Lagos lawyer and rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN), on Wednesday lampooned members of the National Assembly for threatening to veto President Goodluck Jonathan over his decision to withdraw assent to the constitutional amendment they sent to him.
Jonathan, last week, wrote to the federal lawmakers informing them of his decision to decline assent to the amendment bill, based on the legality of the procedure adopted in amending the Constitution.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria said even though the National Assembly has the power to override the President’s veto, the controversy over the constitutional amendment should be handled with caution on the part of the federal legislators.
According to Falana, the observation raised by Mr. Jonathan are serious
“Majority of Nigerians have consistently demanded for the removal of immunity clause from the Constitution. The amendment seeks to confer immunity on legislators in addition to the heads of the executive arm of government”, he said.
He also said another objectionable proposition in the 4th amendment is the provision of pension for life for former leaders of the National Assembly.
Mr. Falana argued that one of the former speakers of the House of Representatives, who will be a beneficiary of the largesse, spent a few months in office and resigned for fear of impeachment; while another retired speaker, who served for less than four years, is barely 40 years old.
He, therefore, asked the National Assembly to justify why Nigerians should pay life pension to such legislators for rendering part time service in the parliament.
The lawyer, however, disagreed on the insistence of the president that the Amendment Bill should have been passed with the votes of four fifths of the National Assembly and approved by the resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the states of the federation.
“I had reminded the President that the last three alterations of the Constitution were passed by the two-thirds majority of the federal and state legislators and signed into law by him in 2010 and 2011”, he said.
Mr. Falana added that the National Assembly equally acted illegally in amending sections 8 and 9 of the Constitution without a resolution backed by four fifths majority of the members.
“If the Bill had been assented to by the President as proposed by the National Assembly, the entire 4th alteration to the Constitution would have been vitiated.
“In 2010, the National Assembly had purportedly empowered itself to amend the Constitution without the assent of the President of the Republic. The action was challenged in the Federal High Court by Olisa Agbakoba SAN, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association. The court declared the amendment illegal and unconstitutional and proceeded to set it aside in toto”, he said.
Mr. Falana said in view of the fundamental errors that characterized the 4th Alteration to the Constitution, the National Assembly members should revisit it.
He said they should have no difficulty in jettisoning the alteration of section 9 of the Constitution, as it is the height of legislative dictatorship to amend the Constitution of a country without the assent of the President and the endorsement of the people via a referendum.
“While the concern of the legislators for the rights of Nigerians to basic education and health is appreciated the inclusion of both rights in chapter four of the Constitution is unnecessary as both rights have been statutorily recognized.
“However, if the members of the National Assembly refuse to remove the objectionable provisions before overriding the veto of the President they would have engaged in a futile exercise which is likely to be challenged in a law court”, he said.