- Say veto good for Buhari’s Government
- Senate asks Jonathan to return original bill
Eminent lawyers and legislators yesterday faulted the National Assembly’s transfer of the powers to appoint the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF and the Accountant-General of the Federation, AGF, from the President to the National Judicial Commission, NJC and the National Economic Council, NEC, respectively in its amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
They however hailed the National Assembly’s provision of free primary education and free primary healthcare for Nigerians in the Fourth Alteration Bill, 2015, which President Goodluck Jonathan vetoed in his letter to NASS on Wednesday.
Among those who spoke with Nigerian Pilot on the issue yesterday, were Mr. Aliyu Maitasamu Abdullahi (SAN); Barr Leo Ekpenyong; Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, and Sebastian Hon (SAN).
Abdullahi said that President Jonathan acted well in some areas and missed it in others. He said that by the veto, the President had ensured that he does not create problems for the incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari, but opposed his rejection of free primary education and primary healthcare, which are the basic responsibilities of government and the rights of Nigerians as expressly provided in Chapter 2 of the Nation’s Constitution.
The Senior Advocate asserted that since the Attorney-General of the Federation is a cabinet member, his appointment should remain with the President while the NJC should make recommendation on three or four candidates from whom the President can pick one.
Abdullahi also kicked against life pensions for the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives and canvassed the jettisoning of the provision from the bill.
He disagreed that empowering the appointment of the Attorney-General and Accountant-General to the NJC and NEC in the bill, would whittle down the President’s powers, stressing that instead it would check his influence.
In his contribution, Ekpenyong, an Abuja-based human rights activist, toed the line of Abdullahi, as he opposed the appointment of the AGF and Accountant-General by the NJC and NEC, stressing that the two offices are too critical to the office of the President. He further said that separation of the office of the AGF from the Minister of Justice by the National Assembly was wrong.
Ekpenyong insisted that the President should be allowed to continue to appoint the Accountant-General while NEC makes recommendation to the President.
He said that since the principal ultimately takes the blame for the non-performance of the AG, the President should therefore continue to appoint the occupant of the office.
Ekpenyong expressed disappointment over President Jonathan’s rejection of free primary education and healthcare in the amended Constitution, noting that Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution made the enjoyment of such services as a right for all Nigerians.
In his comment, Hon urged the Executive and Legislature to seek political solutions on the issue.
Hon said that he would not want to delve into the matter again because he had earlier made his position known on it.
He said: “I have spoken on that issue long before now which was published in several newspapers. So, I will not want to delve into it now on whether the President should sign the amended Constitution or not.”
On whether the National Assembly can veto the President’s veto, Hon advised that there should be a working synergy between him and the National Assembly.
“It is not compulsory that the President should assent any proposal presented to him by the legislature; at the same time, the National Assembly has the constitutional right to override the Executive. But in a growing democracy like ours, the legislature hardly uses such supervening authority. So, I advise that they both look for a political solution out of the quagmire,” Hon noted.
Senator Enang however described President Jonathan’s refusal to assent to the Constitution Amendment Bill 2015 as another act of statesmanship.
Enang said in Abuja yesterday, that in spite of the fact that the President’s tenure would end soon, he was magnanimous to point out some anomalies in the bill that necessitated him to withhold his assent.
He said: “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 (President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu’s Buhari administration will come to face. I commend him because he would ordinarily have signed it and say: ‘I wash my hands off’ like Pontius 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,” he said.
Enang however said that the observations made by the President came late as the National Assembly had already passed the bill. He said aides of the President ought to have pointed out the observations for amendment at the point of the public hearings, stressing that, “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 did not need to appear but the Attorney-General, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Accountant-General and all the other institutions ought to have appeared,” he stated.
Senator Enang said in view of the development, the National Assembly would hold close consultations with President Jonathan to look at the objections and vote on some of them.
Senate asks President to return original bill
Meanwhile, Senate has requested President Jonathan to return the original copy of the Constitution Alteration Bill which he vetoed in a letter he sent to it.
Deputy Senate President and Chairman of the Constitution Amendment Bill, Ike Ekweremadu, who prompted the Senate’s action yesterday, said his Committee on Constitution Amendment took the decision after it met over the matter.
The Senate had referred the issue to the committee after receiving the President’s letter.
He said: “We slated to have a two-day retreat to consider the letter and advised the Senate appropriately. In the course of our sitting yesterday, we noticed that 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 Senate President to ask the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to send back the original copy of the bill as we sent to him, especially the signature page to enable us proceed with our work.”
In his response, Mark 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 we should have it at the earliest possible time; we cannot put a timeframe like ‘within 2 days or 3 days’ that would not be correct.
The motion as it is, is a correct one without the timeframe,’’ he said.
NASS on Wednesday received a letter from Jonathan, where he stated his refusal to assent to the Fourth Alteration Bill 2015, due to some contentious issues.
According to him, Section 45A of the bill, which guarantees the right to free basic education is too open ended and should be restricted to government schools.
President Jonathan’s position is seen as last minute face-off with the Senate and House of Representative as the return of the Constitution Amendment Bill jolted Senators and members of the Lower House.
The President listed 12 errors in the amendment:
• Non-compliance with the threshold specified in Section 9(3) of the 1999 Constitution on amendments;
• 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;
• Right to free basic education and primary and maternal care services imposed on private institutions;
• Flagrant violation of the doctrine of separation of powers;
• Unjustified whittling down of the Executive powers of the Federation vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution;
• 30 days allowed for assent of the President; and
• Limiting expenditure in default of appropriation from 6months to three months
The others are Creation of the Office of Accountant-General of the Federation distinct from the Accountant-General of the Federal Government’
• Empowering National Economic Council to appoint the Accountant-General of the Federation instead of the President;
• Allowing NJC to now appoint the Attorney-General of the Federation rather than the President;
• Unwittingly whittling down the discretionary powers of the Attorney-General of the Federation.