We agree with Senate’s decision last Thursday to frown at the court order granted by Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court purporting to maintain the status quo ante bellum with respect to ongoing efforts to amend the Electoral Act. The suit was brought to court by the Accord Party. The process of amendment had already reached a critical point when President Muhammadu Buhari wrote to both Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday last week withholding his assent to the Electoral Act 2010 amendment bill passed by both chambers of the National Assembly on February 13.
Since the president has exercised his constitutional power and vetoed the bill, what remained was for the National Assembly’s two chambers to assemble a two thirds majority in both chambers to override the veto. In that case it becomes law even without presidential assent. If they fail to muster such a majority, then the bill fails to become law. Even if it is passed into law, anyone with locus standi who objects to it can then go to court and test its legality, but not before. Senate decided last week to write to Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and urge him to draw the attention of judicial officers to the principle of separation of powers. The senators are right that the constitutional power of law making should not be stopped by a court, but any law so passed can be challenged in court for interpretation of its constitutionality.
President Buhari cited three reasons for withholding assent. The main one is that by mandating a sequence of elections through the Electoral Act, the National Assembly infringed on INEC’s constitutional power to organise, undertake and supervise elections, which he said includes the power to determine election sequence. The Assembly however says the relevant section of the constitution had since been amended to qualify INEC’s power to organise elections “in accordance with the Electoral Act.” Only the courts can make a final ruling on this matter, but they cannot begin to do so until the bill becomes law.
In our view, neither the National Assembly’s nor the president’s stance on this matter is free of personal motives. Each one wants his or their election to be held first because it confers certain political advantages. As we argued in a previous editorial, we think that INEC should organise only two elections as was done in 2015, not three as the National Assembly wants in this amendment. Also, we believe that neither presidential nor National Assembly polls should hold first; that the most logical thing is to hold governorship and state assembly polls first and to hold federal elections next. However this matter is resolved, INEC should make the right arrangements to hold the polls according to the law, and this could alter its current arrangements.
At this point we must remind both presidency and National Assembly of the need to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. The Electoral Act 2010 amendment bill contains many items other than election sequence, such as enshrining card reader into law. Whatever election sequence is adopted, we must legally protect the sanctity of the card reader, lest the gains of the last five years are completely thrown overboard.