2019 Election Sequence: Senate to write CJN on respect for separation of powers

Chambers of the Nigerian Senate used to illustrate the story.
Chambers of the Nigerian Senate used to illustrate the story.

The Nigerian Senate on Thursday resolved to write a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, reminding him of separation of powers of arms of government as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution.

The resolution was sequel to a deliberation on a point of order raised by the Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio (PDP, Akwa Ibom) where he wondered whether the court can stop the parliament from carrying out its constitutional duties.

The Federal High Court in Abuja, Wednesday, asked the National Assembly not to take any action on the Bill amending the Electoral Act which President Muhammadu Buhari refused to assent to.

One of the major amendments done by the lawmakers is that which seeks to change the sequence of elections. The lawmakers want their election to come first, followed by that of state lawmakers and governors, and lastly the presidential election.

The judge, Ahmed Mohammed, made the order while delivering ruling in an application filed by the Accord Party through its counsel, Wole Olanipekun, asking for a preservative order on the matter.

“All parties in the suit are hereby directed to maintain status quo pending the determination of the substantive suit between now and the next adjourned date”, he said.

Mr. Mohammed also said he was making the order to preserve the “sanctity and integrity of the court” adding that he was not granting the motion on the face of the application.

Mr. Akpabio began the deliberation by stating that the issue really is not the bill itself, “it has to do with due process and parliamentary functions.”

“I’m worried about the situation of powers as enshrined in our constitution. Can the court really rule an injunction, expatriate or otherwise, to stop the parliament from carrying out its constitutional duties? I’ve looked through the Nigerian Constitution and in my view, I don’t think it is right for the court to interfere in the affairs of the parliament particularly when we are in the process of making legislation. We cannot be stopped by an injunction.

“But be that as it may, I believe strongly that we also do not have the power to arrest a court judgment while the proceedings are going on and because of separation of powers, it is my zeal that in order to forestall this kind of situation happening in the future, that this Senate should view this matter very seriously.

“Because this simply means that through expatriate motion the courts can stop us from appropriating, the court can stop us from taking action on budget on the grounds that there is an injunction and it means for that Nigerians will have no budget for that year.

“Legal as it might look, it has something to do with the separation of powers and this is the core (of) democracy. Can we be stopped now from carrying out deliberations here? That is why I said I should raise it”, he said.

Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe), while contributing to the point of order, asked the courts to stay out of “what is done in the National Assembly”.

“I agree completely with the fact there is separation of powers and interdependence of various arms of government. The evolution and development of our democracy is at stake here, we should through all our institutions take actions and measures that will only enhance the development of democracy and especially our presidential system.

“I believe that the matter at stake does not require any court intervention, this is democracy at work. I don’t believe in that amendment, I voted against it, I will vote against it tomorrow but it is left for me to talk to my colleagues to see it the way I see it or if you want me to abandon my position, talk to me and that is how our democracy will develop.

“I believe that the court should hands off what we do in the National Assembly. When we finally have a law and the courts feel it’s against the Constitution then they can come in and interpret, I agree with minority leader and I believe that the courts should be very careful”, he said.

The Senate, thereafter, resolved to “notify and write a letter to the CJN informing him of the latest situation and remind him of the separation of powers as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution so that it would caution judicial officers to avoid this kind of situation in the future.”

The Senate, however, rejected a prayer to mandate the committee on Judiciary and Human Rights to liaise with the CJN on the matter to express the position of the senate.

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