By Oji Odu
It may not yet be uhuru for the National Assembly whose quest for reordering of the sequence for the 2019 general election as put forward by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was upheld by the Appeal Court after President Muhammadu Buhari vetoed it.
The daunting poser remains: Why is the President and the All Progressives Congress (APC) against the reordering of the 2019 elections which kicks off with the Presidential election in spite of its popularity claims? Why does the National Assembly think that the INEC timetable may throw up a leadership that will not be in the best interest of Nigeria’s maturing democracy? Who would be the beneficiaries of the reordering or non- reordering of the sequence of the 2019 general election?
With claims and counter claims by both the President/APC and the opposition of the president’s popularity among Nigerians, it may be right for this popularity to be tested in an unquestionable election whose ordering is devoid of controversy.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja had on Wednesday, August 1, 2018 set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court which stopped the National Assembly from reordering provision of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018. The court held that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit in the first place.
President of the court, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who headed a five-man panel of the court, in her lead judgement, ruled that the suit was premature because a bill cannot not be challenged in the law court until it became an Act. Also, while upholding the appeal by the National Assembly, it held that the Accord Party which instituted the suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja, lacked the locus standi to file the action. She held that since the bill did not affect its rights or the obligations of the party, the “general interest” available to the public did not confer the rights on it to challenge the bill.
The Accord Party had dragged the National Assembly, the Attorney General of the Federation and INEC before the court headed by Justice Ahmed Mohammed, praying it to stop the National Assembly from reordering the sequence of the general election. The party had asked the court to determine whether INEC is not the only institution constitutionally vested with the powers to organise, undertake and supervise elections, including fixing the sequence of elections to various elective offices in the country.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed held in his judgment that INEC is the only body that is constitutionally empowered to organise, undertake and supervise elections in the country. “I am persuaded by the 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 judge held.
He noted that the National Assembly commenced moves to amend the Electoral Act after INEC had already released its timetable for the 2019 elections. The court held that the action of the National Assembly was in clear breach of paragraph 15 (a) of the 3rd schedule of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
In a chat with Godswill Apam, a political analyst, he said that with the fallout of the strange bed fellows making up the APC, leading to the gale of defections, many are not comfortable with the INEC leadership and the timetable for the 2019 elections which they claim favour the president and APC.
“ Had the people that make up the APC not fallen apart, I don’t think any of them would have seen any problem with the INEC timetable for the 2019 general election. I believe the quest for reorganising 2019 election sequence will be good for Nigeria’s nascent democracy. It is meant to throw up a strong opposition because the other National Assembly elections and others will be done before the Presidential election.
“ We saw what happened after the 2015 general election following the conduct of the Presidential election before the others. There was a quick realignment to be in the same boat with the wining President. After the APC government had taken over government, there was a wave of decamping to the party, especially from the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in order to remain relevant, be in the good books of President Buhari and have their past sins forgiven,” he said.
But Johnson Adetunji believes that there is no reason for the expression of fears by the National Assembly on the INEC timetable that it may negatively cause a swing of votes. Also, in as much as I believe that the National Assembly has the principal right to make laws, it should have confidence in the ability of those that make bye-laws that they are capable of making good laws.
Meanwhile, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has hailed the judgement of the Court of Appeal which upheld the powers of the National Assembly to make laws, including the bill amending election sequence. The judgement dismissed the earlier verdict of the Federal High Court which stopped the National Assembly from overriding the assent of the President on the bill.
In a statement signed by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, the Saraki stated that the judgement has further reinforced the belief of Nigerians that the judiciary remains the hope of the country in strengthening democracy, resolving conflicts between various arms and levels of government as well protecting the rights of individuals. He said that it is now clear by the judgement that the National Assembly was right when it passed the bill. He stated that the legislature reversed its decision on the issue, after President Muhammadu Buhari refused assent to the bill in the interest of peace and to forestall any legal obstacle on the way of the 2019 elections.
With the victory of the National Assembly by the Court of Appeal judgement, it is believed that it may be challenged at the Supreme Court by those wanting status-quo. This will leave the apex court little time to interpret and pass judgement on the issue, with about six months to the 2019 elections.