By Ibidapo Balogun
It was the first victory for the Federal Government in its bid to stop the National Assembly from further amending the 1999 Constitution.
The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the federal lawmakers to stop taking further steps towards tinkering with the document.
The government, through the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Justice Minister, Mohammed Adoke (SAN), had sued the federal lawmakers, complaining of the plan to alter some sections of the constitution.
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who led a seven-man panel of Justices, ordered the National Assembly to maintain the status quo on the matter until June 18.
President Goodluck Jonathan who spearheaded the litigation at the apex court would have left office by then. He will hand over to President-elect Muhammadu Buhari on May 29.
By June 18, a new set of leadership would have emerged in the National Assembly.
This is due to the fact that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lost its majority status in the two chambers to the All Progressives Congress.
Although Senate President, David Mark, was re-elected on March 28, the APC will produce his successor in early June.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, is not returning to the lower chamber as he was elected governor of Sokoto State on April 11.
President Jonathan had withheld his assent to the amendments to some sections of the 1999 Constitution and instituted a suit against the National Assembly at the Supreme Court to annul the amendments.
The CJN also directed the issuance of hearing notice on the National Assembly for its principal officers to appear on June 18 to respond to the suit and defend their actions.
Justice Mahmud Mohammed ordered that the status quo should be maintained till the hearing of the suit on June 18 to give the counsel to the Federal Government, Mr Bayo Ojo (SAN), adequate time to prepare to address the court on salient constitutional issues raised in his originating processes.
The CJN also ordered that hearing notice be issued and served on the National Assembly (respondent), which was not represented in court, to enable it to appear before the court on the adjourned date.
The CJN said: “Meanwhile, the status quo ante should be maintained. No further action should be contemplated or taken by either party, till the hearing and determination of the case.
“We want to give adequate time to the plaintiff’s counsel to go back and look into the totality of the originating process and come back to address the court on salient issues surrounding SC Cap S16 LFN, 2004, and S232 CFRN.
“The states are also involved in the process leading to the constitutional amendment.’’
Earlier, Ojo told the court that the subject matter of the suit was the President’s grouse against the procedure employed by the federal lawmakers in the amendment to the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution.
The President’s counsel said that the National Assembly ought to have complied with Sections 8 and 9 of the constitution in carrying out the amendment, which necessitated the President withdrawing his assent.
Jonathan had in a seven-page letter to Mark and Tambuwal, queried National Assembly’s decision to whittle down some executive powers of the president.
The President had faulted some aspects of the amendments which give executive powers and duties to the legislature and the judiciary, being reasons for his refusal to sign the document into law.
“In view of the foregoing and absence of credible evidence that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth Alteration) Act 2015 satisfied the strict requirements of Section 9(3) of the 1999 Constitution, it will be unconstitutional for me to assent to it,” the president had said.
Ojo, in the suit filed on behalf of the President and Attorney-General of the Federation, however, argued that the amendment passed by NASS did not have the mandatory requirement of four-fifth majority of the National Assembly.
The government also requested the Supreme Court to give an order nullifying and setting aside Sections 3, 4, 12, 14, 21, 23, 36, 39, 40, 43 and 44 of the Fourth Alteration Act, 2015 purportedly passed by the legislature.
Ojo argued that the defendant was making moves, with the tacit consent of state legislators, to employ certain provisions of the Constitution to pass the purported Fourth Alteration Act, 2015 into Law.
According to the plaintiff’s counsel, the Fourth Alteration Act 2015 contains many proposed amendments inconsistent with the spirit of federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances.
He argued that it would be in the interest of justice to grant all prayers sought because most of the provisions of the purported Fourth Alteration Act 2015 are contrary to public policy and good governance.
The National Assembly had before the filing of the suit by the Federal Government and Thursday’s order for the maintenance of status quo, said after 30 days, it would override the veto of the president.