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Court order on Electoral Act Amendment: Senate writes CJN to respect Principle of Separation of Powers

 

 

THE Senate resolved Thursday to write the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Walter Onnoghen to caution his judges and ask them to respect the principle of separation of powers.

According to the Senate, Onnogen must caution his judicial officers of the need to defend the institutions and democracy. The resolution of the Senate was sequel to a point of Order raised by the Senate Minority leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio who drew the attention of the Senate to reports in the newspapers on the injunction obtained to stop the National Assembly from taking further actions on the amendment of the Electoral Act.

The Senate took the position at plenary following the decision of an Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, which on Wednesday restrained the National Assembly from taking any further action on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which President Muhammadu Buhari declined to assent to, pending the determination of a suit that was filed before it by Accord Party.

The court, in a ruling delivered by Justice Ahmed Mohammed, ordered all the parties to maintain status quo antebellum, “at least between now and the next adjourned date”. Justice Mohammed had invoked section 6(6) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, which he said empowered the court to protect the Res (subject matter) of the substantive suit pending before it. Recall that the Senate had on Wednesday, February 14 approved an amendment to the electoral process which places the Presidential as the last of the elections to be conducted in the country while that of the National Assembly election will hold first, followed by gubernatorial and State Houses of Assembly polls.

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With this arrangement, it became very clear that President Muhammadu Buhari and other presidential candidates in the 2019 general election may be made to walk on tight rope to get elected. The bill had been passed and concurred with by the two chambers of the National Assembly and in the process of being forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent. Also recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had written the Senate, declining assent to the new amendment to the Electoral Act, which seeks to re-order the sequence of the polls during general elections.

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President Buhari in a letter to the Senate and read by Senate President Bukola Saraki at plenary on Tuesday, said that it became imperative for him to withhold assent to the bill because it will infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organize, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution.

According to the President in the letter dated 8th March, 2018, the Senate and the National Assembly in general got it wrong in the amendment to Section 138 of the principal act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, has limited the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process. Buhari told the Senate that he vetoed the amendment especially that of Section 152 Subsection ( 3)-(5) of the Principal Act because it raises Constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.

Buhari’s letter is entitled, ” Presidential Decision to decline Assent to the Electoral ( Amendment) Bill, 2018. The two- page letter read: “Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate, my decision, on 3rd March 2018, to decline Presidential Assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.

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“Some of my reasons include the following: The amendment to the sequence of elections in Section 25 of the principal act, may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organize, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution;

“The amend to Section 138 of the principal act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process; “The amendment to Section 152 Subsection ( 3)-(5) of the Principal Act may raise Constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections. “Please accept, Distinguished Senators, the assurances of my highest consideration.”

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