President Goodluck Jonathan has refused to sign the constitution amendment bill forwarded to him by the National Assembly but he has 13 reasons for not doing so.
Among other things, the amendment had approved life pension for anybody who has ever held the office of President or Vice President, Senate President or Deputy Senate President, Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
In a letter entitled: “Re: Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Fourth Alteration Act, 2015,” Jonathan questioned the power of the National Assembly to arrogate to itself the power to pass any constitution amended without the assent of the President as contained in the amendment.
The president also disagreed with the way the power of the President had been whittled down. He said that the two chambers of the National Assembly failed to meet requirements for altering Section 9 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“Section 4 of the Fourth Alteration Act, 2015 seeks to alter Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution by the insertion of a new subsection 3A, which dispenses with the assent of the President in the process of constitution amendment. However, this alteration can only be valid if the proposal was supported by votes of not less than four-fifths majority of all the members of each House of the National Assembly and approved by a resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the states as provided by Section 9 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“This is a fundamental requirement of the constitution and in the absence of credible evidence that this requirement of the constitution was met in the votes and proceedings of the National Assembly, it will be unconstitutional for me to assent to this Bill,” he explained.
The President also said there were a number of provisions in the Act that altogether constitute flagrant violations of the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and unjustifiably whittle down the executive powers of the federation vested in the president by virtue of Section 5 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.
Jonathan observed that the power vested in the President to withhold his assent to bills passed by the National Assembly was part of checks and balances contained in the constitution.
He said Sub-section 5a of Section 58, which provides that the bill becomes law after the expiration of 30 days in the event that the president fails to signify the withholding of his assent, may be inappropriate.
“The provision appears not to have taken cognizance of the aforementioned variables, the vagaries inherent in the legislative process and the wisdom in requiring two-thirds majority to override the President’s veto.
“In the light of the above, I am of the view that the failure to signify assent by the President within the prescribed period of 30 days should rather be treated as dissent, which would require two-thirds majority to override.”
Jonathan also faulted the National Assembly over its alteration, seeking to limit the period when expenditure can be authorized in default of appropriation from the six months provided in the constitution to three months. “I am of the view that this provision has the potential of occasioning financial hardships and unintended shut-down of government business, particularly where for unforeseen reasons and other exigencies in the polity, the National Assembly is unable to pass the Appropriation Act timeously.
“Our recent experiences with the process of passing the Appropriation Act do not justify the reduction of six-month time limit in the constitution,” he insisted.
The President also faulted Section 84a that created the new Office of Accountant General of the Federation distinct from the Accountant General of the Federal Government, saying it did not address the funding requirements for establishment of the office.
“It is necessary to clarify, for instance, who staffs and funds the office of Accountant-General of the Federation and from whose budget he will be paid since he serves the three tiers of government,” he stressed.
The President equally faulted the National Assembly in separating the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation from the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General from the Commissioner for Justice in the respective states of the federation and also the provision for independence of the Office of Attorney General by guaranteeing tenure and funding.
He said as desirable as the alterations were, there were some provisions that violate the doctrine of separation of powers and also negate what he called “the age-long independence and absolute discretion that the office has enjoyed for centuries since its creation in the middle ages.”
He said the first setback was that the alteration was silent on who was the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, noting: “This is a serious lacuna, which may create implementation challenges.”
The National Assembly Conference Committee was shocked by the president’s letter, to say the least. The committee comprise members of the Constitution Review Committee in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which yesterday, began a two-day retreat to look into the bill and the consequence of the president’s action. Its position on the development is expected next week.
Meanwhile, Senate President David Mark yesterday stopped members from debating Jonathan’s letter after it was read on the floor of the Senate during plenary yesterday.
Shortly after the Senate President finished reading the letter, Senator Abubakar Yar’Adua, APC, Katsina Central, raised a Point of Order, seeking that the Senate be allowed to debate the President’s letter.
“I think it is important for us to discuss that letter and see whether there is need for us to consider the letter or not. I think he has raised very serious fundamental issues, especially in terms of our conscience as lawmakers and his own position as the chief executive officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That is why I am raising this point or order,” he pointed out.
But Mark declined.“Obviously, this letter is not like any other normal letter. We can’t discuss the letter unless you have a copy of it. So, the first reaction is for me to make copies available to everybody. And you go and study it. And if you notice, there is an announcement also by the Constitution Review Committee that they are going to meet. So, that will straight away go to them. I agree with you that weighty issues have been raised. It’s a peculiar case, so everybody will be involved.”