Constitution Amendment: Presidency Asks National Assembly to Halt Action

Mohammed Adoke, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, on Thursday called on both the Senate and the House of Representatives to stop further moves to override President Goodluck Jonathan’s veto on the constitution amendment bill.

Adoke hinged his call on a fresh suit he filed at the Supreme Court challenging the passage of the 4th Alteration Bill to the constitution, the request is contained in separate letters addressed to David Mark the Senate President, and Aminu Tambuwal, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Jonathan had last week refused to assent to the bill on the grounds of alleged failure of the National Assembly to fulfill the mandatory requirement for the passage of the bill.

Among others, Jonathan raised objections to the introduction of new clauses such as 12;14;21;23;36;40;43; and 44 to the 1999 Constitution.

For example, Jonathan objected to Clause 14, a new addition to Section 58, which provided that a bill shall become law if after 30 days of its passage by the National Assembly, the President had not written to indicate withholding of his assent.

Through the AGF, the Executive had filed a suit at the Supreme Court challenging the final passage of the bill which conferred on the National Assembly, the power to pass an amendment to the constitution without the president’s consent.

Meanwhile, Adoke’s lawyer, Bayo Ojo ,SAN, maintained in the letters to the National Assembly dated April 22, 2015, that to go ahead with the passage of the bill despite the pendency of the suit challenging the process will be an affront to the rule of law and democracy.

The letters titled, ‘Re: Suit No. SC 214/2015 Attorney General of The Federation and National Assembly, read in part, “In the said suit, the plaintiff claims for determination of two questions on the constitutionality or otherwise of the procedure adopted by the National Assembly in passing the Constitution (Fourth Alteration) Act 2015, particularly as it relates to Sections 3, 4, 12, 14, 21, 23, 36, 39, 40, 43 and 44 purporting to alter Sections 8, 9, 34, 35, 39, 40, 42, 45, 58, 84, 150, 174 and 211 of the extant 1999 Constitution and for an order nullifying and setting aside those sections of the Fourth Alteration Act.

A copy of the court process is attached to this correspondence for ease of reference.

“In view of this development and the dictates of the principles of the rule of law on which any democratic system thrives, we use this medium to urge that the Supreme Court be allowed to determine the suit under reference before any further step is taken by the National Assembly on the move to pass the Fourth Alteration Act alluded to earlier in this correspondence into law.

“May we add that adopting such attitude will not only commendably be in line with the decisions of the Supreme Court on the absolute need to avoid self-help by all persons and authorities in resolving disputes, but will also yield to the rule of law as espoused in the decisions of the courts. One of such decisions is the case of Ojukwu v. Military Governor of Lagos State (1986) 1 NWLR (pt. 18) 621.

“To proceed with the process of passage into law of the Fourth Alteration Act 2015 despite the pendency of this suit under reference will be an affront to the rule of law and democracy. We are convinced, particularly from the commendable record so far of the current National Assembly that it will not do that.”

The AGF wants the apex court to declare the passage as unconstitutional as it was not passed by at least four-fifth majority of all members of each chamber of the National Assembly as specified in sections 48 and 49 of the 1999 Constitution, But the House said, that it would act on Jonathan’s refusal to sign the bill before the expiration of his tenure on May 29.

The Ad Hoc Committee of the House on Constitution Alteration however did not explain the exact action the legislature would take.

Sampson Osagie, a member of the committee and House Majority Whip, told journalists that they had reviewed Jonathan’s objections and would decide the fate of the President’s veto before May 29.

On the issue of not meeting four-fifth majority to amend Section 9, Osagie referred Jonathan to the Votes and Proceedings of the House on July 24, 2013, he explained, “Number 15 at page 117 shows that for the alteration of Section 9, the attendance of members as registered was 338, Ayes votes were 317; Nays votes were six; abstain, 15, totalling 338.The Senate also voted accordingly.

Therefore, “It should be noted that four-fifth of 360 membership of the House is 288, and it’s not correct for the President to have stated that the requirements of Section 9 (3) were not met.”

The Senate however described as proper, the decision of the President to seek Supreme Court’s intervention in the impasse created by his decision to withhold assent.

Ita Enang, the chairman of its Committee on Rules and Business, said, “We should apply for accelerated hearing so that this matter can be decided by the full Bench of the Supreme Court within the lifetime of this parliament so that it will not be taken as a step which the President or the AGF has taken to frustrate actions that we have done so far.” He added that “it would be unfair for the current National Assembly to pass on the liability to the incoming 8th National Assembly or to the incoming President. Let us also ask as a counter matter; was the President not a party to or aware of when these matters were available for public hearing? Did they come for the public hearing to make any of the points they are making in court?”

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