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Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Malami, Falana to judge: shun threats

Malami, Falana to judge: shun threats

Femi Falana

Legal fireworks will begin on Monday in the suit challenging the legitimacy of the National Assembly’s decision to amend the Electoral Act.

In contention, particularly, is the reordering of the 2019 general elections sequence as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja set the date yesterday during the resumed hearing of the suit filed by Accord Party.

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He directed parties in the suit – the National Assembly, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – to within 48 hours respond to the plaintiff’s adress. He gave the plaintiff till Friday to file further replies to the defendants should there be the need.

During the hearing, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami and Mr Femi Falana (SAN) frowned at the attempt by the Senate to undermine the Judiciary following last Wednesday’s order by Justice Mohammed restraining the Legislature from acting on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018.

The Senate last week took exception to Justice Mohammed’s injunction, saying his action was an obstruction to its constitutional assignment.

It resolved to report Justice Mohammed to Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnogen through an official correspondence.

Malami amd Falana described the development as “sad” and urged Justice Mohammed to ignore whatever threat anyone might have made.

Malami said: “I must say that the resort to intimidation and threat by one arm of government to the other, particularly the Senate, with regards to the powers of your lordship to discharge your duty, is indeed a sad development.

“This is so, most especially, when parties have submitted to the jurisdiction of this court. We have a collective duty and responsibility in the circumstance, to support the entrenchment of the principle of separation of powers and to further say that we are in support of the Judiciary as far as this matter is concerned.

“The independence of the judiciary is constitutionally-guaranteed and we must work to see to it that that independence is sustained.”

Falana said: “We concur as far as the urgency and significance of this case is concerned.

“With respect to observations of the AGF regarding threats or comments made outside the precincts of this court, I will humbly urge your lordship to ignore such developments so as to avoid being drawn into unnecessary controversies.”

Malami was in court to represent himself. He is the 2nd defendant. Falana is the INEC (3rd defendant) counsel. Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) represented the plaintiff. Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN) represented the first defendant (National Assembly).

Malami said his presence in court underscored the importance of the case and the need for its prompt determination.

Justice Mohamed took arguments from parties on a joinder application filed by the Action Peoples Party (APP), which argued that it was a necessary party to the case.

The judge dismissed the application on the grounds that APP was not a necessary party.

The judge said: “The first defendant (National Assembly), in my view, is competent to defend the suit without any political party being made a party.”

Justice Mohammed refused the applicant’s argument that all registered political parties were entitled to be joined as parties to the suit since the subject matter bordered on the 2019 general elections.

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He noted that APP’s defence in the case would not be different from that of the National Assembly, by whose defence the case could be “completely” determined.

The judge added that APP’s desire to be made a party in the suit “does not qualify it to be joined as a party”.

The Senate and the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Electoral Act which reordered the sequence of elections against the plan announced by INEC.

But President Muhammadu Buhari vetoed the Bill, a decision which the lawmakers said they would resist by overriding the presidential veto.

Yesterday, the court made no reference to the injunction restraining the lawmakers from overriding the presidential veto.

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