FG, Legislators Fight over Constitution Amendment Bill

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Mohammed Adoke

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The executive and legislative arms of government are in a tussle at the Supreme Court over the passage of the amended Constitution into law

THE disagreement the two arms of government – the executive and legislative – have over amendment of the Constitution will have to be resolved by the Supreme Court. Mohammed Adoke, attorney-general of the federation, last week instituted a suit with reference number SC/214/2015 on behalf of the executive arm of government asking the court to nullify any attempt by the National Assembly to override the president’s veto powers.

In the suit, the federal government is arguing that the bill was not passed by at least four-fifths majority of all members of each House of the National Assembly as stipulated in sections 48 and 49 of the Constitution. The court action became necessary after the lawmakers said they would override the president’s veto of the fourth amendment of the Constitution after he listed some grey areas that he said were contentious.

The actions of the parties in dispute have elicited some reactions from some prominent Nigerians. Femi Falana, SAN, has warned the National Assembly against passing the bill without looking critically at some of the arguments given by the president. Falana is of the view that if the National Assembly failed to review the grey areas raised by the president before overriding his assent, it could result in legal issues that could be challenged.

Falana, who also criticised the refusal of the president to assent to the bill, recalled that the last alterations to the Constitution sanctioned by the President in 2010 and 2011, were passed by the same two-thirds majority of the federal and state legislators. He pointed out that Olisa Agbakoba, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, had challenged an attempt by the National Assembly to amend the constitution without recourse to the president.

Falana stated: “In 2010, the National Assembly had purportedly empowered itself to amend the Constitution without the assent of the President of the Republic. The action was challenged in the Federal High Court by Olisa Agbakoba SAN, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association. The court declared the amendment illegal and unconstitutional and proceeded to set it aside in toto. In view of the fundamental errors which have characterised the 4th amendment of the Constitution, the National Assembly members should go back to the drawing table,” Falana said.

According to him, the National Assembly should have no difficulty in jettisoning the amendment of section 9 of the Constitution as it is the height of legislative dictatorship to amend the Constitution of a country without the assent of the President and the endorsement of the people via a referendum.

“While the concern of the legislators for the rights of Nigerians to basic education and health is appreciated the inclusion of both rights in chapter four of the Constitution is unnecessary as both rights have been statutorily recognised. However, if the members of the National Assembly refuse to remove the objectionable provisions before overriding the veto of the President they would have engaged in a futile exercise which is likely to be challenged in a law court.‎ Apart from the serious observations raised by the President some of the provisions of the Amendment completely negate national interests,” he said.

“Whereas majority of Nigerians have consistently demanded for the removal of immunity clause from the Constitution the amendment seeks to confer immunity on legislators in addition to the heads of the executive arm of government. Another objectionable proposition in the 4th amendment is the provision of pension for life for former leaders of the National Assembly.

“Indeed, one of the former speakers of the House of Representatives who will be a beneficiary of the largesse spent a few months in office and resigned for fear of impeachment. Another retired speaker who served for less than four years is barely 40 years old. The National Assembly should justify why Nigerians should pay pension for life to such legislators for rendering part time service in the parliament,” he said.

— May 4, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT

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