NASS cannot ignore President’s letter on Constitutional Amendment
LAST week, President Goodluck Jonathan decided to veto the 4th Amendment Bill to the Constitution.
In a detailed letter addressed to both chambers of the National Assembly, the President challenged the legality of the procedure adopted by the legislators in passing the Bill and the constitutional validity of some of the amendments.
In a rather hasty reaction to the letter, a number of the members of the National Assembly have threatened to override the President’s veto.
No doubt, the National Assembly has the power to override the President’s veto if the constitutional requirement is met but the needless controversy over the constitutional amendment should be handled with caution on the part of the federal legislators.
Apart from the serious observations raised by the President some of the provisions of the Amendment completely negate national interests.
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.
However, I had expressed disagreement over the insistence of the President that the Amendment Bill should have been with the votes of four-fifths of the National Assembly and approved by the resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the states of the federation.
I had reminded the President that the last three alterations of the Constitution were passed by the two-thirds majority of the federal and state legislators and signed into law by him in 2010 and 2011.
But the National Assembly acted illegally in amending sections 8, 9 of the Constitution without a resolution backed by four-fifths majority of the members. If the Bill had been assented to by the President as proposed by the National Assembly the entire 4thAlteration to the Constitution would have been vitiated.
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 characterized the 4th Alteration to the Constitution, the National Assembly members should go back to the drawing table. They should have no difficulty in jettisoning the alteration 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 recognized.
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.
•Falana is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria