Law News
Constitution amendment: How Jonathan, NASS made concessions

President Goodluck Jonathan was last night being waited upon to sign the Constitution Alteration Bill after a last minute agreement brokered by lawyers to the President and the National Assembly saw both sides make concessions in their month-long stand-off.
The executive and the legislative arms of government each made three concessions on the knotty issues that led to the stand-off that compelled President Jonathan to veto the Constitution Alteration Bill presented to him for assent by the National Assembly last March.

Concessions by the President

Under the agreement reached, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, as it is now known, would be separated to create separate offices of the Accountant General of the Federal Government and Accountant General of the Federation.
The concession to the National Assembly, it was gathered, was upon the strong persuasions of the states who had in the past alleged lack of transparency in the distribution of the funds of the federation.

The deal to break up the office of the Accountant General, Vanguard learnt last night, was one of the three concessions made by the president.
Another concession made by the President to the National Assembly was to allow the alteration of the constitution to put a three-month limit in a new year within which the President can utilise funds if the budget of the year has not been passed.

Under the present dispensation, the limit is six months, a development that has led to Nigeria’s categorisation as a country with a very flawed budgetary system.

The third concession the President gave to the National Assembly was to agree to the amendment that would give a 30 day limit under which the President must sign a bill passed by the National Assembly or make a veto. If the President refuses to announce his veto, it would automatically be meant that the bill comes into law.

In pushing the President and his team towards this, the legislators had pushed the fact that other countries were more restricted in the limit given to their Presidents in that respect. An example was made of the United States where the President has a 10-day leeway to consider giving assent or vetoing a legislative proposal.

NASS’ concessions

The National Assembly on its part, according to informed sources, also made three concessions including dropping the amendment that the President should not sign future constitution amendments.
The National Assembly, it was learnt, was swayed by the argument that since the issue was still in court that it would be pre-empting the courts if it stuck to its gun that the President must not sign future constitution amendments.

The National Assembly, it was learnt also, conceded to the President that it drops provisions making the provision of medicare and education as justiciable.

The National Assembly was swayed by the case presented by the presidency that other forms of legislation had been initiated to project comprehensive education and health for all.

Besides, the National Assembly also dropped the amendment separating the offices of the Attorney-General of the Federation and that of the Minister of Justice, a point that had been pointedly objected to by the president in his letter to the National Assembly vetoing the Constitution Alteration Act.

The separation of the two offices, it was learnt, was perhaps the fundamental point of disagreement that pushed the presidency to veto the Constitution Alteration Bill.

President, NASS settle out of court

Earlier yesterday, the president’s lawyer, Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, informed the Supreme Court that the dispute with the National Assembly over the proposed alterations to the constitution was amicably settled out-of-court.
Counsel to the National Assembly, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, confirmed the agreement to a seven-man panel of justices of the apex court that presided over the matter, yesterday.

The two parties said they decided to explore an out of court settlement of the matter following advice given to them on Monday by the apex court panel.

It will be recalled the Supreme Court panel which was led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, handed both President Jonathan and the NASS, 48 hours to settle their differences without recourse to the judiciary.

When the matter initially came up for hearing yesterday, Counsel to the AGF, Chief Ojo, SAN, who lodged the matter on behalf of President Jonathan, told the apex court that both parties made concessions and decided that it would be in the best interest of the nation to discontinue further hearing on the suit.

However, Ojo stressed that in view of the fact that the fence-mending meeting held between the AGF and the NASS ended very late on Tuesday, he said his client could not reach President Jonathan to okay the withdrawal notice.

In view of the development, he pleaded the apex court to give him till 4pm yesterday to produce the letter for discontinuation of the suit, stressing that by then, President Jonathan would have concluded the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting.

When the court reconvened around 4:15pm, Chief Ojo, SAN, told the court that President Jonathan expressed his happiness over the development and immediately okayed the notice for the discontinuation of the case.

“My Lords, after FEC meeting this morning, we briefed our client and he is happy about the course of events in this matter. We have therefore filed our notice of discontinuance and the terms of settlement we brokered with the defendant. Indeed, what we have seen today is that a major problem between two arms of government has been amicably resolved,” Ojo stated.

CJN lauds counsel

In a short ruling, the CJN, admitted the said terms of settlement as the judgment of the apex court on the matter, even as he relied on Order 50 Rule 3 of the Civil Procedure Rules and terminated further hearing on the suit.

The CJN equally commended lawyers to both the plaintiff and the defendant for guiding their clients to settle the dispute without judicial intervention.

Meanwhile, speaking to journalists after the proceeding, Ojo and Awomolo, revealed that President Jonathan eventually agreed to sign the new constitution into law.

President Jonathan had through the AGF, urged the Supreme Court to nullify all the proposed amendments to the 1999 constitution.

In his originating summons, he prayed the court to declare as unconstitutional, the amendments as proposed by the lawmakers.

He urged the court to set aside sections 3, 4, 12, 14, 21, 23, 36, 39, 40, 43 and 44 of the Fourth Alteration Act, 2015, purportedly passed by the Defendant (NASS).

We contended that the said Fourth Alteration Act 2015, was not passed with the mandatory requirement of four-fifths majority of members of the Defendant (National Assembly), and the mandatory due processes provided for under the relevant sections of the extant Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.

As a follow up, President Jonathan equally wrote separate letters to the Senate President, David Mark and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, asking them to halt moves by members of the National Assembly to go ahead with the constitution amendment process.

In the letter, which was served on them by the AGF, President Jonathan urged them to restrain other federal legislators from tampering with the 1999 constitution, as issues regarding its proposed amendments, are already before the Supreme Court.
More so, the AGF told the apex court that; “Hon. Samson Osagie, Minority Whip of the House of Representative, said to the whole world at a Press Conference purposely called on the issue in this suit that despite any case filed against the said Act (which actually is a Bill); the National Assembly would go ahead to pass it into law. “

The AGF contended that the balance of convenience tilts in favour of resolution of the legal grey areas concerning the proposed constitution amendment, before any further step could be taken on the Bill.

He maintained that the NASS was determined to proceed with passing the constitution by overriding the veto of same by President Jonathan, despite the fundamental nature of the issues raised against the proposed alterations to the constitution.


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