Lawyers and pro-democracy advocates denounce the toppling of section 84(12) of the Electoral Act which is one of the most significant innovations in the newly amended law.
Criticisms continue to trail Friday’s controversial judgement of the Federal High Court in Umuahia, Abia State, striking down section 84(12) of the newly amended Electoral Act.
Lawyers and members of the civil society organisations (CSOs) have criticised the judge, Evelyn Anyadike, and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, over the decision toppling one of the most significant innovations in the newly amended law.
The section prohibits political appointees at any level from either voting at their political parties’ primary elections.
“No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election,” it reads.
It is a statutory innovation aimed at checking abuse of office by government appointees during elections or the selection of candidates at party primaries.
In Nigeria, political appointees are wont to deploy the paraphernalia of office to gain an advantage over other aspirants. Some governors also indiscriminately raise the number of their appointees close to the time of their parties’ primary elections to expand their army of loyal delegates at such party elections.
Many members of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet, who are nursing political ambitions ahead of the 2023 general elections, are against the provision.
The politicians, including the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, who is believed to be seeking to contest the governorship election in his home state, Kebbi State, in 2023, were able to get the President to write the National Assembly to delete the section 84(12) from the Electoral Act.
But the Senate rejected the President’s request earlier this month, and the battle immediately shifted to court.
Nduka Edede, a lawyer and top member of the Action Alliance (AA), one of Nigeria’s fringe political parties, filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Umuahia to challenge the constitutionality of the said section 84(12) of the Electoral Act.
He selectively picked the AGF, a known antagonist of the provision, as the only defendant, leaving out other important bodies such as the National Assembly and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with high stakes in the making and operation of the Electoral Act.
In her judgement, Mrs Anyadike agreed with the plaintiff that the provision violated the constitutional rights of Nigerian citizens.
She noted that the Nigerian constitution already has a provision that mandates appointees of government seeking to contest elections to resign at least 30 days to the date of the election.
Therefore, the judge ruled, any other law mandating such appointees to resign or leave the office at any time before that “is unconstitutional, invalid, illegal null and void, to the extent of its inconsistency to the clear provisions of the Constitution.
The move foreclosed the possibility of an appeal being filed against the judgement.
Lawyers and pro-democracy advocates have criticised the legal and social basis of the judgement, which they say further erodes public confidence in the Nigerian judiciary.
Mr Itodo who championed the Not Too Young To Run bill, which culminated in removing the legal obstacles to youth’s participation in Nigerian politics, described the decision as “an aberration”.
“It is just sad that the judiciary is being ridiculed in this manner,” Mr Itodo pointed to subsisting order of another federal court in Abuja, which barred Mr Buhari, the Attorney-General and the National Assembly from tampering with the newly amended Electoral Act.He said the court lacked the powers to order the AGF to delete an Act of parliament, adding that such a verdict “undermines Nigeria’s democracy.
”He advised the parliament to appeal against the judgment, drawing the attention of the National Judicial Council (NJC), a disciplinary institution of the judiciary, to Mrs Anyadike’s ruling.Also, a development expert and political commentator, Jide Ojo, agreed with Mr Itodo that “the case looks like a hatchet job, hurriedly packaged” without joining the relevant government agencies to the suit.AdvertisementsMr Ojo, who commended the innovative provisions of the Electoral Act, said
“political appointees should not be allowed to use state resources to view for tickets of their respective parties.
”Suspicious of Mr Malami’s swift plan to implement the latest court ruling, Mr Ojo asked why the AGF has not been “swift in carrying out previous judgements of the court.”Another activist, Hamzat Lawal, in an interview with this reporter said “the suit served the interests of a few,” noting that that is why it has become a “scandal.”He urged the AGF to tarry a while to enable the appellate courts to determine the propriety of the judgement or otherwise.Mr Lawal accused the judiciary and the executive arms of government of “collusion to subvert the rule of law.
Some top lawyers have also voiced their concerns about Mrs Anyadike’s verdict on the nullification of section 84(12) of the Electoral Act.Femi Falana and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria, in their separate interventions, said the judge was wrong to have reached such a decision.
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