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“It is null and void”: Edison Ehie Faults Rivers Assembly’s Overriding Of Fubara

CAN THE RIVERS STATE HOUSE OF ASSESMBLY REMOVE THE POWER OF THE GOVERNOR TO APPOINT THE CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE RIVERS STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY SERVICE COMMISSION AND TRANSFER IT TO THE HOUSE?

BACKGROUND
On Thursday February 15, 2024 at its 109th Legislative sitting, the House passed into Law, the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2024. The Bill repealed the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission (Amendment) Law, No. 3 of 2006 and further amended the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission Law of 1999. The Bill was sent to the Governor for his assent and after the statutory 30 days, the House re-passed the Bill into Law on 22nd March, 2024.

The Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission was established by the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission Law of 1999. Section 2 provides:
“The Commission shall comprise a Chairman and four other members who shall in the opinion of the Speaker be persons of unquestionable integrity.

“The Chairman and members of the Commission shall be appointed by the Rivers State House of Assembly acting on the advice and recommendation of the House Committee of Selection and shall in making the appointment be guided by the geographical spread and diversity of the people of Rivers State.”

The above section was repealed by the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission (Amendment) Law No 3, 2006. In sections 2 and 3, the Amendment Law provides that:
S. 2 “Section 2 of the Principal Law is amended by repealing subsection (1) and substituting the following subsection:
“(1) The Commission shall comprise a Chairman and 4 (four) other members.
S. 3 “Section 2(2) of the Principal Law is amended by repealing subsection (2) and substituting the following subsection:
“(2) The Chairman and members of the Commission shall be appointed by the Governor subject to the confirmation by the House of Assembly and shall in making the appointment be guided by the geographical spread and diversity of the people of Rivers State.”

The import of the 2024 Amendment Bill passed into Law by the House is that the Governor will no longer have the power to appoint the Chairman and members of the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission and the power of appointment shall be vested in the House of Assembly.

LEGAL ISSUES
The first issue to consider is the Constitutional power of the Governor. Section 5(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 provides that the executive powers of the State shall be vested in the Governor of that State.”

Further, section 176(2) provides that:
“The Governor of a State shall be the Chief Executive of that State.”

This follows that the Governor is the Chief Executive Officer of the State Government and by the powers vested on him, is responsible for making appointments into various executive bodies, subject to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and other statutes. All Commissions and other parastatals are executive bodies under the control of the Governor. The House of Assembly Service Commission is an executive body and as such, the Chairman and members can only be appointed by the Governor. The House of Assembly has no powers to make any appointment into an executive body as no statutory body is under the control of the legislature.

The Rivers State House of Assembly should not mistake the presence of the building of the Service Commission in its premises as conferring powers on the House to appoint the Chairman and members of the Commission.

The second issue to consider is the Constitutional alteration of 2023. In that alteration, the Third schedule was amended to include State Houses of Assembly Service Commissions, which invariably follows that a State House of Assembly Commission is one of State bodies established by section 197 of the 1999 Constitution.

Let’s be reminded that section 198 of the 1999 Constitution gives the Governor the power of appointment into various executive bodies, subject to confirmation by a resolution of the House of Assembly of a State. The job of the Rivers State House of Assembly ends with the confirmation of the appointees.

The alteration to the Third schedule, paragraph 1A provides that the composition, tenure, structure, finance, functions, powers, and other proceedings of the Commission shall be as prescribed by a law of the House of Assembly of the State. Notice that the appointment of the Chairman and members of the Commission is not listed.

Therefore, it can be safely inferred that the power to appoint the Chairman and members of the House of Assembly Service Commission lies with the Governor, as is the case with the other bodies listed under section 197 of the 1999 Constitution.

There is nothing in the Alteration that, by any stretch of imagination, can be inferred to confer the power of appointing the Chairman and members of the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission on the Rivers State House of Assembly, notwithstanding the fact that the law creating the Commission was enacted by the Rivers State House of Assembly.

