Court overrules NASS on sequence of 2019 election timetable

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A Federal High Court in Abuja has ruled that the national assembly has no power to reorder the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) timetable for the 2019 general elections

The Accord Party filed the application after both chambers of the national assembly attempted to implement Section 58 of the constitution which allows the legislature to override the decision of the president.

The party asked the court to determine if INEC was not solely empowered to carry out its function of overseeing the election timetable in Nigeria.

The application by Accord Party was part of events that trailed the decision of the National Assembly to reorder the sequence of the 2019 general elections, putting the presidential election last.

This development initiated a series of controversies in the polity with some senators of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) saying it was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari, to prevent his re-election.

Both chambers of the national assembly, though dominated by the APC, amended the order of the election.

The proposed sequence of elections would make the national assembly election come first in 2019, followed by governorship and state Houses of Assembly, and presidential as last.

That was against the sequence rolled out by INEC late 2017, which put presidential and national assembly elections first and governorship and state assembly to follow.

Ruling on the matter today, the presiding judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed noted that the national assembly commenced moves to amend the Electoral Act after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had already released its timetable for the 2019 elections.

He held that the lawmakers’ action was a clear breach of paragraph 15a of the 3rd Schedule of the 1999 constitution, as amended.

He stressed that the right that was constitutionally vested on INEC could not be removed by the national assembly through its belated process to amend the Electoral Act.

The court stated that INEC has the sole responsibility to organise and conduct elections, including fixing of dates, among other things.

“It is the sole responsibility of the third defendant (INEC) to organise and conduct elections, including fixing of dates for the elections.

“The power of INEC to organise and conduct elections in this country cannot be taken away by the Electoral Act.

“After perusing submissions of counsel in this matter, I declare Section 25 of the Electoral Act 2018, which is the section that contravenes the provisions of the constitution a nullity.

“The plaintiff’s suit seeking for the interpretation of certain provisions of the Constitution cannot be said to be an abuse of the process of the court,” he said.

Consequently, the court granted reliefs 1 to 10 that was sought by Accord Party but nullified section 25 of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2018, which sought to alter sequence for the forthcoming general elections.

Counsel to the national assembly, Joseph Daudu, urged the court to dismiss the application, describing it as an abuse of court process.

The judge also 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.

Meanwhile, a member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas (Adamawa), has contended that the national assembly has the power to re-order elections sequence contrary to the judgment of the court

Addressing newsmen in Abuja today, Namdas said: “The court has said its own, but I want to tell you that we have these powers because we make laws and the Electoral Act itself was passed by the parliament.

“This is just amending an aspect of the Electoral Act. If you say we cannot amend an aspect of Electoral Act, then who gave us the powers to even enact the Electoral Act in the first place.

“I am not a Lawyer, but watch it, listen to it; even the Electoral Act was enacted by the national assembly and was amended in 2010. Even bills, laws and constitutions are being reviewed by the national assembly,” he said.

The legislator hinted that the national assembly would appeal the decision of the court.

“For you to say we cannot do that, well, this is a legal opinion from the court, but I can tell you, when we get to the upper court, people will get to know the right one.

“We will do our own, and if people feel aggrieved, they will go to court. But in my views, we have the powers,’’ he said.

 

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