The Supreme Court, Friday, June 24, handed President Muhammadu Buhari a rare legal blow when it threw out a suit he and his justice minister Abubakar Malami filed seeking to delete section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022. It states: “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.”
In a unanimous decision, the apex court’s seven- man panel, led by Justice Muhammad Dattijo, held that it lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit because, according to it, the suit was “an abuse of the judicial process.” The panel ruled that President Buhari was not a proper person to approach the apex court with such a suit, owing to the nature of reliefs that were sought.
Buhari and Malami had in the suit contended that section 84 (12) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2022 was inconsistent with sections 42, 65, 66, 106, 107, 131, 137, 147, 151, 177, 182, 192 and 196 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. They, therefore, sought a declaration that by the joint and or combined reading of those sections of the Constitution, “the provision of Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022, which also ignores Section 84(3) of the same Act, is an additional qualifying and/or disqualifying factor for the National Assembly, House of Assembly, gubernatorial and presidential elections as enshrined in the said constitution, hence unconstitutional, unlawful, null and void”.
They also sought “a declaration that having regard to the clear provision of section 1(3) of the constitution read together with section 4 of the same constitution, the legislative powers vested in the defendant do not permit or empower it to make any other law prescribing additional qualifying/disqualifying grounds for election to the national assembly, house of assembly, gubernatorial and presidential election outside the express constitutional qualification and disqualification provisions as already provided in each or all of the sections of the Constitution they cited.
Buhari and Malami argued that without an amendment to any of those sections, the action of the defendant in prescribing new qualification and disqualification provisions was unconstitutional and therefore null and void. They prayed the apex court for “an order nullifying the provision of Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022, by application of the blue-pencil rule, for being unconstitutional, illegal, null and void and having been made in excess of the legislative powers of the defendant as enshrined in section 4 of the constitution (as amended).”
However, in its lead judgement, prepared and delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the Supreme Court’s panel upheld the argument of the defendants that the President having assented to the draft legislation sent to him by parliament could not demand that it be changed again. In other words, he could not eat his cake and eat it.
The president may have lost a legal battle in which he gave his all. But even in losing, his effort, no doubt, has deepened or enriched our understanding of the workings of the democratic process. For its part, the Supreme Court, by this courageous and unanimous decision, has redeemed its reputation and integrity, badly harmed by recent rebellion by its justices. Now that the bus has arrived the last stop, as it were, let every passenger get off, satisfied they arrived safely.