NASS begins 1999 constitution amendment process

The National Assembly has heaped the blames for the set back recorded in previous moves to develop a workable constitution for the country on former President Goodluck Jonathan-led government.
[FILE PHOTO] Senator Ike Ekweremadu

Blames Jonathan For Failure Of Past Moves
The National Assembly has heaped the blames for the set back recorded in previous moves to develop a workable constitution for the country on former President Goodluck Jonathan-led government.

Members of the National Assembly, comprising lawmakers from both the senate and the House of Representatives, who converged in Lagos yesterday during a two-day retreat organised by the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitution Review for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution said the process would have gone farther if Jonathan had not withheld his assent.

The Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman, Senate Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ike Ekweremadu made the disclosure during the retreat titled: “Towards Ensuring Governance, Accountability In Nigerian Federalism,” held at the Eko Hotels and Suits yesterday.
While declaring the retreat open, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said constitution amendment has always been a challenging task, noting that it was a road every country of the world, including the United States had passed through.

He explained that the amendments being sought now were not aimed at denting the integrity of the 1999 Constitution, but rather targeted at strengthening it to serve the interest of Nigerians better.

Saraki expressed delight in the collaboration of the Senate, House of Representatives and the States House of Assembly, which he described as three critical stakeholders as far as amendment of the constitution is concerned.

Ekweremadu told the array of political leaders, legal and constitutional personalities and Nigerians that participated at the opening ceremony session that the National Assembly would not have been constrained to embark on another process of constitutional review if the Jonathan-led government had not bungled the exercise and rubbished efforts made by the Seventh National Assembly.

According to him, “although the National Assembly reliably gathered that former President Goodluck Jonathan assented to the Fourth Alteration Bill, we were surprised to get a letter from the former President before he left office stating clearly that he was returning the Bill, but failing to attach the original Bill being returned.”

He added: “The National Assembly was dragged to the Supreme Court by the Attorney-General of the Federation to prevent us from overriding the presidential veto.

“The Supreme Court later asked us to meet and resolve our differences out of court, which we did and returned the Bill to the Presidency for approval, but only for it to renege on signing the Bill before the expiration of President’s tenure.

“While we carried on with all patriotic consideration, little did we know they were buying time. So, it can be clearly seen that the inability of the Fourth Alteration to become part of our constitution was not in any way the fault of the National Assembly. The rest is history.”

In the new rapprochement, Ekweremadu said the focus of Fourth Alteration Bill would be the removal of Presidential Assent to Constitution Amendment Bills, saying: “A bill to amend any portion of the constitution is not an ordinary bill.”
He noted: “It is the only bill that requires the two-thirds majority of each Chamber of the National Assembly to pass in the first instance. It is also the only bill that requires the approval of two-thirds of the States Assembly to pass. Presidential veto of a bill to amend the constitution makes a jest of the philosophy of sovereignty, which is that power belongs to the people, and that the people exercise this sovereignty through their representatives in parliament.”

The Senator representing Lagos East senatorial district, Mr. Gbenga Ashafa said it is necessary for the Senate to take up the task of amending the constitution now going by the various security, economic and socio-political issues confronting the country.

According to him, “the recent happenings of the several oil pipeline installations bombing by the Niger Delta Avengers, the Fulani herdsmen killings, among others, are seriously challenging the foundation of the nation’s unity and the best way to address this is to look critically at the constitution for the purpose of amending it.”

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