Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, has warned the judiciary against meddling in the affairs and processes of the legislature.
He reminded the judiciary that Nigeria’s system of governance is based on separation of powers and as such, all arms of government are not supposed to venture into the activities of another.
Mr Lawan was reacting to a court ruling by the Federal High Court in Abuja barring President Muhammadu Buhari, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Senate President from tampering with the newly amended Electoral Act 2022.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the judge, Inyang Ekwo, in a ruling on an ex-parte application by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said the Electoral Act having become a valid law could not be altered without following the due process of law.
The court restrained Mr Buhari, the AGF and the National Assembly and other defendants in the suit from removing section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act or prevent it from being implemented for the purpose of the 2023 general elections.
The president had signed the amended bill into law in February. He had asked the National Assembly to expunge Clause 84(12) of the Act.
The clause reads: “No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.”
The president said the clause constituted a disenfranchisement of serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at conventions or congresses of any political party, for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election in cases where it holds earlier than 30 days to the national election.
But the PDP had sued the President and others against fresh moves to tamper with the newly amended Electoral Act.
He was sued along with the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Senate President, Speaker, House of Representatives, Clerk of the National Assembly, Senate Leader, House of Representatives Leader and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The party asked the court for an order of interim injunction restraining Mr Buhari and other 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.
In his reaction, Mr Lawan said the court ruling will not stop the legislature from amending the bill again.
“I find it very necessary to talk at this point because with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, our governance system is based on the presidential system of government where there is a clear cut separation of powers and exercise of powers.
“The Judiciary under no circumstance can stop the legislature, the National Assembly from performing its legislative duties. We know what our due processes are. Just like we won’t venture in what the Judiciary does, the Judiciary should understand that we have our processes.
“I believe the members of the National Assembly know their work, know their onions and would do what is right. This is due process, we are not doing anything outside the law. It is within our exclusive right to consider whatever request we receive from Nigerians either from the Executive or private member bill,” he said during plenary.
Benue senator, Gabriel Suswan, agreed with the Senate President.
Mr Suswam, a member of the PDP, said the problem with the letter from the president requesting amendment to the Act is that there is a part of it that interpreted the law they made.
“I think that is the only part that the court can Act on, because he (Mr Buhari) said that the law we (National Assembly) made is ultra vires the Constitution, which is not his responsibility, and, I think, to that extent, the court can comment on that and not on the fact that we are making laws,” he said.
But Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu), cited Order 52(5) of the Senate Standing Rule and asked the Senate to abide by the court ruling.
“When we were waiting for the president to assent to the Electoral Act, some of us made a suggestion we believed would help – namely that the president would sign and then we would commit ourselves to amending that section.
“I also offered to help in redrafting it, now we have a situation where they’ve told us there is a judicial restriction on us to do that.
“I agree with you entirely, but the principle as all the lawyers here know, is that if there is a court order, no matter how wrong it is, our responsibility as individuals and citizens is to respect it. The argument you have raised is what we are going to raise in response.”
The Senate President ,however, said his comment “has nothing to do what happens in the court.”
Mr Ekweremadu, however, advised the National Assembly to discharge the court order.
“I think the argument you’ve raised is valid, but this point is what we have to present in court to discharge that order.
“We cannot sit and appeal on a matter that has already been given an order in court. I think we should exercise caution in siting a judgment over a matter that an order has been given.
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“What we should do is to brief our lawyers to go and discharge the order, instead of sitting here and disobeying court order, it is not good for us and our system, that is calling for anarchy.”
Mr Lawan maintained that anarchy is when one arm of government decides to go into the exclusive preserve of the other.
“If the Judiciary wants to come into the Legislature to decide when we sit and when we don’t, then that’s anarchy.
“If the Judiciary would simply say we are not to consider this and that, and we obey those kinds of rulings, that is anarchy, because it is emasculating the legislature and that is not supposed to be .
“We will continue with what we are supposed to do because that is our calling. We are just advising that the Judiciary should please help us develop this democracy, because this arm of government is the least developed and if we allow these kinds of rulings, we may end up going back 23 years ago.
“I believe that what we are saying is the same, but we are emphasising that that judicial pronouncement will not stop us from doing what is right and our work here,” he said.
Before now, the National Assembly amended and re-amended different legislations like Petroleum Industry Act, among others.
The lawmakers formally received the president’s request to amend the Electoral Act.
Consideration and passage of the proposed amendment is expected to be done on another legislative day. It is , however, not clear how soon this amendment will be considered.
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