‘Jonathan’s action on amendment of constitution suspicious’
Face-off between Jonathan and the legislature
It is totally unnecessary and uncalled for as far as I am concerned. This controversy could have been resolved with maturity from both sides. If the President had reached out to the leadership of the National Assembly with respect to the litany of errors that lacerated his letter, I think that wise counsel should have prevailed, so that the exercise could have been saved as against the way it is turning out now. Honestly speaking, I’ve seen that President Goodluck Jonathan does not want to be seen as opposing the National Assembly as he is on his way out office. Having withheld his assent, I thought he should have left it at that. But by initiating a legal action against the parliament, he would have to convince Nigerians that he meant well in the present circumstance. More so, that the legislative power of the National Assembly has been truncated by virtue of the court action.
I think it was a deliberate ploy by the presidency to scuttle the process of constitutional amendment, having regard to the enormous cost we have wasted on that exercise and the National Conference conveyed last year, the action of the president cannot be justified. To that extent, those who believe that the president had deliberately set out to demonstrate his frustration with the Nigerian political system and the electorates may have their point. I am of the opinion that President Jonathan’s action in this regard is suspect, it doesn’t seem to be borne out of sincerity.
The legitimacy of the President’s complaints
The letter written by the president to the National Assembly was well informed and well written, hence up till now; the National Assembly has not been able to join issues on some of the objections raised., that the National Assembly violated the provision by amending Chapter 4 of the Constitution by 2/3 (two third) majority or simple majority whereas the Constitution requires 4/5 majority of the Federal Parliament and 2/3 majority of States’ Houses of Assembly, ditto for Section 8 or 9 of the Constitution. As if that was not enough, the National Assembly decided to grant pension for life for its leaders. I thought that was a very reckless decision to take. One of the former Speakers of the House of Representatives is barely 40 years old; another one spent only 6 months in office before she was removed. And, how do you justify granting remuneration for life for such people. Of course you are aware that under the Obasanjo presidency, the Senate had four presidents.
A nation cannot afford such reckless spending. Another objectionable provision is the one that says the Attorney-General of the Federation shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC). There is no basis for that, because the Attorney-General is not a judge, he is a member of the Executive, why are the other ministers not appointed by the NJC? Why single out the Attorney-General? But as I said, these observations could have been discussed with the leadership of the National Assembly, if the President had meant the process to be concluded in the interest of the country.
Legislature’s power to override the Presidency
That power appears to have been frustrated by the resort to litigation by the President. As you are no doubt aware, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has granted an injunction restraining the National Assembly from proceeding with the bill pending the determination of the case, which has been adjourned till June. Unless the 8th National Assembly decides to proceed with the amendment, that may just be the end of the journey for the exercise.
On the part of President Goodluck Jonathan, I think, he has to be advised to withdraw the case that has been filed in court. Similarly, the National Assembly should proceed to pray the Supreme Court to vacate the injunction granted. If the order is vacated, they can then proceed to veto the decision of the President to withdraw assent. It is however doubtful whether the National Assembly can monster the numerical strength required vetoing the President’s assent.
Expunging the offensive provisions
The provision on pension for life for principal officers was smuggled into the constitution. When the House of Representative members were campaigning in their constituencies, that provision was not there. I believe the National Assembly members are aware that there was no way the Nigerian people would have endorsed the issue of pension for life for National Assembly leaders who render part time service. It is clearly stated in the Constitution that the National Assembly member shall sit for a period not less than 180 days in a year, which is barely six months. There is no country in the world that pays pension for life to officers or anybody who serves or who renders part time service. Now that, that has been exposed to the Nigerian people, I think the National Assembly would no longer be able to go on with it.
Dangers of passing the law
You cannot restrain members of National Assembly perpetually from passing any law for such a law would have to be tested against other provisions of the constitution. For instance, the constitution has prohibited discrimination on any ground, so if you are not entitled to pension until you have put in a number of years on the basis of your full time service, and a set of people decided to award themselves pension for life, it has to be challenged.
If it is a constitutional provision, it cannot be said to contravene the Constitution. The constitution is the Grund Num of the country, but in the contrary, it is the Pension Act that will be said to have contravened the Constitution if it is passed. And, any law that is inconsistent with the Constitution will be declared null, void and inconsistent.