The Supreme Court, yesterday, threw a spanner into proposed plans by the National Assembly to override the President’s veto on amendments to the constitution achieved by the assembly and endorsed by the state houses of assembly.
In a ruling, a seven-man panel of justices of the apex court, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, ordered the lawmakers to maintain status quo on the matter until June 18.
The ruling by the Supreme Court follows reservations by the legislators on the president’s veto of the alterations in which he said the National Assembly overreached itself in the alterations.
The Senate had in response to the President’s action demanded that the President return the original bill including the signature page on it. The Senate move was in response to assertions by the lawmakers that the President had actually signed the bill but reversed himself subsequently.
While Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN, expressed bewilderment over the ruling, another senior lawyer, Emeka Ngige, SAN, and a former lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammmed faulted the National Assembly for overreaching itself in the proposed amendments.
President Jonathan had through the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, prayed the Supreme Court to issue an order of interlocutory injunction against both chambers of the National Assembly.
Stop NASS from taking further steps — AGF
He urged the court to stop the federal lawmakers from taking any step towards passing the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth Alteration) Act, 2015, into law, until hearing and final determination of the suit.
The suit was filed pursuant to Order 3, Rule 14 of the Supreme Court Rules as amended.
The AGF told the apex court that the NASS was determined to proceed with passing the constitution by overriding the veto of same by President Jonathan, despite the fundamental nature of the issues raised against the proposed alterations to the constitution.
Adoke argued that it would be in the interest of the whole Nigerian polity that the issues in the substantive suit be resolved one way or the other by the court before the National Assembly could proceed further on the proposed alterations to the constitution.
NASS shuns suit
Meantime, the NASS shunned the suit, yesterday, as it failed to enter appearance before the court, even though the CJN confirmed that it was duly served with all the originating processes on April 30.
Consequently, the CJN directed the issuance of fresh hearing notice on the respondent (NASS) for it to appear on June 18 to respond to the suit.
Besides, the apex court asked the AGF to prepare to address it on the next adjourned date on the import of the provisions of Section 232 of the 1999 constitution to the suit.
The court noted that going by that section, only the President himself, and not the AGF, has the locus standi to invoke the original jurisdiction of the apex court against the NASS.
The CJN further observed that it was not only the NASS that was involved in the constitution amendment process, adding that though the 36 States of the federation also participated in the exercise, they were not joined as necessary parties to the suit.
According to the CJN, section 232(1) of the constitution conferred the Supreme Court with the original jurisdiction over any dispute between the NASS and the President. He said that the president ought to have been the one that filed the suit and not the AGF.
However, counsel to the AGF, Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, insisted that the suit was properly instituted. Ojo argued that the AGF, being the Chief law Officer of the state, has the right to file the action on behalf of the President.
His submissions did not persuade the CJN who still maintained that some of the necessary parties were not joined in the matter.
Justice Mohammed pointed out that the AGF would only have the right to litigate for the President when the dispute is between the federal and state governments.