By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), on Tuesday took a swipe at the National Assembly for what he termed the “intimidation” of the judiciary particularly by the Senate.
Last week, the Senate resolved to write a petition to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, to caution judges to refrain from interfering with the constitutional powers of the legislative arm of government.
Its decision was prompted by the interim order by Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja, restraining the National Assembly from taking steps to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the amended Electoral Act which bordered on the 2019 general elections.
At the resumption of proceedings before the trial judge, Justice Mohammed, on Tuesday, the AGF who addressed the court for the first time in the suit, described the petition by the Senate to the CJN as “sad and unfortunate.”
Malami said that the constitutional coloration attached to the suit bore greater effects on the country’s democracy and the principle of separation of powers.
He submitted that the judiciary’s independence was constitutionally guaranteed and urged the lawmakers to ensure that it is sustained.
He said: “The constitutional coloration attached to the matter that bears greater effect to our democracy and separation of powers as it connects to the three arms of government; this underscores my appearance in this matter.
“The resort to intimidation and threat by one arm of government (the Senate) is sad and unfortunate.
“More so, when the NASS has submitted to the jurisdiction of this court as far as this matter is concerned. We have a collective responsibility in these circumstances to support the entrenchment of the separation of powers as far as this matter is concerned. The independence of the judiciary is constitutionally guaranteed and we must work to ensure that that independence is sustained.”
In his opposition to the Action Peoples Party, a party seeking to join the suit, the AGF averred the applicant’s request was defective and urged the court to dismiss it.
Earlier, the plaintiff, Accord Party through its lawyer, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), told the court that he had filed a written address to the originating summons to underscore the seriousness that is attached to the suit.
Olanipekun recalled the court’s intervention last week in preserving the subject matter of the suit, but regretted that the interim order was interpreted in several quarters as the “judiciary interfering with the constitutional powers of the legislature.
On their part, the NASS and the Independent National Electoral Commission, represented by Joseph Daudu (SAN) and Femi Falana (SAN) respectively, urged the court to dismiss the joinder application of the Action Peoples Party on the ground that the party had not disclosed sufficient reasons that its interest would be jeopardised if not joined as a party in the suit.
Daudu submitted that the judiciary was in the eye of the storm as a result of the preservative order by Justice Mohammed.
“Your Lordship’s order had sparked off a portfolio of comments both in national and international media. Once again, the judiciary is in the eye of the storm.
“What is uppermost in our mind is that this matter is pivotal to the continued well-being of our democratic dispensation, one way or the other.
“As per the party seeking to join, it is our position that there is non-compliance to Order 15 Rule 2 of the Federal High Court. The application is not competent; in any case no cause of action has been disclosed against him. I urge my Lord to dismiss the application,” Daudu prayed.
While making his arguments on behalf of INEC, Falana urged the court to disregard the threat by the NASS to petition the CJN.
“On the observation of the AGF regarding threats made by NASS, I urge the court to ignore such developments so as to avoid being drawn into an unnecessary controversy.”
Earlier, Mr. Okere Kingdom, counsel to the Action Peoples Party, had prayed the court to allow it join the suit in the interest of justice, arguing that its interest as a political party would be jeopardised by the outcome of the matter.
After listening to the arguments of counsel to parties in the suit, Justice Mohammed, in a bench ruling, dismissed the joinder application by the Action Peoples Party.
Justice Mohammed held that the suit could be determined without bringing the Action Peoples Party, adding that the party had not disclosed how its interest would be affected by the outcome of the suit.
Subsequently, the judge adjourned the suit till March 26 at 12noon for the hearing of the substantive suit.
He ordered parties to file and exchange processes to avoid unnecessary delays.
Malami personally led the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Akpata, as well as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Dipo Okpeseyi, for the office of the AGF.
By Ameh Ejekwonyilo