Lawyers have reacted to the reordering of the 2019 election timetable by the National Assembly.
While some of them believe it is illegal and against the constitution, others however, say there is nothing unconstitutional about .
The amendments, if eventually signed by the president, will make some changes in Nigeria’s electoral act including reorganising the sequence of the forthcoming 2019 elections.
The federal lawmakers want their election to come up first, followed by that of state lawmakers and governors, and lastly the presidential election.
Earlier, the House of Representatives adopted the harmonised version of the amended Electoral Act without any dissensions while some members of the Senate rejected it.
The House of Representatives amended Section 25 of the existing law and substituted it with a new section 25 (1) to suit the new order of elections.
About 10 All Progressives Congress, APC, senators kicked against the adoption of the report, accusing the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, of influencing it.
The APC has a majority in the 109-member Senate.
The dissenting views of only 10 senators shows a majority of the party’s lawmakers supported the amendment which was also approved by the Senate.
However, others feel there are a few other senators who are fearful of openly opposing it in order to avoid sanctions from their colleagues.
Speaking on the new election sequence, Festus Keyamo, a legal practitioner, said the National Assembly has no right to dictate to INEC.
“They have no right to dictate for INEC, the sequence of elections. Nigeria’s provisions in the constitution, which I have highlighted in most of my outings, does not give them the power to fix dates for elections.
“The provisions for various sections of the constitution, are very clear, especially section 15 of the Top Schedule. Section 15 of the top schedule gives INEC the power to organise and undertake elections. You organise a thing by systematising it.
“So the section 15 of the Top Schedule makes it very clear that INEC is the only one that has the sole responsibility to fix dates for elections as well as determine the sequence for the election.
“What they are doing is illegal and unconstitutional. Once any provision of the electoral act conflicts with the constitution, that provision should be null and void.”
Ola Adeosun, a lawyer also said the move by the National Assembly is against the law.
“For me, it is not okay. It is against all known laws of the land. But you understand the tendency of the average Nigerian politician, they politicise everything.
“The essence of law making is to do things that would take care of the interest of the citizens, but unfortunately, in this part of the world, lawmaking and governance is just in the interest of the political office holders. Everybody wants to wage power on their own side alone without putting the people into consideration.
“Of course, whatever sequence the election takes, does not in anyway affect the people and those who are shouting against it, are not shouting against it because it is going to affect the people but because it’s going to affect their own personal interest.
“As far as the law is concerned it is INEC that has the prerogative to determine when and how elections should be held”, he said.
Another lawyer, Wale Balogun, told PREMIUM TIMES that with respect to details of the power of the commission, the National Assembly does not have such power under the constitution and under the electoral act to legislate power that has been given to the commission.
Mr. Balogun explained that people may argue that the National Assembly is not “debating date but sequence of the election.”
INEC can subsequently, decide to just fix the date, which he believes the commission should not have problem with.
“The school of thought which I belong to, is that if the National Assembly goes ahead to determine the election sequence, in the name of re-amending the electoral act, they will be infringing on the power that has been given to INEC by the constitution and the procedures for amending the electoral act and the constitution are both apart.
“So indeed, if they want to bring down the general power that has been given to INEC, then it will involve amendment of the constitution, which apparently, they are not ready to do,” he said.
He added that the National Assembly may want to change the sequence of election for political reasons.
“The political view of the fact that the moment people elect whoever is going to be the president, there is a tendency that most people are likely to vote along that line.
“There’s also economic implication of what the National Assembly is attempting to do. By the time the election is broken into three series, they will have to deploy ballot boxes and papers as well as officials all over the country.
“Are we really willing to over-burden INEC?”, he said.
Another respondent, Lekan Alabi explained that the National Assembly has the power to make laws for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“And in making those laws, they have to consider existing laws, which involves the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria and the electoral act.
“The power has been given to the chairman of INEC to conduct and organise free and said election. So, it is the administrative power that has been conferred on the commission.
“Teaching the electoral commission how to organise an election is not right by the National Assembly. I think it is an unnecessary adventure of the national assembly to dictate for INEC, which of the elections should be held first or second it last. It is purely the administrative work of INEC because the power had been conferred in them.”
Another lawyer, Olayinka Ogunmodimu, told PREMIUM TIMES that the electoral commission needs “to be left alone to operate as an independent body.”
“I think it is not okay because INEC as a body needs to be independent. As an independent body, they have the heart that establishes INEC, empowers them to fix dates and everything that has to do with election.
“An independent body is that body that has the control of it’s own activities without unnecessary interference from an external force.
“So intereferrence of the National Assembly is not right. There is checks and balances in every system of government and I think they are just poke-nosing and I’m sure they want to change it for selfish reasons,” he said.
Jiti Ogunye, a prominent lawyer, however said the National Assembly has the power to reorder the election sequence.
“It is not about legality, constitutionality or whatever. Once you acknowledge that the National Assembly has the power to make the law, which they have done by the sequence, the order of which the election will be conducted in the 2010 electoral act, thereby, surrender the argument that the National Assembly cannot amend it.
“Because if they couldn’t amend it, they ought not to have legislated on it the first time.
“It is either they have the power to legislate on it or not. INEC’s argument is that the National Assembly lacks the power at all on deciding the sequence of election, then why is there a provision of the election sequence in section 5 of the electoral act? It ought not to have been there.
“In which case, it will now then be exclusive right of INEC to fix not only the date, but to determine the order in which the election will be conducted.
“What INEC is telling us now is that the order in which the election will be conducted is already in the electoral act; the act made by the National Assembly. So if they make it presidential first, and they’re now rejigging it, why is anybody arguing that they don’t have the power. That’s the point I’m making”, he said.
He however said the lawmakers are doing so for their own interest, not that of the country.
“If we agree that they have the power to amend it, then we must concede that they have the power to re-order it, even though they are being mischevious; it is a self-preservation ploy, it is not in the interest of the country.
“Come to think of it, is it putting the presidential election that will make INEC perform better? Is that how they’ll cure then issue of underaged voting? Will that end the queues for voters’ card registration?” he said.