appointees).
Based on this decision, Justice Ekwo, at the resumed hearing of the case, asked the plaintiff represented by Mr Joseph Daudu (SAN), if the court can still proceed with the matter.
Responding, the senior lawyer and one time President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) answered in the affirmative, explaining that there is no issue of fundamental rights before the court.
The PDP’s case was aimed at stopping the National Assembly from tampering with the Electoral Act, 2022, as requested by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The president had, while assenting to the amended bill, wrote the lawmakers to delete Section 84 (12) from the Electoral Act, 2022 for being anti-democratic.
But, the PDP in the suit is challenging the legality of the National Assembly to delete provisions of the law without recourse to the court.
In responding to Justice Ekwo’s questions, Daudu stated that the appellate court in its judgment held that Section 84 (12) contravened Section 42 (1)(a) of the Constitution which has to do with the fundamental rights of certain class of citizens, adding that fundamental rights issue was not among the issues before the court, hence the court can proceed.
He also clarified that the appellate court in the judgment also held that Section 84 (12) did not violate the provisions of the constitution on requirements for qualification and disqualification as the said portions of the constitution concerns public servants of whom the appellate court held is quite distinct from political appointees.
The senior lawyer in addition informed the court that the judgment of Justice Anyadike was set aside because the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit in the first place.
However, Mr Oladipupo Okpeseyi (SAN), who represented President Buhari and the Attorney General of the Federation, (AGF), told the court that there is no difference between the suit before him and the one of the Federal High Court, Umuahia which the Appeal Court has already passed its verdict.
“The appellant at the Court of Appeal is the same plaintiff here,” he said.
Responding, Justice Ekwo advised the PDP to take a second look at its process and fixed May 24 for hearing.
The section 84 ( 12) of the Electoral Act bars all politial appointees from participating in the congresses and conventions of political parties unless they resigned 30 days earlier.