Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), says the National Assembly’s attempt to reorder the 2019 election sequence is illegal as it breaches several provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
Falana, therefore, called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to ignore the National Assembly as its proposed law is dead on arrival.
The senior advocate said in a statement on Thursday that the Supreme Court had affirmed INEC’s power to organise and supervise elections and the power could not be undermined by an Act of Parliament.
Falana said if the National Assembly couldn’t organise an election, then it followed that it couldn’t fix the sequence of an election.
The human rights lawyer said, “As far as the constitution is concerned, the power of INEC to organise, undertake and supervise the elections, which has been interpreted to include the power to fix the dates for the general elections or determine the sequence of the elections, has not been altered in any material.
“It is the height of legislative absurdity to say that the power donated to INEC by the constitution shall be exercised in accordance with the provision of an interior legislation. In Attorney-General, Abia State v. Attorney-General of the Federation (2002) 1 WRN 1 at 45, Kutigi CJN (as he then was) held that ‘where the provision in the Act is within the legislative powers of the National Assembly but the constitution is found to have already made the same or similar provision, then the new provision will be regarded as invalid for duplication and/or inconsistency and therefore inoperative.’
“The same fate will befall any provision of the Act which seeks to enlarge, curtail or alter any existing provision of the constitution. The provision or provisions will be treated as unconstitutional and therefore null and void.
“From the foregoing, it is submitted that the interference in the exercise of the powers of INEC to appoint dates for holding the general elections in Nigeria is illegal as the provision of the Electoral Bill, 2018 is inconsistent with Sections 76, 116, 132 and 178 of the constitution. To the extent of such inconsistency, the provision of the Electoral Bill is illegal, null and void as stipulated by Section 1(3) of the constitution.”
The senior advocate, however, said some aspects of the Electoral Bill 2018 had the capacity to promote internal democracy and enhance the credibility of the electoral process.
Meanwhile, strong indications have emerged that the battle over the amendment is not over yet.
The Presidency on Friday said the amendment bill, which originated from the House of Representatives but which has caused a crisis in the Senate, had been transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, confirmed the transmission when contacted.
“Yes, it has been transmitted,” he said.
When asked the exact date the document was transmitted, Enang said, “I can only confirm that it has been transmitted; I have delivered it.”
It was, however, learnt that Buhari’s action on the bill would determine the next line of action by the opposing groups. Meanwhile, those against the amendment have indicated their readiness to veto the bill.
A credible source in the Senate, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, disclosed that the upper chamber of the National Assembly was set to invoke its veto power should Buhari withhold presidential assent to the bill, while those opposed to the amendment also promised not to back down should the President withhold his assent.
The source said, “Based on the provisions of the law, the President has 30 days to assent to it, failing which the National Assembly will invoke its powers. This is not about Buhari; it is about allowing the law to take its course in the interest of Nigerians.”
Speaking to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, one of the aggrieved lawmakers said they would only back down should Buhari assent to the bill. He, therefore, urged the President to withhold his assent.
The lawmaker insisted that Saraki should have allowed a headcount to clearly determine the majority and minority votes on the adoption of the report when he called for a vote.
“Even though the decision has been taken, we await what the President would do; he can either sign or reject it,” he said.
When asked how his group would feel if Buhari refused to assent to the bill, the senator said, “If he does not sign it, that means it can be vetoed. When it comes to the floor, those who believe that Section 25 ought to be part of the new amendment will have their say; and those of us who are opposed to the inclusion of that section will also have our say.”