Senior lawyers in the country and their umbrella body, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), yesterday waded into the controversy trailing the alteration of election sequence by the National Assembly and subsequent attempt by the federal lawmakers to veto President Muhammadu Buhjari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 into law.
Specifically, the legal experts insisted that as it stands, the ball is in the court of the judiciary, which has the final say on issues pertaining to provisions of the constitution.
Accordingly, they urged the Senate to go on appeal if it is not satisfied with the ruling of a Federal High Court which temporarily barred the National Assembly from overriding the refusal of the president to sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 into Law.
Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP on Senate’s resolution to write the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, and ask him to warn his judges to respect the principle of separation of powers, the NBA and the members of the inner bar said the proper thing for the Red Chamber to do is to go the Court of Appeal to contest the decision of the lower court.
The Senate had on March 15, 2018 resolved to petition the National Judicial Council (NJC) over the decision of a Federal High Court to stop the lawmakers from taking any further action on the amended bill, which was rejected by the president.
The upper chamber said the judiciary had no power to stop them from carrying out their primary duty of making laws.
But disagreeing with Senate’s resolution to write the CJN, the lawyers insisted that no any arm of government, whether the legislative or executive, has the right to disobey the decision of a court of law, and that anything to the contrary will amount to an invitation of anarchy or resort to self-help if that is permitted.
Nigeria, they contended, operates constitutional democracy, with the three arms of government given respective defined roles, just as they noted that it is the duty of the judiciary to pronounce on validity of any law enacted in the country.
The NBA argued that whoever is not satisfied with the pronouncement of the court of law on such validity is left to go ahead to contest it, saying writing the CJN to caution the judges on what to pronounce upon or not is not proper for the legislators
President of the NBA, Abubakar B. Mahmud (SAN), told our correspondent that the Senate was wrong to have questioned the authority of the judiciary to halt the plan by the National Assembly to proceed with the Electoral Act (Amendment) bill 2018.
He urged the Senate to be mindful of the fact that if the executive refuses to implement laws made by the National Assembly, the legislature can do nothing but run to the judiciary.
Asking the lawmakers to be careful of their utterances, the NBA president averred that neither the judge who granted the order nor the lawyer who applied for the order committed any act of misconduct.
His words: “We operate constitutional democracy with each of the three arms of government having defined roles. It is the duty of the court to pronounce on validity of any law. So, if the court pronounces on any law that is not valid, there is only one ground to take, which is to appeal against that decision until the final court decides.
“I am surprised that the Senate reacted that way. Every arm of government is bound by the decision of the court of law, and must obey it until the court above states otherwise. Anything short of obeying court decision will amount to invitation for anarchy in the land”.
On his part, a constitutional lawyer, Alasa Ismail, noted that what the court did was to merely suspend the process and not a permanent stop to it.
According him, it is a brief restraint for a few days for a matter that is in court, adding that the judiciary, being the only organ empowered by the constitution to resolve disputes between the executive and the legislature, has only taken exigent steps in that direction.
Ismail said, “The Senate is a creation of law and can’t be a lord onto itself. It has to be guided by the law it enacts and the entire laws of the land. The court did not put a permanent stop to the process but merely a suspension. It is a brief restraint for a few days for a matter that is in court.
“The judiciary is the only organ empowered by the constitution to resolve disputes between the executive and the legislature, which is the reason the court acted to avoid damages”.
Another constitutional lawyer, Muktar Isa said “Senate was wrong to question the authority of the judiciary to halt the plan by the National Assembly to proceed with the Electoral Act (Amendment) bill 2018. Is it because the court making the decision is the court of instance?”
The Supreme Court had on May 7, 2015 set precedence on the instant case when it granted interlocutory injunction restraining the National Assembly from overriding the veto of former President Goodluck Jonathan on the 2015 amendment to the 1999 constitution.
The highest court in the land threw a spanner into the proposed plan by the National Assembly to override the president’s veto on amendments to the constitution that were endorsed by the state Houses of Assembly.
In a ruling by a seven-man panel of justices led by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the apex court had ordered the lawmakers to maintain status quo on the matter until June 18.
The ruling by the Supreme Court followed reservations by the legislators on the president’s veto of the alterations in which he said the National Assembly overreached itself in the alterations
President Jonathan had through the office of the former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), prayed the Supreme Court to issue an order of interlocutory injunction against both chambers of the National Assembly.
SOURCE: Leadership Newspaper