Waiting For Buhari’s Action On Constitution Amendment | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Waiting For Buhari’s Action On Constitution Amendment

Posted: May 31, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Augustine Oboh Lagos

One of the most significant events of the Last days of Goodluck Jonathan in office was the resolution of the differences over the fourth amendment to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution and the presentation of the 2014 Confab report to the Senate. Unfortunately, though the President and the National Assembly reached a truce over the Constitution Amendment, it would seem the President could not sign the document as he was expected to do by NASS before he vacated office on May 29. As it is, the next step forward on the Confab Report and the Constitution Amendment will be decided by President Muhammadu Buhari. The process is expected to witness another round of hiccups with a new government and new party in power.

Jonathan Declines Assent to Bill

The 1999 constitution amendment came to completion on February 17, 2015, with the National Assembly’s approval of life pension for anybody who held these offices: President, Vice Presidents; Senate President, Deputy Vice president; Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. Beneficiaries must be occupants who successfully concluded their terms in office without removal or impeachment. The amended constitution also made it mandatory for a sitting president to appear before the joint sitting of the National Assembly to deliver an address in respect of the state of the nation.

Buhari  Jonathan

Buhari                                                 Jonathan

But the president, in the expected constitution, loses the power to solely assent to bills passed by the National Assembly. The same applies to state governors.

The amended Clause read: “Any person who has held office as President or Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives,  shall be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent President or Deputy President  of the Senate, Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, provided that such a person was not removed from office by the process of impeachment or for breach of any of the provisions of this Constitution.

“The president shall attend a joint meeting of the National Assembly once a year to deliver an address in respect of the state of the nation. He may attend any joint meeting of the National Assembly, either to deliver an address on national affairs including fiscal measures, or to make such statement on the policy of government as he considers to be of national importance.”

Though the lawmakers who made the amendments were satisfied that their resolutions were in the best interest of the country, President Jonathan refused to assent to the bill, which is the 4th Alteration Bill, on the grounds of the alleged failure of the National Assembly to fulfill the mandatory requirement for the passage of the bill.

The AGF on behalf of the President had filed a court suit to challenge the passage of the Bill by the National Assembly following threat by the legislators to override the President’s assent.

The plaintiff is opposed to, among other provisions in the proposed amendment to the Constitution which conferred on the National Assembly, the power to pass an amendment of the constitution without the president’s consent.

The National Assembly passed the Constitutional Amendments and sent them to President Jonathan in December 2014, for assent.

President Goes to Court

Threats from the lawmakers that they might veto the president’s refusal of assent after 30 days compelled the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, to seek the intervention of the Supreme Court. He was represented in court by Senior Advocate, Bayo Ojo.

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 said.

Ojo, in the suit filed on behalf of the President and Attorney-General of the Federation, 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.

NASS Expunges Controversial Clause

Advised by the court to settle their differences out of court, the President and NASS succeeded in making mutual concessions with NASS agreeing to remove the controversial clauses in the amendments.

The out of court settlement took place in Abuja on May 26.

As part of the truce, parties agreed that the views of the president be considered and effected by deleting some alterations in the Alteration Act, 2015, for which the president had withheld his assent.

The six-point of settlement in the suit between the Attorney-General of the Federation and the National Assembly, was made public on Wednesday.

According to the terms, NASS agreed to delete alterations made to Section 8 of the Principal Act on referendum in respect of state creation.

It also agreed to delete alterations made to Section 9 of the Principal Act dispensing with the assent of the president in the process of Constitution amendment.

NASS also agreed to delete alterations made in Sections 45a-45b of the Act relating to Free Basic Education and Maternal Healthcare Services.

It also deleted alterations made to Sections 150, 174, 195 and 211 of the Principal Act relating to the separation of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. This also applies to State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.

Accordingly, the suit of the Attorney-General in Suit No: SC/214/ 2015 before the Supreme Court was withdrawn following a motion for discontinuance. The court accordingly struck out the case.

