Sunday, April 19, 2015

President Jonathan’s veto of the 4th Amendment to the 1999 Constitution

Less than seven weeks to the end of the current political dispensation, the legislative and executive arms of the government have continued to engage themselves in buck-passing as to why the 4th amendments to the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly has not been ratified. KEHINDE ADEGOKE of Daily Newswatch had a chat with the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja Mr. Jide Ojo:

 1.       What is your take on this please?

I wish to commend President Goodluck Jonathan for acting in accordance with the Constitution by refusing to assent to the 4th amendment to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with reasons as required of him by section 58 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. The section gives the President a 30-day grace period to assent or decline to append his signature on any bill passed to him but he has to offer explanations for such an action.

I wish the President had towed this line of constitutionalism on the other 40 bills or thereabout that have been passed to him for assent but which he has refused to sign neither has he offered any reasons for the withholding of assents. I have opined in my column on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 in The Punch newspaper that the president has not acted in the national interest and as a patriot by so doing. I sad inter alia  “That President Jonathan has about 40 pending unsigned legislative bills gathering dust on his table was alleged by members of both chambers of the National Assembly. First to make it public was the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Information, Zakari Mohammed, while delivering a lecture recently at an event organised by the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Ibadan, Oyo State. It was also among the 14 political sins some senators accused the President of while gathering signatures to impeach him after the Peoples Democratic Party primaries last November.”

2.       Will President Jonathan assent to these bills before he leaves the office?

I do not think so unless those grave observations he made are addressed by the National Assembly. The Deputy House Majority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, in a newspaper interview said that the National Assembly could still examine the President’s arguments and further amend the bill for his assent before the expiration of the current legislature. It would be recalled that the Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Constitution Amendment had immediately commenced two day retreat on April 15 and 16, 2015 on the president’s seven page observations with a view to guide the National Assembly on the next line of action. Whether the National Assembly can further amend the already altered proposals is doubtful considering the fact that the amendment has gone through full legislative process and actions which includes holding of public hearings and getting the concurrence of two-thirds of the State legislative assemblies on the amended portions of the Constitution. It must be recalled that the current attempt to amend the 1999 Constitution for the fourth time commenced in 2012 with a lot of resources (time, energy, money, research) committed to the exercise.

3.       What happens to the Bills if he fails to give his assent?

If the president refuses to assent to the constitutional amendment as it is with the case under review, the legal options left for the legislature is to override the president’s veto. Section 58 (5) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended states that: “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law, and the assent of the President shall not be required.” That to me is the most plausible option left if the 7th National Assembly intends to salvage their three years effort at amending the Constitution from imminent death.

4.       Would efforts of members of the National Assembly be in vain?

It can only be in vain if they fail to muster two-thirds of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives to pass the amendments thereby overriding the president’s veto. The possibility of this is high as elections are over and majority of members have been reported to have lost their re-election bid. The motivation to attend legislative sessions may therefore not be there again for the losers. However, if the leadership can rally them to attend and vote in support of the amendments they would have performed an historic feat and demonstrate their independence and patriotic zeal which will go a long way to deepen our democracy.

5.       What would also happen to the money spent by the Federal Government on the constitutional amendment?

There is no two ways about it, the billions of Naira spent on the constitutional amendment exercise would be money flushed down the drain unless the National Assembly successfully overrides the presidential veto. Beyond the money however is the collateral damage the non-successful amendment of the constitution will have on other beautiful, needful, and desirable amendments that are not contentious but which will get swept away by the few controversial ones highlighted by the President.  

6.       What would be your advice to President Jonathan, and the National Assembly?

My advice to President Jonathan is to sign the over 40 bills that have been passed to him or write to the National Assembly to state his reasons for vetoing those bills. It is painful that the huge resources spent in minting new laws is not being factored in by the president likewise the salutary effects the signing of those bills will have on good governance.  One of the many unsigned bills is the National Disability Bill which aims to give a new lease of life to the over 22 million persons with disabilities in Nigeria who are suffering a lot of discriminations and neglect. The bill proposed the setup of National Disability Commission which will see to the proper welfare of these PWDs. I implore President Jonathan to sign this bill and make it a good sendoff gift to the community of PWDs.

As regards the National Assembly, they should rise above partisan interests and overrides the president’s veto particularly on this constitutional amendment. I agree with the president on the procedural error of the NASS using voice vote rather than actual voting in the passage of the amendments. If the law permits them to re-vote on the amendments and remove some of the controversial amendments, they should do so. However, what must be guarded against is allowing all their three years efforts at amending the Constitution for the fourth time to be in vain.