Does the National Assembly dare Buhari on the electoral law?


BACKGROUND NOTES

With the refusal of the members of the National Assembly to erase the controversial section of the electoral law as requested by President Muhammadu Buhari and their decision to challenge the judgment of the court which ordered the deletion of the section, Ejiofor Alike writes that the Federal lawmakers reneged on their leadership’s promise to accede to every good request made by the president

Following the frosty relationship between the presidency and the leadership of the Eighth National Assembly headed by a former Speaker of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, the presidency had shown interest in the emergence of the leadership of the Ninth National Assembly. To ensure the emergence of a leadership that would be loyal to him, President Muhammadu Buhari, as leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is said to have anointed Dr. Ahmad Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila at the head of the ninth National Assembly. Lawan and Gbajabiamila had emerged in June 2019 as Senate Speaker and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, with Buhari’s backing. Senator representing Yobe North had secured 79 votes to defeat Senator representing Borno South Senatorial District, Ali Ndume, who received less than 28 votes. For his part, Gbajabiamila had also garnered 281 votes to defeat Hon. Umar Bago, who obtained 76 votes. In return for the president’s support, the two leaders had promised that federal lawmakers would work in conjunction with the executive branch.

Unlike the Saraki-led National Assembly, which rejected part of the President’s request, Lawan had repeatedly promised that the Ninth National Assembly would approve any request made by President Buhari as it would be for the good of the country. He had once said that any request President Buhari sends to the Senate will make Nigeria better.

For example, while receiving the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay in his office in Abuja, Lawan said: “I want to assure you that any request from Mr. President is a request that will make Nigeria a better place in terms of appointments or legislation and the Senate will act quickly to ensure that we play our part in confirming or passing the legislation appropriately.

The high level of collaboration between the National Assembly and the executive eventually earned federal lawmakers led by Lawan endorsement status. The legislature has been accused of supporting the president in his borrowing spree.

Despite the criticism that followed Buhari’s request to the Senate for approval of a $29.96 billion loan, the National Assembly ultimately granted his request.

In November 2018, the eighth senate led by Saraki unanimously rejected the president’s loan request, insisting that the letter transmitting it was not accompanied by a loan plan.

However, with the recent turn of events, this promised collaboration between the two branches of government appears to be fragile as lawmakers’ ambitions ahead of the 2023 general election may have become their top priority. The latest test of their loyalty came recently when President Buhari signed the electoral law in the belief that lawmakers would accede to his request as usual and strike out part of it deemed unconstitutional. Buhari, during the signing of the amended bill in February 2022, had urged lawmakers to remove Section 84(12) from the law, as per the agreement he reached with their leaders.

The clause reads: “No politically appointed person at any level shall be a voting delegate or be elected to any convention or convention of any political party for the purpose of nominating candidates for election.” However, the Federal High Court in Abuja subsequently barred President Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Speaker of the Senate from amending the newly amended law.

The judge, Judge Inyang Ekwo, in a decision on an ex parte application by the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said that the electoral law having become a valid law could not be changed without following due process.

Ekwo agreed with PDP lawyer Ogwu Onoja, a Senior Advocate from Nigeria (SAN), that the proper venue to challenge the validity of any existing law is a court of competent jurisdiction.

Before the court judgment, we felt that the National Assembly was already plotting to renege on its agreement with the president. But in reaction to the court order, Lawan had vowed that the court’s decision would not prevent the legislature from amending the bill again.

“I find it very necessary to speak at this juncture because with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, our system of governance is based on the presidential system of government where there is a clear separation of powers and the exercise of powers.

“The judicial power can in no way prevent the legislative power, the National Assembly, from exercising its legislative functions. We know what our regular procedures are. Just as we won’t venture into what the judiciary does, the judiciary should understand that we have our processes.

“I believe that the members of the National Assembly know their job, know their onions and would do what is right. It’s due process, we don’t do anything outside the law. It is our exclusive right to consider any request we receive from Nigerians, whether it is the Executive Bill or a private member,” he reportedly told the plenary,” he said. said Lawan.

But when the president’s request was presented in plenary, the Senate flatly rejected it, despite Lawan’s promise. The bill had been scaled in the first reading, but was defeated after Senator Yahaya Abdullahi launched the main debate for its second reading.

But a swift blow was struck against federal lawmakers when a Federal High Court in Umuahia, the Abia state capital, presided over by Judge Evelyn Anyadike declared the contested section of the law illegal and ordered the government federal to remove it. Federation Attorney General and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami was quick to say that his office would soon comply with the court order.

But strong indications that they were not sincere in their promise to change the law as demanded by Buhari emerged when the Senate and House of Representatives separately condemned the court order and pledged to act on it immediately. .

The Senate and the House of Representatives had separately taken the decision to appeal the judgment during their plenary session on Wednesday. The House had also decided to report Judge Anyadike to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for allowing Malami to remove the section from the law.

Does the National Assembly dare Buhari because his term is coming to an end? Is their rejection of the president’s request a sign of greater challenges they will throw at the president in the coming months? As Nigerians wait for the events of the next few months to provide answers to these questions, the refusal of the President’s request went against the collaboration between these two branches of government.

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