Friday, January 15, 2010

Let’s Not Take Constitutional Provisions for Granted

The present state of anomie in Nigeria has brought out some home truths, and correction of many time-honoured errors. Until recently, I never knew that the commonly used coinage 'Federal Executive Council' does not exist in Nigeria's 1999 Constitution. A report in NEXT on Sunday, 03 January 2010 alleged that our Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Andoakaa recently goofed in court when he contended with the legal luminary Bamidele Aturu on the appropriate designation of Nigeria's ministerial council. The latter has gone to court asking the court to compel the vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, to act in the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua. The justice minister reportedly told the judge that instead of referring to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in his suit, Aturu made reference to the Executive Council of the Federation which, he claimed, does not exist. The plaintiff was said to have insisted that he was right by virtue of section 144 of the constitution. I have since confirmed that section 144 (1a) of the CFRN 1999 referred to 'executive council of the Federation' and not FEC as we have been erroneously made to believe in the last 10 years of our civil rule.

Until the feud between the Senate and the House of Representatives broke out in 2009, many do not know that the annual ritual of presidential presentation of budget before the joint chambers of the National Assembly does not enjoy constitutional blessing. The face off over the venue to host budget presentation in November 2009 made us realise that what section 81 (1) prescribed is that: “The president shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year.”

The NASS crisis also brought to the fore that as against the media reference to the Senate as Upper Legislative Chamber and House of Representatives as Lower Legislative Chamber, the 1999 Constitution never made such reference as section 47 only said “There shall be a National Assembly for the Federation which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.” In fact sections 58 and 59 of the constitution made it compulsory for both chambers to pass a bill and harmonise their positions before such bills can become an act after the president's assent. All the arguments about a chamber being superior to the other by virtue of qualification, remuneration and privileges are only imputations or inferences. The only joint committee of the National Assembly mentioned or created by the constitution is the 'joint finance committee' established by section 62(3). This shows that the initial Joint Committee on Constitution Reform (JCCR) which broke down irretrievably last January 16 in Minna was a marriage of convenience and not legality.

Lastly, the media oftentimes refer to re-run elections as bye-elections. This is wrong as the appropriate term is by-election. According to Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, by-election which has its root in British English is “an election of a new Member of Parliament to replace somebody who has died or left parliament”. Other variant of elections are general elections, party primary (election meant to nominate a party candidate for a general election), and supplementary election (as we had in April/May 2009 in Ekiti State where gubernatorial election was held into some wards in the state while the results of other wards remain valid).
The media as agency of mass education and enlightenment should take note of these facts.