The Federal High Court in Abuja has restrained the National Assembly and other parties to a suit challenging the legitimacy of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 taking any steps in relation to the Bill pending the next hearing in the case.
The Bill, which seeks to alter the sequence of election as earlier announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as it relates to the 2019 general elections , was rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari. His letter declining assent was read at the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed, in a ruling yesterday, ordered parties in the suit not to take steps that could affect the res (subject) of the suit.
Justice Mohammed’s ruling followed an oral application by plaintiff’s lawyer, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who urged the court to make a preservative order to protect the res when it became obvious that his client’s motion was not ripe for hearing and the lawyer representing the National Assembly would not give an undertaking.
Yesterday, Olanipekun informed the court about his client’s pending motion for interlocutory injunction for a restraining order against the National Assembly.
National Assembly’s lawyer Chinelo Ogbozor, objected to the hearing of the plaintiff’s motion on the grounds that it was not ripe for hearing.
Ogbozor urged the court to adjourn the case as she was only served on Monday and needed time to respond to the application.
Olanipekun then prayed the court to direct Ogbozor to give an undertaking that her client would not take any step in relation to the Bill pending the hearing of the plaintiff’s interlocutory motion for injunction.
Again, Ogbozor objected. She declined to give any undertaking and insisted that her client could not be put under any such pressure since they were still within time required by law to respond to the motion.
Olanipekun then made the oral application, urging the court to “make a preservative order to preserve the res of the matter” pending the next adjourned date.
He expressed concern that there could be constitutional crisis should the National Assembly decide to invoke its powers under Section 58(5) of the Constitution to override the President’s withholding of assent.
Responding, Ogbozor contended that granting the plaintiff’s oral application would amount to denying her client a fair hearing.
She insisted that her client was still within time to respond to the same prayer as being sought in the plaintiff’s motion for interlocutory injunction.
Ogbozor argued that granting the plaintiff’s prayer would amount to undue interference with an arm of government.
The second respondent, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), was not represented by any lawyer.
Lawyer to the third respondent – Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – Taminu Inuwa, said he had no objection to Olanipekun’s oral application.
In his ruling, Justice Mohammed agreed that the National Assembly was entitled to respond to the plaintiff’s motion for interlocutory injunction.
The judge said: “Apparently the motion on notice cannot be heard today because the 1st defendant still needs time to respond to the application.
“The court should ordinarily adjourn the case. But, however, the plaintiff has referred us to the provisions of section 58(5) of the 1999 Constitution which stirs apprehension if the 1st defendant decides to move its powers provided in section 58(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999,” he noted.
Justice Mohammed said the President having withheld his assent and the Constitution having not provided the time frame within which the National Assembly might override the President’s veto, it implied that the National Assembly could take the step anytime.
He said: “What if the court adjourns the matter for the hearing of the plaintiff’s motion for interlocutory injunction and the 1st defendant decides to convene tomorrow (Thursday) and pass the Bill by two-thirds majority, what will the plaintiff be coming back to do in respect of this matter?”
The judge said the National Assembly would not suffer any prejudice if it was restrained from taking steps on the bill on the before the next adjourned date.
He added: “It is hereby directed that parties shall maintain status quo ante bellum at least between now and the next adjourned date.”
The judge equally ordered that hearing notice be served on the AGF for the next hearing date.
He adjourned to March 20 for the hearing of the motion for the interlocutory injunction.
By the suit, AP wants among others, a declaration that the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 (introducing a new Clause 25) just passed by the National Assembly which prescribes the sequence/order in which the general elections of President and Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a state, membership of the Senate, the House of Representives, and the House of Assembly of each state of the federation should take place is in conflict or has interfered or curtailed the power, right and discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission generally and in particular, in respect of the schedule or sequence of the 2019 general elections.”
It is also praying for an order setting aside Clause 25 of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
The plaintiff also wants an order of perpetual injunction restraining the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria represented by the AGF from assenting to the bill, and another “restraining the 1st defendant (National Assembly) from passing into law by a two-thirds majority, or any majority at all, the said bill as already passed by it”.