There seems to be a ground swell plot to override President Goodluck Jonathan’s veto of the State of the Nation Address Bill.
Ordinarily that epistle could have been a salutary letter of a successful mid-term reign to federal lawmakers or at best, a subtle letter for the “way forward” as partners working together in the best interest of the nation. But it turned out to be a subtle rejection letter, which also pointed out in the thinking of the presidency how best to deliver such national speech.
President Jonathan, had last week Tuesday, sent a letter to the House of Representatives arguing, or rather, protesting that he is being coerced to deliver the State of the Nation Address (SoNA) before a joint chamber of the parliament.
The president’s grouse revolved around what he sees as contentious clauses in the SoNA, which may amount to usurping his powers as a President or better still, an affront to his office. He invoked section 67 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a counter to drive home his point.
He wrote; “I have examined the Bill and the objectives for which it is being proposed, the president declared in the letter, and wish to draw your attention to section 67 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 which provides that; The President may attend any joint meeting of the National Assembly or any meeting of either House 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.
“Your Excellency, in view of the express provisions of section 67 above, I am of the considered opinion that the 1999 constitution has made ample provision for the kind of address contemplated by the Bill. It would therefore amount to a duplication to enact legislation on the same subject matter”.
However, what the president’s assessment failed to acknowledge was that the proposed piece of legislation is an “improved duplicate” of the extant law with the legitimate objective of deepening Nigeria’s democracy by having a definitive date and process in which the elected president, in a controlled albeit ceremonious setting, comes closest to the people that gave him the exclusive reserve to even attempt to thwart a simple request from their representative be they good, bad, and ugly.
The bill among other things seeks for an annual SoNA address by the president to be delivered to a joint sitting of the National Assembly on the first legislative day of July of every year.
In the president’s now characteristic style of arm twisting perceived enemies, he went on further to suggest that the law makers know little of what they have been elected to do.
Read him, “this is more so as the proposed legislation seeks to circumscribe the President’s discretion regarding whether or not, he should attend the joint meeting of the National Assembly or of any meeting or either House of the National Assembly; the time to present the address; his determination of which policy of government is of ‘national importance’ for the purpose of address; in addition to the threat of the use of coercive powers in the event of non compliance. This in my humble view is inconsistent with the doctrine of separation of powers and the letter and spirit of the Constitution”.
The separation of power is one of the beauties of democracy, in so far that separation is deployed in the best interest of the people, whom are indeed of “national importance”.
But such is not the case from the stand point of the presidency, especially when it comes to the Big Money issue, where he sent back the 2013 appropriation bill. To be revisited shortly.
Meanwhile Jonathan proposed his own amendments to clause Clauses 1(2), clause 3, 5 and delete clause 6 of the proposed law before he could sign it into law.
According to him, Clause 1(2) “should be re-drafted to make it more flexible by substituting it with the following words:
“The State of the Nation Address shall be delivered to a joint sitting of the National Assembly within 30 days of the commencement of the Legislative year”. While Clause 3, which purports to empower the National Assembly to summon the President where he decided not to make the address, should be substituted with a clause that accords with the language of the Constitution”.
He added “Where for any reason the President is unable to present an address i accordance with section 1 of this Act, the President shall in writing inform the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and either: designate the Vice President to present the address on his behalf or transmit to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of representatives, the text of the address.
“To ensure symmetry with the above-proposed Clauses as well as give effect to their general intendment, Clause 5 should be amended to read as follows, he advised “The National Assembly shall have power to regulate its procedure with respect to the provisions of this Act”.
Surely, these are not harmful prepositions, but it is one that may further enstrange the legislators from the executive Because theirs as some public commentators observed is well intended, therefore there should be no much ado about it.
However, both chambers of the parliament are yet to debate the proposed amendments, whenever they do, then, they may insist that the earlier version be allowed to stand, and apparently the executive suggests that it must not stand. Hence, overriding his veto may be a juicy alternative, because these men and women are already sore and skated by the presidency.Then Mr. President Made A U-Turn
“The journey and story of the amendment aptly and effectively began and terminated in Jonathan’s communication dated March 14, 2013” that is to borrow the words of the joint committee of Rules and Business, Justice, and Judiciary’s report on the 2013 Appropriation Act, which was presented Wednesday by Albert Sam-Tsokwa, House committee chairman on Rules and Business and co-signed by Hon. Ali Ahmed (PDP, Kwara) , House committee chairman on Justice.
It was delivered with that sort of finality that even a judge announcing the final verdict of a death sentence cannot mimick. It went on..“Beyond that, nothing is said or heard of that story again. May we say here that the journey and story of the amendment aptly and effectively began and terminated in that communication.
The document, the Appropriation Act 2013 Amendment Bill, which Mr. President’s communication forwarded to the House, apart from carrying the title ‘Appropriation Act 2013 Amendment Bill’ and the Bill’s long title, has nothing again in it to show that it is a document seeking to amend or repeal and re-enact the 2013 Appropriation Act. “
Apparently those words must have undone the Presidency’s resolve as it reversed its stands, on at least on some clauses of the appropriation bill. The letter from Mr. President came barely 30 hours later.
In the letter, Jonathan said, “As you may recall, I had transmitted the 2013 Amendment Budget proposal to the National Assembly on 14th March 2013. However, following further consultations, I am forwarding a new version of the categorized 2013 Amendment Budget proposal, indicating changes proposed across the expenditure categories.”
Now, this is not a matter of who blinks first, that is now abundantly clear. What remains unclear is how the House and their co-partners in the Senate may react to a “scaled down” version of the budget.
A budget that is already being implemented has become law, and the 1999 constitution does not recognize two versions of the same Act, especially one as exclusive as a budget. Rather a supplementary budget could be a likely alternative.
The House indicated that, by citing Section 81 subsections (1), (2) and (4), that the Constitution creates a very strong impression and feeling in the mind that the Constitution does not favour, admit of or even contemplate the amendment of an Appropriation Act, save vide a Supplementary Appropriation Act.
Also, the House noted that what the Amendment Bill 2013 seeks to appropriate is more than what was appropriated for the 2013 fiscal year in the 2013 Appropriation, which sought additional funds of N161,771,089.
What remains to be seen is whether the Lawmakers may bend the constitution in favour of the presidency as the letter seems to suggest, which is very unlikely. Or urge that president too should not be inconsistent with the constitution, surely this week will be an interesting one yet again for all the major players of this recurring travesty.