Constitution: Let S’Court decide legality of amendments –FG writes NASS | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Constitution: Let S’Court decide legality of amendments –FG writes NASS

Posted: Apr 24, 2015 at 1:25 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

•Senate seeks accelerated hearing

•Reps fault Jonathan

By Joe Nwankwo, Rotimi Akinwumi  and Ignatius Okorocha (Abuja)


Following misgivings over President Goodluck Jonathan’s objections to the Constitution Amendment Bill, the Federal Government, on Thursday, wrote the National Assembly, asking that the legislators allow the Supreme Court determine the legality of the proposed amendments.

In a letter to the Senate President, David Mark the Federal Government informed him of the suit challenging the legality of the proposed amendments to the constitution.

In the letter, written on its behalf by Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, the Federal Government asked the Senate President to allow the Supreme Court to determine the issues it raised in the suit.

Excerpts from the letter read: “In view of this development and the dictates of the principles of the rule of law on which any democratic system thrives, we use this medium to urge that the Supreme Court be allowed to determine the suit under reference before any further step is taken by the National Assembly on the move to pass the Fourth Alteration Act alluded to earlier in this correspondence into law.

“May we add that adopting such attitude will not only commendably be in line with the decisions of the Supreme Court on the absolute need to avoid self-help by all persons and authorities in resolving disputes, but will also yield to the rule of law as espoused in the decisions of the courts. One of such decisions is the case of OJUKWU V. MILITARY GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE (1986) 1 NWLR (pt. 18) 621.

“To proceed with the process of passage into law of the Fourth Alteration Act 2015 despite the pendency of this suit under reference will be an affront to the rule of law and democracy. We are convinced, particularly from the commendable record so far of the current National Assembly that it will not do that.”

In the suit, the Federal Government wants the court to determine two questions on the constitutionality or otherwise of the procedure adopted by the National Assembly in passing the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth Alteration) Act 2015, particularly as it relates to Sections 3, 4, 12, 14, 21, 23, 36, 39, 40, 43 and 44 purporting to alter Sections 8, 9, 34, 35, 39, 40, 42, 45, 58, 84, 150, 174 and 211 of the extant  1999 Constitution of Nigeria and for an order nullifying and setting aside those Sections of the Fourth Alteration Act.

FG also asked the Senate President to draw the attention of the House of Representatives to the pending Reacting, some Senators, on Thursday, commended the President for taking the legal option to resolve the controversy, even as they called for expeditious hearing of the suit so as to resolve the matter in the life of the present National Assembly before it expires on June 4.

The National Assembly members were however, shocked, when the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, read the letter from President Jonathan on April 15,notifying the Upper Chamber that he had withheld assent to the Bill.

The President, in a six-page letter addressed to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, informed the two legislative Chambers of his decision to withhold his assent to the Bill and to remit same back to the National Assembly for necessary action, pointing out some defects in the Bill.

He explained to the Senate that he would not assent to the amendments because he observed that such alterations failed to satisfy the strict requirements of Section 9(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Consequently, the Senate asked the President to return to the National Assembly the original copy of the Bill submitted to him, particularly the signature page.

However, rather than return the Bill, the President approached the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter and give interpretation on the issues he raised in his objections to the Bill.

Senators, who reacted to the President’s latest action, described his decision a right step in a democracy.

According to Senator Ita Enang: “I have always argued that in the relationship between the executive and the legislature, either the executive or the legislature whenever there is dispute, should be willing to approach the courts for interpretation as to who is right.

“Although I have not seen the processes, I do not know wheather they are coming under the Supreme Court Additional Jurisdiction Act which authorizes that if there is a dispute between the executive and the legislature at the National level, the original jusrisdiction of the supreme court should be invoked.

“Therefore, I am happy that the president having doubts about the powers of the legislature to do what it has done has not resorted to press attack on the legislature; he has sent a letter to the legislature and at the same time has approached the court to declare whether or not the legislature is right in the procedure adopted and in the subject matter.

“This will also enable the legislature to know that any matter ending before it, does not end with it; you have your standing orders, you have the rules, you have the constitution; there is no short cut to the amendment of the constitution,” he added.

Senator Umaru Dahiru agreed too that there is nothing wrong with the President going to court, adding that “the implication is that if the Executive feels that something is wrong then they can go to court.

“The implication is that; the constitution is very clear, if you do not agree with anything, either the National Assembly or the fedral government, you can take either one to court. And in case the Supreme Curt says otherwise, we have to comply,” the senator observed.

Also, the House of Representatives officially responded to the issues raised by President Goodluck Jonathan as to why he vetoed the Bill.

The House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitution Review argued that the issues raised by the President, were not genuine.

Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Representatives and a member of the Reps Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitution Amendment, Samson Osagie, who addressed the press, insisted that “the National Assembly met the requirement of the said Section 9 (3) for a four-fifths votes of members of each House. A reference to the Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives for Wednesday 24, July 2013, No 15 at page 117 shows that for the Alteration of Section 9, attendance of members as registered was 338, Ayes Votes were 317, Nays votes were 6, Abstain 15, totalling 338. The Senate also voted accordingly.

“It should be noted that four-fifth of 360 membership of the House is 288. It is therefore not correct for the President to have stated that the requirement of Section 9 (3) was not met.”

Clarifying the questions raised by the President on Clause 12 which has to do with a new Section 45A and 45B of the Bill seeking to guarantee right to free basic education, and maternal care services, the House said that the intention of the clauses were quite clear adding that “it is not every details of a provision that should be spelt out in the constitution as the institutions and organs against whom constitutionally guaranteed rights are usually sought to be obtained from are know by the citizenry.

“Besides, in the event in the event of a dispute on this, the interpretative role of the court comes into play. The compulsory free Universal Basic Education, Act 2004 and the National Health Act 2014 contain provisions that already seeks to expound on the substance of the new Constitutional mandates. Further legislation or statute may be required to spell out implementation issues” he said.

The parliament also clarified that it did not really alter the 30-day mandate for the President to accent to any Bill sent to him, but said it only amended it to make it that such Bill with the president for 30 days without assent automatically becomes a law.

Speaking on Alteration of Section 82 which saw to the reduction of the default of appropriation from 6 months to 3 months, the parliament said the decision was taken “to cure the recent practice of the Executive arm not presenting the Appropriation Bill in time which delays its passage”.

The parliament contend that the executive has formed the habit of not sending the budget to the parliament at the appropriate time knowing fully well that it has the power to spend money for six months without appropriation.

“With the reduction of the period to three months, the National Assembly envisaged that the Executive Arm shall present the Appropriation Bill latest by the end of September of each year, and the National Assembly shall have the corresponding task to ensuring it’s passages before the end of the 3 months threshold. Allowing the Appropriation Act of a previous year to continue to run 6 months into a new fiscal year distortion and destabilize the budget process and should be stopped “.

The parliament also clarified the decision to make the appointment of Accountant-General of the Federation a duty of the National Economic Council saying since the office serves all the 36 states, they should have a right to decide who occupies the office.