Law News
Constitution amendment: Senate asks Jonathan to return original bill

The intrigues surrounding the President’s veto of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution deepened yesterday, after the Senate cut short a retreat to ponder its options and demanded the return of the bill sent to the President for assent.

President Jonathan

In making the demand, the Senate expressly stated that the bill should be returned along with the signature page.

The demand, Vanguard learned, was to dispel suggestions rife in the National Assembly yesterday that the bill was initially signed by the President before apparently recanting.

The House of Representatives also entered the fray yesterday, with a directive to its committee on Constitution Review to study the matter.

President Goodluck Jonathan had, Monday, returned the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution forwarded to him for assent, alleging, among others, that the move would undercut the principle of Separation of Powers, weaken the institution of the Presidency and that the effort to make free education and healthcare justiceable would undercut the reign of free enterprise.

Authoritative sources in the National Assembly, however, alleged that the President had signed the bill and some legislators were in possession of evidence to that effect.

On the basis of that, as the Senate committee on Constitution Review commenced its hearing yesterday, there were suggestions that an enquiry be initiated to find out the real fate of the bill.

However, some in the leadership of the Senate eventually reasoned that the office of the President be spared the scandal of an enquiry and that options be given to the President to right the wrong by formally withdrawing his veto.

However, more trenchant senators in the committee, nevertheless, eventually prevailed with the resolution that the President return the original bill with the specific clause of including the signature page of the bill as was sent to him for assent.


… as in 2002

The unfolding scenario was being compared to the development in 2002, when the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo; then Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim; and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Na‘abba, were immersed in a controversy over the alleged alteration of the 2002 Electoral Act as had been originally passed by the National Assembly.

Yesterday, as a way out of the lacuna, some senior officials of the National Assembly were suggesting that the President be given an opportunity to withdraw the letter and present the signed document.

In the alternative, some legislators were spoiling for an override of the veto, working on adopting the same approach in overriding ordinary bills.


Review C’ttee’s explanation

The demand for the return of the bill was made on the floor of the Senate, following a personal explanation by Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President, who is also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review.

According to him, President Jonathan failed to accompany his letter vetoing the bill with the original copy of the bill sent to him for assent by the National Assembly.

Ekweremadu informed the Senate that the two-day retreat, which the committee had convened to discuss the President’s letter, could not make much progress due to the absence of the original copy of the bill.

He said the committee temporarily suspended the retreat until it was in possession of the original copy of the amended bill, adding that the work of the committee would be guided by the contents of the bill.

The Deputy Senate President said: “In the letter from Mr. President, he raised a number of objections with respect to the fourth alteration of our constitution. That letter was appropriately referred to the Senate Committee on Constitution Review.

“We slated to have a two-day retreat to consider the letter and advise the Senate appropriately.


The President’s letter

“In the course of our sitting yesterday, we noticed that in the second to the last paragraph of that letter, the President said he was returning the bill with the letter.

“Unfortunately, the bill was not returned with the letter and we could not proceed because we would like to see the returned bill.

“The committee has asked me to raise this point, to request the President of the Senate, to ask the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to send back the original copy of the bill as sent to him, especially the signature page to enable us to proceed with our work.

“Especially since he had indicated in his letter that it was accompanied by the bill. So we would like to have the bill in its original form, especially the signature page.”


Senate President’s reaction

Having listened to Ekweremadu, David Mark said there was no point debating the issue again, saying the Deputy Senate President had made a personal explanation.

The Senate President said: “It is a personal explanation, so there will be no need to put it to debate.

“I think the important thing is that if the floor accepts that I send that letter, then I will write a letter to Mr. President to return the original copy of the bill to us.

“This was referred to your committee, so if that is the decision of the committee then we have little or no option on the floor here.

“There is a bit of urgency of this. So in writing, we should indicate that we should have it at the earliest possible time. We cannot put a time frame like within two days or three days, which would not be correct.”

Upon his submission, the Senate unanimously agreed that the President returns the original copy of the bill.

Enter Reps

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives, yesterday, entered the fray when it referred the letter from the President to the House committee on Constitution Review.

Deputy Majority Leader, Leo Ogor, said: “The issues raised by the President are germane and cannot be treated with kid gloves.

“We will start the legislative fireworks on the areas he pencilled down to be problematic and get back to him immediately.”

A member of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review also debunked the claim that the appointment of attorney general by National Judicial Council, NJC, would undermine the principle of Separation of Powers as claimed by the President.

The Senator said under the new proposal, the attorney general would no longer be a member of the Federal Executive Council.

He also debunked the claim that the provision to make free healthcare and education justiceable would be enforced on the private sector.

The lawmaker said: “The constitution provides for freedom of movement, but that does not make you to enter anywhere you like or encroach on someone’s property.”

Click here to read from source.