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Electoral Act Court says National Assembly cannot reorder INEC's election timetable

The court ruled that any attempt by the National Assembly to tamper with the act constitutes a breach of the Constitution.

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Court says National Assembly cannot reorder INEC's election timetable play

Senate President Bukola Saraki

(Nigerian Senate )

A Federal High Court in Abuja has ruled against the bill by National Assembly to amend the country's Electoral Act which includes a reordering of the timetable of general elections.

The House of Representatives had revised the 2010 Electoral Act on January 23, 2018, when lawmakers voted to ensure the presidential election is conducted last instead of first, as currently done.  The new sequence would have made the national assembly election come first, followed by governorship and state houses of assembly.

The upper legislative chamber adopted a report by the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on the Amendment to the Electoral Act on February 14, 2018.

The new Section 25(1) states, "Elections into the office of the President and Vice-President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a state and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly of each state of the federation shall be in the following order; National Assembly elections; state Houses of Assembly and governorship elections; and presidential election. The dates for these elections shall be as appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission."

The move had led to a lot of public tension especially after President Muhammadu Buhari refused to assent the bill in March 2018, arguing that the amendments infringe on the rights of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Political organisation, Accord Party (AP) had filed an application in court to stop the legislators from tampering with the electoral act.

In his ruling on Wednesday, April 25, 2018, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, said only INEC has the authority to organise, conduct and fix dates for elections according to Section 15(a) of the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution.

He ruled that any attempt by the National Assembly to tamper with the act constitutes a breach of the Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers.

However, Justice Mohammed dismissed Accord Party's motion to restrain President Buhari from assenting the bill, especially since he already did that in March.

Why Buhari rejected Electoral Act bill

In a letter sent to the National Assembly in March, President Buhari had stated that the bill was an infringement of INEC's constitutional duties.

The letter read, "The amendment to the sequence of elections in Section 25 of the principal act, may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution;

"The amendment to Section 138 of the principal act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process;

"The amendment to Section 152 Subsection 325 of the Principal Act may raise Constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections."

Despite the president's rejection of the bill, lawmakers have regrouped to force through its assent with a two-third majority of the legislative chamber. There are also attempts to remove some of the clauses that the president objected to and present it to him again a second time.

A total of 156 clauses were amended in the Act.

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