The National Assembly has put on hold further legislative action on the letter from President Muhammadu Buhari seeking amendment to Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022. The decision was based on a court injunction, which temporarily stopped the institution from taking any action on the legislation.
Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja on Monday temporarily restrained the National Assembly from deleting or taking any further steps regarding Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022.Ekwo made the order while delivering ruling in an ex parte application brought by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) challenging the legality of the National Assembly’s decision to amend a bill already signed into law by the president.
Buhari had in his letter urged the National Assembly to expunge the controversial Section 84(12) in the Electoral Act, which mandates government appointees to resign their positions three months ahead of the primary elections of political parties where they would be delegates.
This, he had said, was in order to deepen democracy in the country. The section particularly barred appointed political office holders from voting or being voted for during conventions and congresses of political parties.
Before Buhari signed the bill into law on February 25, 2022, he was said to have reached an agreement with both the Senate and the House of Representatives for the lawmakers to expunge the section.
However, the leadership of the nation’s apex legislative institution in an exclusive interview with THISDAY, yesterday, said the court order would stall the debate on the document, billed for deliberation today.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, confirmed that the National Assembly would refer the court verdict to its team of legal advisers.
Basiru said, “We will study the court judgement and we will get legal advice. At the moment we have not been served. When we are served we will study the order.
“We have legal advisers who will advise us on the position to take. We will take action based on the legal advice.”
Asked if the National Assembly would go ahead with the deliberation on the egislation today, Basiru said “such decision would be taken by the leadership when they meet.”
When contacted, Minority Leader of the Senate, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said that the judiciary could not stop the parliament from performing its constitutional duties.
Abaribe said, “Under the Nigerian constitution, no other arm of government can stop the National Assembly from doing their work.
“It is our job to debate any communication from the president on national issues. No court injunction can restrain us from performing our constitutional duties.
“We will await the court order and see whether any judge in Nigeria will issue an order to stop the legislature from performing their function. We will debate and do anything that is in front of us in the National Assembly.
“We just got the letter from the president asking us to consider an amendment to the Electoral Act 2022. I cannot speak on it until we debate it on the floor of the senate.”
However, the Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives vowed to argue against the demand by the president.
Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta), in a chat with THISDAY, said the caucus was still studying the request and would certainly argue against it.
Elumelu said, “We are still studying the request but most certainly we argue against it.”
Corroborating, leader of the Peoples Democratic Party caucus (PDP), Hon. Kingsley Chinda (Rivers) also speaking, said all amendments would be considered on its merit.
He said the lawmakers would put into consideration the interest of the country.
Chinda stated that Buhari’s request was no doubt to safeguard the interest of his lieutenants that desire to run for elective posts.
He said, “All amendments will be considered on their merit, putting into consideration the interest of the country and not the desires or interest of any citizen. The request of Mr. President is, no doubt, to safeguard the interest of his lieutenants that desire to run for elective posts. This law will transcend this government.”
On his part, the House leader, Hon. Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano), said the House was yet to receive Buhari’s communication for the amendment. Doguwa said when the communication comes; the lawmakers will do justice to it.
He added, “For me at the moment, there is already a legislation, formal legislation assented to by Mr. President in the name of electoral act amendment 2022.
“So it is a law, if Mr. President or any Nigerian would like to come out for an amendment the procedures are there.
“I understand that there was a communication in the Senate to that effect, we have not yet received a communication to that effect, we have not yet received that communication in the House of Representatives.
“This you can quote me authoritatively, but when it comes, we will do justice to it. We will go through our procedures if that will permit us to do it.
“The House has not taken any position on this. My opinion is that going by the electoral protocol worldwide, when you have a legislative framework that has to do with the electoral process of a country, you cannot alter any part of the law in less than one year to election.
“That might be a very big challenge. I am not pre-empting the president request, i am not also pre-empting the position of the House. But I am afraid if the House will indulge such a request in a situation whereby it will amount to procedural breach of the expectation of the best practices of democracy worldwide. 360 days to election, we are advised not to temper with the elections framework.”
Court Temporarily Stops NASS from Granting Buhari’s Request
Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, temporarily restrained the National Assembly from deleting or taking any further steps regarding Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022.
However, after listening to counsel of the PDP, Chief Ogwu Onoja, who argued the ex parte application, the court held that the application had merit and consequently granted it as prayed.
Ekwo held that all the defendants were restrained from taking any further steps regarding the request of Buhari for the deletion of Section 84 (12) pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
The judge further ordered the applicant to serve the order as well as the process on all the defendants and adjourned till March 21, for hearing of the substantive suit.
PDP dragged Buhari before a Federal High Court in Abuja over alleged fresh move to tamper with the newly amended Electoral Act signed into law by the president.
Those sued alongside Buhari were the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Senate President, Speaker, House of Representatives, Clerk of National Assembly, Senate Leader, House of Representatives Leader and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Others included Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Deputy Senate Leader, and Deputy House of Representatives Leader.
The plaintiff in the ex parte prayed the court for an order of interim injunction restraining the defendants from refusing to implement the duly signed Electoral Act or in any manner withholding the Electoral Act from being put to use, including the provisions of Section 84 (12) of the said Act, pending the resolution of the suit.
The plaintiff similarly prayed for another order restraining the National Assembly from giving effect to Buhari’s request to remove Section 84 (12) from the Electoral Act or take any step that will make the provision inoperative pending the resolution of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.
Onoja argued that Buhari, having assented to the bill on February 25, 2022, could not give any directive to the National Assembly to take immediate steps to remove the section or any section of the Act on any ground whatsoever.
In the main suit marked: FHC/ABJ/ CS/247/2022, the plaintiff wants the court to declare that Buhari’s power as regarding law making was limited to assenting bill of the National Assembly or withholding assent and does not extend to giving conditional assent.
The PDP further wants the court to hold that Section 84 (12) is constitutional and liable to be enforced by INEC, who is the eight defendant in the suit.
The party further sought a declaration that Section 84 (12) was not inconsistent with or contradicts Sections 40 and 42 of the constitution and does not offend constitutional provisions on disqualification of a person from election to office.
The PDP accordingly asked the court for an order of mandatory injunction compelling INEC to put into immediate effect the Electoral Act including the said Section 84 (12).
They also prayed the court for an order of injunction restraining the defendants from treating Section 84 (12) as unconstitutional or in any manner denying it its efficacy or altering it on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
PDP also prayed for another order of injunction restraining the third to 12 defendants from implementing the directive of Buhari to amend Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.