President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, told a Federal High Court in Abuja that he did not order the Senate to remove the contentious Section 84(12) from the amended Electoral Act 2022.
Section 84(12) reads: “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.”
Contrary to claims of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in a suit filed against him and 12 others, President Buhari said he only expressed reservations and concerns in respect of the aspect of the Electoral Act.
The President’s position was contained in a counter-affidavit filed at the Federal High Court at the instance of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
In the joint counter affidavit by President Buhari and Malami to debunk PDP’s claims in the suit, the AGF explained that the President on February 25, 2022, gave proper, full and unconditional assent to the amended Electoral Act.
President Buhari and Malami averred that the claims of PDP in its suit against them on the Electoral Act are totally false and replete with gross untruths aimed at misleading the court to give judgment against them.
“The first defendant (President Buhari) assented to the Electoral Bill but did not give conditions or directives to the National Assembly in the manner erroneously deposed to by the plaintiff (PDP). At no time did the first defendant give any directive to the management or leadership of the National Assembly as regards the removal of section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022 from the Act.
“On March 8, 2022, the first defendant officially wrote the Senate President and House of Representatives Speaker to express his concerns about Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act and formally requested for an amendment to be effected on the section so as to eliminate the area of infraction with the Constitution. I am aware that the National Assembly neither accepted not acted on the opinion or suggestion of President Buhari.”
The Justice Minister said only the Court of Appeal can restore Section 84 (12) into the Electoral Act, 2022. The PDP had challenged the legality or otherwise of the National Assembly tinkering with the Electoral Act after it had been signed into law by President Buhari.
Amid debate about the subject matter, Justice Evelyn Anyadike of the Federal High Court sitting in Umuahia on March 18, ordered the AGF to delete Section 84 (12) of the Act.
Anyadike, in the judgment, held that the section was “unconstitutional, invalid, illegal, null, void and of no effect whatsoever and ought to be struck down as it cannot stand when it is in violation of the clear provisions of the Constitution.”
Anyadike held that Sections 66(1)(f), 107(1)(f), 137(1)(f), and 182(1)(f) of the 1999 Constitution already stipulated that appointees of government seeking to contest elections were only to resign at least 30 days to the date of the election.
Reacting, the AGF said that both the National Assembly and PDP had since appealed the judgment. He said “it is only the Court of Appeal that can restore the section into the Electoral Act and not any high court.”
The AGF, therefore, prayed the court to dismiss the PDP suit. Justice Ekwo adjourned the matter until May 16 for a hearing.
BUT the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has urged political appointees who have interests in the 2023 general elections to resign their position not to fall victim to the penalty stated in the 2022 electoral law. Gbajabiamila, who spoke on the Channels Television yesterday hinted that some political appointees have resigned their position, while some haven’t under the cover that there is a court decision pending that nullified the prohibition of Section 84(12) of the electoral law.
He said: “Invariably, it’s a personal decision that has to be made. If the court says the National Assembly is within its right to make such a provision and you have gone to contest an election, while still a political appointee then you run a serious risk of your election being annulled and not only you as a person but you also put the party you belong to at risk.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, also speaking on Politics Today, last night, described Section 84 as draconian, saying what should have been obtained is that a political appointee applies for leave of absence instead of resignation. He said the penalties attached to the provision are very serious and cannot be treated with levity.
“These are very serious provisions that cannot be discounted for any political party that wants to participate in the 2023 general election. But, personally, I think the provision is draconian because if somebody is holding a political office or is a political appointee and you want to participate in the election, frankly speaking, all I think should be done is to ask for a leave of absence so that you do not use the machinery of the office to manipulate the process.
“But, you must also think about those who are victims. For civil servants, the provision is saying you resign a month before the election. If you don’t want political appointees to enjoy such provisions, what you should do perhaps is to say, ‘apply for a leave of absence so that you participate, if you win you won’t come back to the office but if you lose you can come back.’ But as far as the law is concerned, the position as at today is if you are a member of a political appointee you have to resign.”
THE ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has, however, said its presidential aspirants occupying various appointive positions are not obliged to resign their positions before Monday next week.
APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Felix Morka, in a chat with admitted that occupants of various appointive positions angling for the exalted seat of the presidency such as the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Labour and Productivity Minister, Dr Chris Ngige and Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, ought to resign their positions before the conduct of the presidential primary on May 30.
The APC scribe noted: “The Electoral Act only requires appointees to resign before primaries or congresses. It does not stipulate any specific timeline by which they may do so.”
The latest position of the party comes against the backdrop of the insistence by Ngige and Nwajiuba that they were not bound by the Electoral Act to resign before Monday as Ministers.
“According to the Constitution, we are required to resign 30 days before the election. Anybody can have another opinion,” Nwajiuba said.
Ngige was also quoted as saying he would not bow to a new directive issued by the National Working Committee of the APC mandating all political appointees who aspire to participate in the primary elections to resign at least 30 days before the conduct of the primaries.
Ngige, who maintained that he had no idea about the directive, said it was his constitutional right to run for the country’s highest office.