Court can’t stop N/ Assembly from Amending Electoral Act – Lawan

... Amendment Bill scales first reading

Joshua Omoloye, Abuja

The National Assembly is poised for a showdown with the judiciary as it on Tuesday commenced the process of amending the recently signed Electoral Act against court judgment restraining either President Muhammadu Buhari’ or the National Assembly from tinkering with the new Act.

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan who talked tough during plenary said the legislature rejected the restraining order by a Federal High Court in Abuja.

He said that it was within the exclusive right of the parliament to consider the bill.

Recall that the presiding judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, barred President Muhammad Buhari, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Senate President from tampering with the Act.

The judge, in a ruling on an ex-parte application by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said the Electoral Act had become a valid law could not be amended without following the due process of law.

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Specifically, the court restrained President Buhari, the AGF and the National Assembly and other defendants in the suit from removing section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act or prevent it from being implemented for the purpose of the 2023 general elections.

Consequent upon assenting the Electoral Amendment Bill, President Buhari had last week asked the federal lawmakers to delete section 84 (12), which bars political appointees from contesting election.

After the Electoral Act 2022 (Amendment) Bill passed first reading Lawan said stopping the National Assembly from amending the Act was like asking for what is not there.

He said the country’s constitution was clear on the issue of separation of power, and that no arm of government could stop the other from carrying out its responsibilities.

Lawan 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.”

But two senators called for constraint. Former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu) asked his colleagues not to go ahead with the amendment, calling the Senate’s attention to Order 52(5), which says when a matter is before a competent court of law, the Senate should stay action on it.

Ekweremadu urged the Senate to respect the court order so as not to give room for anarchy.

He said instead of considering the amendment, the Senate should mandate the legal department of the National Assembly to challenge the court’s ruling.

Ekweremadu 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 amend that section.

“Mr President, I also offered to help in redrafting it, now we have a situation where they’ve told us there’s a Judicial restriction on us to do that.

“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.”

Also, Senator Gabriel Suswam (PDP Benue) made a similar appeal urging the Senate to respect the rule of law.

But the Senate President insisted that no going back on the amendment, stressing that no arm of government could stop the National Assembly from carrying out its statutory functions.

Lawan said, “my opinion about anarchy is when either arm of government decides to go into the exclusive preserve of the other.

“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 kinds 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 are allowed these kinds of rulings, we may end up going back 23 years ago.

“I believe that what we are saying is the same, but we are emphasizing that that judicial pronouncement will not stop us from doing what is right and our work here.”

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