The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Wednesday nullified the April 25, 2018 judgment of the Federal High Court which had struck down the National Assembly’s election re-ordering provision of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018.
A five-man panel of the Court of Appeal headed by the court’s President, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, also made a definite pronouncement to the effect that a bill could not be challenged in court until it became an Act.
Justice Bulkachuwa, therefore, ruled that the Federal High Court wrongly assumed jurisdiction to entertain the suit and erroneously struck down the provision.
Although the National Assembly had subsequently on its own, removed the controversial section and resent the revised edition of the bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent, the judgment of the Court of Appeal had cleared the way for a possible re-introduction of the provision in future.
“The lower court operated under the erroneous impression that the bill had become an Act,” Justice Bulkachuwa noted in her lead judgment which was consented to by the four other members of the panel.
“A bill does not become an Act until it has been assented to by the President after it has been passed by the two Houses of the National Assembly,” she ruled.
She also said, “The bill, which is Exhibit 1, remains a bill and it is inchoate”, adding that “the National Assembly has not completed its legislative duty as far as the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, is concerned.”
Noting that by virtue of Section 1(3) of the Constitution, a court could only nullify a law if it violated a provision of the Nigerian Constitution, she held that a court could not do such “at the embryonic stage of a legislative process.”
She added that since the bill had not become an Act, it “has no binding force and cannot have any legal effect of the law. The bill has no legal effect and cannot create a cause of action,” the court added.
The court did not bother to pronounce on the constitutionality of Section 25 of the bill since it declared that the suit which was originally filed by the Accord Party at the Federal High Court was premature, coming ahead of the maturity of the bill into an Act.
It ruled that the suit was a mere academic exercise as it was not justiciable (decided by a court).
It also added that the Accord Party, the plaintiff at the Federal High Court in Abuja, lacked the locus standi (the legal right) to institute the action as it was unable to show which of its rights or obligations that would suffer if the bill was assented to by the President.
The appeal ruled upon by the Court of Appeal was filed by the National Assembly against the April 25, 2018 judgment of Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The Federal High Court’s judgment had voided the elections’ sequence provision of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
The controversial provision in the said bill sought to alter the sequence in which the presidential, governorship, the federal and state legislative houses elections must be conducted.
But the National Assembly later expunged the provision from the bill following the judgment of the Federal High Court.
It then sent the revised version of the bill without the controversial provision to the President for assent.
However, it filed an appeal against the Federal High Court’s judgment insisting that, despite removing the controversial provision from the bill, it had the power to alter the sequence of the polls.
Meanwhile, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, has hailed the judgment of the Court of Appeal which upheld the powers of the National Assembly to make laws, including the bill amending elections sequence.
Saraki, in a statement by his Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Yusuph Olaniyonu, in Abuja, on Wednesday, said, “I have always believed in the need to test our laws in court by seeking judicial interpretations on contentious issues. By doing so, we will be expanding the scope of our laws, sharpening the rough edges of legislation and asserting our faith in the judiciary as a fundamental arbiter.”