It was also agreed that President Goodluck Jonathan shall assent to the Fourth Alteration Act, 2015.

Senate Gets Confab Report

Similarly, Jonathan on Wednesday, May 27, forwarded the National Conference Report to the Senate and urged the Upper House to act on the document.

In a letter addressed to the Senate President and titled, Approval for the Implementation of the Recommendations and Resolutions of the National Conference, 2014, the President drew Senate’s attention to the report, which was deliberated upon and approved for implementation by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at its meeting of March 18, 2014.

The letter read: “May I draw the attention of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the enclosed report of the National Conference, 2014, which was deliberated upon and approved for implementation by the FEC at its meeting of March 18, 2014.

“Your Excellency, you may recall that the National Conference was inaugurated on March 17, 2014, with the mandate to, among other things, discuss any issue about Nigeria, with particular emphasis on finding solutions to the problems of national unity and development; come up with strategies to strengthen rather than weaken Nigeria’s unity and enhance a participatory and inclusive democratic system of government; recognise the need to move the country forward and de-emphasise the narrow interest that define our fault lines; spell out the modalities for the implementation of these recommendations and resolutions as well as suggest any constitutional arrangement they consider best for Nigeria.”

The President, in the communication, added that although the national conference was not given any ‘no-go areas’, it was enjoined to refrain from discussing the break-up of the country.

“Distinguished Senators are invited to note that at the end of the conference, a report was submitted with recommendations and resolutions covering the following thematic areas: Agriculture and water resources, citizenship, immigration and related matters, civil society organisations, labour, youths and sports, devolution of power, economy, trade and investment, energy, environment, foreign policy and diaspora matters, law, judiciary, human rights and legal reform.

“Others are land tenure matters and national boundaries, national security, political restructuring and forms of government, political parties and electoral matters, policies and governance, public finance, public service, social sector, religion, science, technology and development as well as transportation,” Jonathan stated.

According to him, the recommendation of the conference on the implementation modalities of the resolutions are contained in Chapter Six of the report while the resolutions are classified into three broad categories including constitutional, legal, and policy issues.

He noted that the report also indicated the nature of the actions to be taken, the objectives to be achieved and the agency that needs to take the actions.

“The conference also submitted draft bills of resolutions that require constitution amendments or legal amendments.”

He added: “At the FEC meeting on March 18, 2015, the Council considered and approved the reports of the conference and resolved as follows: that the draft bills be transmitted to the National Assembly for enactment into law; that the recommendations and resolutions that are outside the purview of the federal government be forwarded to the relevant tiers of government for implementations, and that relevant agencies of government should harmonise the conference resolutions with extant policies for immediate implementation.

“Distinguished Senate President, the report of the National conference is hereby forwarded to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for consideration and necessary legislative actions,” Jonathan stated.

The National Conference Committee was inaugurated on March 17, 2014 by President Jonathan and the committee was given a three-month mandate which was later extended to another two months for the committee to round off the assignment.

The report of the committee was submitted to President Jonathan on August 21 by the Committee Chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi. Although it was expected before now that the President should forward the reports of the conference to the National Assembly in form of Executive Bill, President Jonathan only sent a letter to the Senate through the Senate President, David Mark, for considerations and legislative action.

Uncertainty Over Constitution, Confab Report

On Tuesday, Jonathan pleaded with Buhari not to jettison the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference and admonished him to appreciate the good contributions made by Nigerians towards nation-building, irrespective of political party or creed.

Regardless, some critics are of the opinion that the constitutional amendments and confab reports may not enjoy the immediate attention of Buhari, giving the fact that there are more pressing needs demanding his attention at present.

Thus there is anxiety in some quarters that when the issues finally return to the front burner, perspectives may have changed to the extent that previously agreed matters may return for further debates.

Nonetheless, some commentators have warned that jettisoning the constitutional amendments and the Confab Reports may rejuvenate some of the constitutional questions that have tended to undermine Nigeria’s unity in the past.