House of Representatives yesterday began a process of a further amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, at the inauguration, charged the 50-member panel to revisit the efforts at constitution reform of the immediate past Seventh Assembly with a view to facilitating its passage.
Immediate past President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, rejected the constitution amendment bill in a letter entitled “Re: Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Fourth Alteration Act, 2015,” in which he questioned the power of the National Assembly to arrogate to itself power to undermine his powers.
Meanwhile, in the upper chamber, the debate on the 2016 budget continued with senators still divided along party lines .
Specifically, Jonathan had among others, questioned the rationale behind the amendment whittling down his power by allowing the National Judicial Council (NJC) to appoint the Attorney-General of the Federation, separating the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation from that of the Federal Government, and limiting the period when expenditure can be authorised in default of appropriation from six months to three months, among others.
The former president, had in the letter also lamented what he termed as usurpation of powers of the executive by the legislature in the fourth alteration of the constitution, noting that the two chambers of the National Assembly failed to meet the requirements for altering Section 9 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“Section 4 of the Fourth Alteration Act, 2015 seeks to alter Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution by the insertion of a new subsection 3A, which dispenses with the assent of the president in the process of constitution amendment. However, this alteration can only be valid if the proposal was supported by votes of not less than four-fifths majority of all the members of each House of the National Assembly and approved by a resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the states as provided by Section 9 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“This is a fundamental requirement of the constitution and in the absence of credible evidence that this requirement of the constitution was met in the votes and proceedings of the National Assembly, it will be unconstitutional for me to assent to this Bill,” he explained.
Besides, the former president had recalled a number of provisions in the Act that altogether constituted flagrant violations of the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and unjustifiably whittled down the executive powers of the federation vested in the president by virtue of Section 5 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.
Jonathan had further observed that the power vested in the president to withhold assent to bills passed by the National Assembly was part of checks and balances contained in the constitution and argued that sub-section 5a of Section 58, which provides that the bill becomes law after the expiration of 30 days in the event that the president fails to signify the withholding of his assent, may be inappropriate.
“The provision appears not to have taken cognisance of the afore-mentioned variables, the vagaries inherent in the legislative process and the wisdom in requiring two-thirds majority to override the President’s veto.
“In the light of the above, I am of the view that the failure to signify assent by the president within the prescribed period of 30 days should rather be treated as dissent, which would require two-thirds majority to override.”
But Dogara who described the former president’s decision as unfortunate, noted that the laudable initiative by the Seventh Assembly could not be thrown away considering the efforts and resources expended on the exercise.
He argued that notwithstanding the power of the National Assembly to exercise the power to override the president as stipulated under Section 58 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, he urged the panelists not to proceed on the path of veto but take steps to re-gazette the agreed aspects of the bill and then subject it to the appropriate legislative processes required by the Standing Orders of the House and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He noted: “We need to process all the other new bills referred to the committee by members, including new proposals from the general public. In your discussions and engagements, there should be no off-limits except the very basis of the Constitution which is the indivisibility of Nigeria. It is only through clash and compromise of ideas that we can make progress.
“ We must avoid the temptation of starting afresh. A lot of public funds were spent on processing the botched Fourth Alteration Bill and we think that it would be a disservice to this country if the work of the Seventh Assembly on this matter is completely jettisoned.
The House of Representatives, in particular consulted the Nigerian people widely, leading to the Peoples’ Public Sessions that took place in 360 Federal Constituencies of Nigeria, in conjunction with relevant stakeholders.” The Guardian.