President Goodluck Jonathan and the Senate may be heading on war path, following Jonathan’s refusal to give his assent to the amendments made by the National Assembly to the 1999 Constitution.
Jonathan had written to the leaderships of both the House of Representatives and Senate, telling them that he would not sign the amended document.
The letters, which were dated April 13, were received at the offices of the Speaker of the House (Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal) and Senate President (Senator David Mark) on April 14.
They were, however, read on the floors of the Green and Red chambers on April 15.
According to Jonathan, the document did not meet some provisions of Section 9(3) of the 1999 Constitution.
Jonathan particularly accused the National Assembly of planning to whittle down some executive powers of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with the document.
He also faulted some amendments, which would give executive powers and duties to the legislature and the judiciary.
Of the 12 errors that were listed in the amendments, the President said: Alteration to constitution cannot be valid with mere voice votes unless supported by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority all members of National Assembly and two-thirds of all the 36 State Houses of Assembly.
Shocked by the development in view of the fact that the bill cost the National Assembly a whopping sum of N1 billion within the last three years, the Senate President mandated the Senate Committee on Constitution Amendments to study Jonathan’s letter and report back next week.
Mark also directed that the letter be circulated to all the senators to enable them digest the contents properly in order to make valid contributions during the debate next week.
Unfortunately, the Committee, led by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, could not go ahead with its two-day retreat, which was supposed to start on Wednesday because Jonathan did not return the original bill, which is against the practice.
Briefing his colleagues on the development during plenary on Thursday, Ekweremadu reported that the Committee has asked him to inform the Senate to ask Jonathan to return the original copy specifically containing the signature page to the chamber.
“We slated to have two-day retreat to consider the letter and advise the Senate appropriately. In the course of our sitting yesterday, (Wednesday), we noticed that second to the last paragraph of that letter, the President said (that) 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.
“This is to enable us to proceed with our work, especially since he had indicated in his own letter that it was accompanied by the Bill. So, we would like to have the Bill in its original form, especially the signature page,” Ekweremadu said.
It was learnt that the Senate’s insistence to have the original copy of the Bill, containing the signature page from Jonathan was sequel to information at its disposal that the President had initially signed the Bill before withdrawing his assent allegedly due to intense pressure on him.
In his remarks, Mark agreed with Ekweremadu’s submission and subjected the request to a vote and the senators, voted in its support.
“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 (Ekweremadu’s), 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 that, we should have it at the earliest possible time,” Mark said.
Mark assured his colleagues that he would write the letter within two to three days because of the urgency involved.
There are indications that the National Assembly was spoiling for war over Jonathan’s action because the lawmakers see the constitution amendments as the hallmark of the Seventh Senate to which a whooping N1 billion was spent to put together.
However, Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, has described Jonathan’s refusal to assent to Constitution Amendment Bill as another act of statesmanship.
Enang, who stated this in an interview with journalists in Abuja on Thursday, observed that in spite of the fact that the President’s tenure would soon end, he was magnanimous to point out some anomalies in the Bill, and as such, withholding his assent.
“Let me, for one thing alone, congratulate and appreciate President Goodluck Jonathan. He did not say ‘I am not going to be the President in the next 30 days, let me just assent to it’.
“He did not say, ‘whatever problem there is, let it be a problem that the Buhari administration will come to face’.
“He believed that he should be as a soldier; standing at his post to the end and I commend him because he would ordinarily have signed it and said ‘I wash my hands off like Pilate’. He still put his thoughts together and said; this I refuse to do on these accounts.
“To that extent I commend his honesty, I commend his statesmanship,” Enang said.
Enang, however, noted that the observations made by the President were coming late as the National Assembly had already passed the Bill.
He specifically blamed relevant officers in the presidency, who according to him, should have pointed out the issues at the point of the public hearings.
“At this stage, we have gone through public hearing at different stages and this is a bill that passed through the National Assembly for three years. When we had the public hearings, those making these observations did not appear.
“The President didn’t need to appear, but the Attorney General, Secretary to the Government, Accountant General and all the other institutions ought to have appeared. It is indolence on the part of the Attorney General and the SGF, who ought to have called President’s attention to these matters when the hearing was going on.
“In view of the development, the National Assembly would hold close consultations with the President to look at the observations made and vote on some of them,” he added.
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