The National Assembly may suspend the ongoing amendment to the Electoral Act, 2022 based on the request by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who asked the federal parliament to delete Section 84(14) of the new electoral law, The PUNCH learnt on Monday.
It was learnt that the leadership of the National Assembly would study the ruling of a Federal High Court, Abuja, stopping Buhari; the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN); and the parliament from tampering with the newly amended Electoral Act, 2022.
Buhari had last week conveyed his reservation about the Electoral Act, 2022 to the National Assembly.
While the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, last Tuesday read Buhari’s cover letter on the Electoral Act, 2022 (Amendment) Bill dated February 28, 2022, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has yet to read the President’s letter.
Buhari, while assenting to the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on February 25, highlighted sections of the new law that would revolutionalise the electoral system in the country, but expressed reservations about Section 84 (12).
The section 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’.
In the letter, Buhari drew the attention of the chamber to the provisions of Section 84(12), which he noted constituted a “defect” that was in conflict with extant constitutional provisions.
However, Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a ruling on an ex parte application filed by the Peoples Democratic Party, agreed that the Electoral Act had become a valid law and could not be tampered with without following the due process.
Justice Ekwo held that the proper place to challenge the validity of any existing law was in a court of competent jurisdiction.
The PDP, through its counsel, James Onoja (SAN), sued the President along with the others challenging what it described as a bid to tinker with the newly amended Electoral Act.
Other defendants in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/247/2022 are the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Deputy President of the Senate, Deputy Speaker of the House, Clerk to the National Assembly, Leader of the House, Leader of the Senate, and the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Justice Ekwo restrained the defendants in the suit from removing Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act or preventing it from being implemented for the purpose of the 2023 general elections.
The PDP had dragged Buhari before the court challenging a fresh move to tamper with the newly amended Electoral Act.
The main opposition party prayed the court for an order of interim injunction restraining Buhari and other defendants from refusing to implement the duly signed Electoral Act or in any manner withholding the law from being put to use, including Section 84 (12) of the Act pending the resolution of the suit.
The PDP also applied for an order stopping the National Assembly from giving effect to Buhari’s request to remove Section 84 (12) from the Electoral Act or take any step that would make the provision inoperative pending the resolution of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.
The grouse of the PDP is that the President, having assented to the Bill on February 25, 2022, cannot give any directive to the National Assembly to take immediate steps to remove the contentious Section 84 (12) or any section of the Act on any ground whatsoever.
Justice Ekwo granted the interim injunction request and adjourned further hearing in the matter till March 21.
When contacted by The PUNCH to react to the court ruling, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, said, “I believe the leadership will study the order and take appropriate legal advice on what is to be done.”
The National Assembly had said penultimate Friday that it would seek legal advice on the request by the President, stating that it would review the clause and consult with relevant stakeholders, including lawmakers’ constituents, before taking a decision on Buhari’s reservations.
“His (President’s) request will be looked at as appropriate. We will look at it, get legal opinions and know the legislative action to take. He has assented the bill and it has become law. He should send an executive bill.” Basiru had said
The Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, did not take his calls and he had yet to reply to a text message seeking his reaction as of press time on Monday.
“We will always look at the important elements of any communication from Mr President and give it the required attention. That, we promise the Presidency and the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Kalu had earlier said.