Thirdly, is the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission and its staff under the control of the State Government? To answer this question, we will take our voyage to section 318 of the 1999 Constitution. That section gives the definition of a Public Service of a State to mean:
“the service of the state in any capacity in respect of the government of the state and includes service as:
clerk or other staff of the House of Assembly;
member of staff of the High Court, the Sharia Court of Appeal, the Customary Court of Appeal or other courts established for a state by the Constitution or by a law of a House of Assembly;
member or staff of any Commission or authority established for the state by this Constitution or by a law of a House of Assembly;
staff of any Local Government Council;
staff of any statutory corporation established by a law of a House of Assembly;
staff of any educational institution established or financed principally by a government of a State; and
staff of any company or enterprise in which the government of a State or its agency holds controlling shares or interest.

The purport of this section is that the Assembly Service Commission is not an appendage of the legislature but under the control of the State Government. Even at the national level, the members of the National Assembly Service Commission are appointed by the President in collaboration with the National Assembly.

Fourthly, what is the position of the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission Law vis-à-vis the National Assembly Service Commission Act? Section 4(5) of the 1999 Constitution provides: “If any Law enacted by the House of Assembly of a State is inconsistent with any law validly made by the National Assembly, the law made by the National Assembly shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of inconsistency, be void.”

Further, in A.G Bendel v AG Federation & 22 Ors (1982) 3 NCLRI, the Supreme Court held per Fatayi Williams CJN (as he then was) “neither a State nor an individual can contract out of the provisions of the Constitution. The reason for this is that a contract to do a thing which cannot be done without a violation of the Law is void.”

The fifth issue is: “can a statute revive a repealed statute?” In the case of Idehen v University of Benin, Suit No FHC/B/CS/120/2001, delivered on 19th December, 2001, the court held that:
“Contrary to the contention of the University, the effect of a repealing statute is to erase the repealed statute from the statute book. When a statute is repealed, it ceases to exist and no longer forms part of the laws of the land. In other words, the effect of the repeal is to render the repealed statute dead and non-existent in law. Like a dead person, it cannot be revived.”

The court also held in Onagoruwa v IGP (1991) 75 N.W.L.R (pt. 193) 593 that in law, a non-existent statute is dead and cannot be saved or salvaged by the court.
In Madumere v Onuoha (1999) 8 NWLR (Pt. 615) Pg 422, the Court of Appeal held that
“the effect of repealing a statute is to obliterate it completely from the records of the Parliament as if it had never been passed. Such a law is to be regarded legally as a law that never existed…This means in effect that when a statute is repealed, it ceases to be an existing law under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

For the purpose of reviving your memory, the provision giving the Governor the power to appoint the Chairman and members of the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission under the repealed 2006 Law provides in its opening paragraph:
“3. Section 2(2) of the Principal Law is amended by repealing section 2 and substituting the following section…” (emphasis mine)

Further, section 6(1)(a) of the Interpretation Act provides:
“(1) The repeal of an enactment shall not-
revive anything not in force or existing at the time when the repeal takes effect;”
Please note that section 318(4) of the 1999 Constitution provides that “The Interpretation Act shall apply for the purposes of interpreting the provisions of this Constitution.”

It follows from the above that the House cannot repeal sections 2 and 3 of the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission (Amendment) Law No 3, 2006 to revive the already repealed provisions of the 1999 Law.

CONCLUSION
In conclusion, the Rivers State House of Assembly lacks the powers, legal or otherwise, to remove the power of appointment of the Chairman and members of the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission from the Governor and vest that power on themselves. The provision in the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission (Amendment) Law, 2024 seeking to vest that power on the House is in clear contravention of the 1999 Constitution and therefore a nullity in the eyes of the Law. See the case of MacFoy v UAC (1961) 3 All ER 1169 where the court held that you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. In that case, Lord Denning stated:
“If an act is void, then it is in law a nullity. It is not only bad, but incurably bad. There is no need for an order of court to set it aside. It is automatically null and void without more ado, though it is sometimes more convenient to have the court declare it to be so. And every proceeding which is founded on it is also bad and incurably bad. You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stay there. It will collapse.”

Rt Hon Barr. Ehie Edison, Ph.D, DSSRS.
Chief of Staff, Rivers State
Government House.

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