By Carl Umegboro
The bill of the Parliament seeking to reorder the sequence of elections which intriguingly hit the brick wall remains a pandemonium. President Muhammadu Buhari recently withheld his assent over purported conflicts and interference in the administrative duties of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Statutorily, powers to make laws for the federation are vested in the National Assembly; nonetheless,the powers are relative and not absolute. Some argue that if the legislature has powers to make laws, it can also amend the laws. No doubt, this is factual but also largely systematic. It is trite that acts of a parliament have a red line. Thus, the reordering bill if vetoed will prima facie become laws, though defective. However, the position may likely be altered by a judge’s gavel on account of independence of the electoral body as provided in Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.
Generally, democracy is a game of numbers and the same principle guides legislative tasks. Nonetheless, the benchmark of quality in lawmaking is the repugnancy test. For example, a bill albeit endorsed by majority as required may in the end not see a green light if convincingly repugnant to social justice, equity and good conscience, as the ultimate lawmaker is the court. Hypothetically, a barbaric law seeking to eliminate newly born-twins as in the olden days though may have been successfully passed and vetoed with two-thirds majority will inevitably be knocked out by the court. It is therefore imperative to underline that legislative matters go beyond numbers but alongside prudence, realism and reasonableness. By the controversial bill, it implies that where a presidential election is postponed over critical unpredicted circumstances or annulled for a repeat over fundamental flaws by the court, all other elections will be annulled since presidential election must hold first. What a blunder!
The second element is the object or purpose of a bill. A bill that is deficient in goals and objectives is good-for-nothing. It is insufficient to hit the gavel over numerical strength in support of a bill. Emphatically, bills must be devoid of conflicts with existing laws. Where such occurs, even if overwhelmingly endorsed alongside all ECOWAS parliaments, the court will notwithstanding, inevitably set it aside. Primarily, a bill seeking for amendments must show clearly the mischiefs it intends to remedy.
Incidentally, the contentious reordering of elections, perceptibly, lacked any clear objectives. Above all, it is conventionally the administrative duties of the electoral umpire to plan and conduct elections globally. The Constitution repetitively, generally guides INEC on the salient issues vis-à-vis time of elections in Sections 132, 76, 178 and 116 for President, National Assembly, governors and House of Assembly respectively. The powers vested in the National Population Commission (NPC), a comparable body to make appointments in Section 158(2) supra commonsensically extends to INEC by rules of ejusdem generis, that is; same classification in the preceding subsection. Literarily, appointments include schedules and arrangements of events.
As a matter of fact, even if INEC elects to review the draft-timetable over and over, perhaps to schedule National Assembly election as the last in sequence, it is absolutely within its powers and no institution can query it. Electoral umpires are strictly independent and any attempts to interfere into its affairs will be ultra vires. INEC has unfettered powers to present any timetables approved by the commission apart from complying with the above cited necessary minimum period prior to elections as no harm is done to any candidate or political party on who contests first, middle or last. Certainly, the court cannot allocate its precious times to aimlessly sit over who contests first or last. The National Assembly (NASS) for example, by act of parliament established federal universities whilst National Universities Commission (NUC) accredits academic programmes and provides course-contents and guidelines. However, neither NASS nor NUC has powers to produce examination timetables for students but university’s management. This is how administrative laws played out. Similarly, the act of Parliament only provides the legal framework for the establishment of INEC and its structures but not to delve into its administrative or managerial duties.
Under Public law, there are acts of the parliament and administrative laws by way of delegated legislation. The lawmakers demagogically, incautiously reordered the election of the President to be the last in sequence but retained National Assembly’s as the first; believably, actions strategically designed to exploitatively utilize the party’s machinery to win their elections first. Unfortunately, the powers to register political parties alongside voters, plan and conduct elections are exclusive duties of electoral umpires all over the world. To sum up, the legislature provides a broader framework of the law with necessary objectives and directions whilst the technical details are left to the executive to fill in. This is also referred to as subordinate legislation. A legislature that will encroach into duties of an executive body is unconsciously displaying incompetence and superciliousness. Administrative bodies proficiently understand the nitty-gritties involved in carrying out its tasks. The essential review that INEC should keenly ruminate irrespective of financial implications is to conduct elective positions distinctively rather than merged elections to enable electorates liberally decide and vote accordingly.
Commendably, the lawmakers this time acted astutely and displayed maturity by firstly opting to deliberate extensively on the reasons adduced for rejecting the bill rather than hurriedly invoking actions to veto the President as attempted earlier. It’s also important that the lawmakers should always embark on researches and possibly consult professionals in specific fields prior to sensitive actions to reduce numbers of defective bills suggestive of recklessness and unskillfulness. Legislative tasks always require holistic considerations beyond mere political bullying. Again, over the years, lawmakers mistake the oversight functions as active duties and thereby abuse it. Oversight function is a supervisory right to interfere for explanations or examinations over activities in other sections and not to take over their administrative duties.
Umegboro, public affairs analyst wrote in from Abuja