Ekweremadu cautions Lawal, as Senate proceeds with Electoral Act amendment despite court order
The Senate has rejected the ruling of a Federal High Court in Abuja stopping it from amending the 2022 Electoral Act as requested by President Muhammadu Buhari.
President Buhari, had penultimate Friday before signing the 2022 Electoral Bill into law, urged the National Assembly to expunge section 84(12) of the Act which requires appointive political office holders to resign their positions before contesting for any election right from the level of party primary election.
But on the strength of litigation against further amendment of the Act by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Justice Inyang Ekwo, Monday restrained President Buhari, the attorney-general of the federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the Senate from making any amendment on the Act.
In the substantive suit filed through its team of lawyers led by Chief Ogwu Onoja (SAN), the leading opposition party challenged the legality or otherwise of the National Assembly tinkering with the Electoral Act, after it had been signed into law by the president.
In a ruling delivered by Justice Inyang Ekwo, the Court specifically barred all the defendants in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/247/2022, from removing section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act or preventing it from being implemented for the purpose of the 2023 general elections.
Other defendants in the suit are Speaker of the House of Representatives; Clerk to the National Assembly; Senate Leader, House of Representatives Leader and the Independent National Electoral Commission( INEC).
Others are Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Deputy Senate Leader and Deputy Leader of the House of Representatives.
Senate disregards court
Kicking against the Order during plenary Tuesday, the Senate first listed consideration of the Act for amendment on its order paper and made it to pass first reading.
In his remarks, Senate president, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan said the court cannot stop the Senate and by extension, the National Assembly, from performing its legislative duties.
He said: “I find it necessary to talk to this at this point, because our governance system is based on the presidential system of government where there is clear cut separation and exercise of powers.
“The Judiciary, under no circumstance, cannot stop the National Assembly from performing its legislative duties.
“We know what our due processes are, just like we wouldn’t venture into what the Judiciary does, it should also understand that we have our processes.
“If the president writes to the National Assembly to request for an amendment, that is within his competence, and it is for the National Assembly to decide whether it agrees with the request of Mr. President or not.
“But to say that we cannot consider it, is to ask for what is not there to be given. I believe that members of this National Assembly know their work and will do what is right.
“This is due process, we are not doing anything outside of the law, whether it is Mr. President or any Nigerian who feels very strongly about an amendment, this National Assembly is ready to take in and consider.
“It is within our exclusive right to consider whatever request we receive from Nigerians, whether through the Executive arm of government or through our colleagues – private members’ bill.
“The doctrine of separation of powers should be respected by all arms of government to prevent anarchy. The Senate will surely go ahead with the amendment as requested for by the president.”
One voice of caution
While some senators expressed their agreement with their president, one voice stands out to caution the lawmakers.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu, while citing Order 52(5) of the Senate Standing Order, called on the Senate to abide by the court ruling.
He said: “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.
“Mr. President, 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.”
However, Lawan in his ruling, said the Senate would forge ahead with the amendment.
“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 kind 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 kind of rulings, we may end up going back to where we were 23 years ago”, he added.
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