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Thursday, 16 April 2015

New Constitution: Jonathan, National Assembly set to clash---National Mirror


Jonathan and Ike Ekweremadu

The Senate yesterday convened an emergency meeting of its Committee on Constitution Amendment to discuss ways of
responding to opposition of President Goodluck Jonathan to the amendments proposed by the National Assembly to the 1999 Constitution.
In addition to yesterday’s crucial meeting, the committee, which is headed by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, will also today and tomorrow, embark on a special retreat to seek further ways of addressing the issues raised by the President on the proposed amendments.
This is also as the Senate plans to devote an entire plenary session to look at ways of reacting to the position of Jonathan to the proposed amendments.
The Senate and the House of Representatives had passed the Fourth Alteration Bill in October 2014 and transmitted same to the 36 Houses of Assembly for resolution.
In February this year, both chambers transmitted the outcome of the state Houses of Assembly to President Jonathan for his assent as required by law.
However, Jonathan in a letter to the Senate President, which was read on the floor of the senate yesterday at plenary, enumerated reasons why he would not assent to the amendments as proposed by the National Assembly.
In the letter, Jonathan objected to section 4 of the alteration act, which seeks to alter section 9 of the constitution, by the insertion of a new section 3A, which dispenses with the assent of the President in the process of constitutional amendment.
He doubted if the amendment satisfied the constitution requirement, which provides that it must be supported by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority of all the members of the National Assembly and approved by a resolution of the House of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the states as provided by section 9(3) of the 1999 constitution.
The President stated that going by the information contained in the votes and proceedings of the National Assembly, it is doubtful if the constitutional requirement was met by the lawmakers and therefore, it will be unconstitutional for him to assent to the bill.
The President also raised concerns over the insertion of sections 45A-45B, which guarantees right to free basic education and unqualified right to free primary and maternal care services.
According to the President, the alteration as contained is open ended and should have been restricted to government schools only in the case of right to free basic education.
“This is because a right, unless qualified or restricted, must be observed by all,” the President noted, stressing that, “It follows therefore that the right to free basic education under this provision if taken to its logical conclusion, will invariably apply to private schools, which could not have been the intendment of the legislature.”
Same, the President argues, applies to right to free primary and maternal care services.
According to him, the implication of the proposed alteration is that, “private institutions will be obliged under the constitution to offer free medical services since it is a right and this is not only impracticable, but also could not have been the intention of the law giver.”
In addition, Jonathan complained about the alteration of section 14 of the constitution, which new section 58 removes the power of the President to withhold his assent to bills passed by the National Assembly.
This was also as the President objected to the alteration of section 21 of the constitution, which seeks to limit the period when expenditure can be authorised in default of appropriation from the six months provided in the constitution to three months.
The President also faulted the insertion of section 84A-84F, which creates the new office of Accountant General of the Federation, distinct from the Accountant General of the Federal Government.
Furthermore, Jonathan frowned at the insertion of new sections 174-174H; section 195 and sections 211A-211H, which encapsulate wide-range provisions that seek to separate the Office of 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.
In withholding his assent to the proposed amendments, the President said: “In view of the foregoing and the absence of credible evidence that the Act satisfied the strict requirements of section 9(3) of the 1999 constitution, it will be unconstitutional for me to assent to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (fourth amendment) Act 2015, I therefore withhold my assent and accordingly remit it to the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Shortly after the Senate President, David Mark had read the letter from President Jonathan, Senator Sadiq Yar’Adua (Katsina Central) rising under order 42 of the senate standing order (matter of urgent public importance), proposed that in view of the serious issues raised by the President in the letter, the senate should devote special session to debate the matter.
Ruling on the motion, Mark agreed with the lawmaker that the letter from the President was not an ordinary one, and that it was based on that, that the senate committee on constitution amendment had been mandated to meet over the issue.
He assured that if the committee was through with the issue, it would be brought before the entire senate for further discussions.

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