By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
The Supreme Court, on Thursday, reserved its judgment in a suit instituted by President Muhammadu Buhari and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami against the National Assembly.
The suit is seeking to void Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act, 2022 on the ground that it is in conflict with a provision in the 1999 Constitution as amended.
A seven-man full panel of the Justices of the apex court led by Justice Muhammad Musa Dattijo reserved judgment after it heard arguments from all the parties.
Though the National Assembly was originally cited as sole respondent in the matter, the Rivers State, through the Speaker of its House of Assembly and its Attorney-General, applied and were joined as interested parties in the matter.
The applicants, through their team of lawyers led by Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, told the court that they were opposed to the suit marked SC/CV/504/2022.
Likewise, counsel to the National Assembly, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, also sought the dismissal of the suit, accusing both President Buhari and Malami of abusing the judicial process.
The respondents argued that President Buhari, having assented to the Electoral Act, could not turn back to challenge its provisions in court.
More so, they contended that only the political appointees whose rights may be infringed upon by the said provision of the Electoral Act could institute an action at the Federal High Court to challenge it.
On its part, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, brought an application to be allowed into the case as amicus curiae (friend of the court).
The legal body, which said it was before the court to represent Nigerian citizens, prayed the Supreme Court to dismiss the suit in public interest.
“It is our submission that there is no conflict between section 84(12) and any other section of the Electoral Act, the 1999 Constitution, as amended, or the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right.
“Your lordships should take note of the ill the said section is meant to cure. The essence of the section is to provide a level playing field for all Nigerians, such that political appointees should not use their office to advance their personal interests”, counsel for the NBA, Mr. Charles Mekunye, SAN, submitted.
After it had listened to all the sides, the apex court panel said it would communicate the judgment date to the parties.
Recall that Buhari and Malami had approached the Supreme Court, insisting that section 84(12) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2022, is inconsistent with the provisions of sections 42, 65, 66, 106, 107, 131, 137, 147, 151, 177, 182, 192 and 196 of the constitution as well Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
They are, among others, seeking, “a declaration that the joint and or combined reading of Section 65, 66, 106, 107, 131, 137, 147, 151, 177, 182, 192 and 196 of the Constitution, the provision of Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act, 2022 which also ignores Section 84(3) of the same Act, is an additional qualifying and/or disqualifying factors for the National Assembly, House of Assembly, Gubernatorial and Presidential elections as enshrined in the said constitution, hence unconstitutional, unlawful, null and void”.
“A declaration that having regard to the clear provision of section 1(3) of the Constitution read together with section 4 of the same Constitution, the legislative powers vested in the defendant do not permit or empower it to make any other law prescribing additional qualifying/disqualifying grounds for election to the national assembly, house of assembly, gubernatorial and presidential election outside the express constitutional qualification and disqualification provisions as already provided in each or all of sections 65, 66, 106, 107, 131, 137, 147, 151, 177, 182, 192 and 196 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), and without amendment to any of those sections is for the reason of inconsistency, unconstitutional and therefore null and void.
As well as, “An order nullifying the provision of Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act, 2022 by application of the blue-pencil rule, for being unconstitutional, illegal, null and void and having been made in excess of the legislative powers of the defendant as enshrined in section 4 of the constitution (as amended).”