March 23, 2022

Court judgment on Section 84 (12) of Electoral Act divides Senate

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By Innocent Anaba & Henry Umoru

SENATORs were yesterday  sharply divided over recent judgement by a Federal High Court in Abia State which declared Section 84(12) of the new Electoral Act as illegal.

This came on a day the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, warned Nigerians, particularly lawyers, to be wary of making unguarded comments over judgments of courts.

When the issue came up at plenary yesterday, there was a heated debate between senators against the judgement and those for it.

Raising the matter, Senator George Sekibo, PDP, Rivers East spoke on the various functions of the three arms of government.

However, coming under order 42 of the Senate Standing Orders on Personal Explanation, Sekibo who challenged the judgment of the court on Section 84(12), urged his colleagues to suspend other activities and debate the issue.

He also argued that the ruling by the court, nullifying their action was a bad precedent that must not be allowed to stand.

He said if allowed to stand, future actions of the Parliament would be challenged in courts by interested parties.

Citing Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended, Sekibo stated that the National Assembly was empowered by virtue of Its provisions to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Nigeria.

When the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, APC, Delta Central, who presided over yesterday’s plenary, said the matter should be discussed today, considering the fact that the Senate president,  Senator Ahmad Lawan, was absent, there were voices against the move

Senators Uche Ekwunife, PDP, Anambra; Betty Apiafi, PDP, Rivers, and others kicked, but Omo- Agege insisted that it must not be discussed yesterday.

Omo- Agege thereafter, put the question for a motion to be brought to the floor during plenary today.

The voice vote received the overwhelming support of lawmakers for the motion to be considered.

Omo-Agege, explained that his decision for the motion to be considered today to allow senators absent during yesterday’s plenary to make their contributions when the matter was taken up at the chamber.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has warned Nigerians, particularly lawyers, to be wary of making unguarded comments over judgments of courts.

It also  promised to react in due course to the judgment of the  Federal High Court, Umuahia,  which nullified Section 84(12) of the recently passed Electoral Act 2022 and ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation to delete the said Section 84(12) of the Electoral  Act with immediate effect.

NBA reacts

NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata, said in a statement yesterday:  “The NBA wishes to call on Nigerians and especially legal practitioners, to refrain from employing intemperate language to characterise judgments and/or Judges of our courts.

“The Rules of Professional Conduct and the ethics that regulate our profession enjoin us to  treat our courts and judges with the utmost respect. We must reiterate that there are legal  and constitutional avenues to challenge unfavourable judgments and lawyers and indeed the generality of Nigerians are therefore enjoined to explore these avenues rather than resorting to unwarranted and counterproductive attacks on judges and the judiciary. “

“In this regard, I have already spoken to one such senior lawyer who, in the wake of the judgment, issued and published certain deprecatory statements that cast aspersions on the person of Justice Anyadike and he has since retracted the said statements.

“Nonetheless, the NBA must emphatically state that all courts in Nigeria must act in accordance with the dictates of the law and having regard to justice in order to forestall a situation of breakdown of law and order which is certain to occur when the generality of Nigeria ultimately lose confidence in the court system.

“The NBA has noted some of the complaints about the judgment and its consequences, and these include not just the substance, which critics accuse of conflating that cadre of government officials referred to as political appointees – and the subject of the vexed Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act – with public officers within the meaning of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), but also the somewhat usual circumstances surrounding the case especially the blistering speed with which the case, filed  on March 8, 2022, was heard and determined on March 18, 2022. While it is a truism that justice delayed is justice denied, and that we have long complained about the delays that ordinary litigants face in the determination of their rights and obligations before our courts, it is also correct that justice rushed is also justice crushed, especially in cases of public interest such as the case at issue.

“The utopian balance between these twin constraints continues to occupy the attention of stakeholders in the administration of justice.

“Consequently, the NBA will immediately apply for the certified copies of the judgment, the process filed, and the record of proceedings in the case, from the Federal High Court, Umuahia and thereafter, decide on the next appropriate steps. In the meantime, we once again call on Nigerians in general, and lawyers in particular, to exercise restraint and decorum in commenting on these significant legal developments.

“If we must fulfil the arduous task of nation building, we must continue to protect the sanctity of the judiciary and defend the integrity of our judicial officers, especially when it is seemingly difficult to do so,” he added.