By Sadiq Umar
President Goodluck Jonathan has withheld his assent to the legislative proposals on the amendment of the 1999 constitution, citing infringement on Separation of Power as part of his reasons.
The joint committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the review of the constitution had submitted the amended constitution to the President for assent after it was returned from the states.
But in a 7-page letter read Wednesday by the President of the Senate, David Mark, President Jonathan said he could not append his signature, pointing out some discrepancies on amended clauses on free education and healthcare for every Nigerian child.
Specifically, the president said a proposed clause to give free education and health to Nigerians, cannot stand as presently proposed as the lawmakers failed to state clearly that such privileges could only be accessed from a government school or hospital, respectively.
Jonathan also picked hole on the validity of the amendment as it concerns the State Houses of Assembly, demanding for credible evidence of their involvement.
Details of Mr President’s letter read: “May I draw Your Excellency’s esteemed attention to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fourth Alteration) Act, 2015 that has been passed by the National Assembly and transmitted to me for assent.
“I have accordingly examined the substance of the provisions and the procedure adopted by the National Assembly to pass the Act and wish to observe as follows: “Section 4 of the Fourth Alteration Act, 2015 seeks to alter Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution by the insertion of a new subsection 3A, which dispenses with the assent of the President in the process of constitutional amendment.
“However, this alteration can only be valid if the proposal was supported by the votes of not less than four-fifth majority of all the members of each House of the National Assembly and approved by a resolution of the House of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States as provided by Section 9 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“This is a fundamental requirement of the Constitution and in the absence of credible evidence that this requirement was met in the Votes of Proceedings of the National Assembly, it will be unconstitutional for me to assent to this Bill.
“In light of the above, I am of the respectful view that I should withhold assent until it can be shown that the National Assembly has complied with the threshold specified in Section 9 (3) of the 1999 Constitution,” Jonathan wrote.
Jonathan in the letter, also queried the decision of the National Assembly to whittle down some Executive powers of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He observed that some clauses in the amendments give Executive powers and duties to the Legislature and the Judiciary.
“However, assuming without conceding that the necessary thresholds were met by the National Assembly, there are a number of provisions in the Act that altogether constitute flagrant violation of the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and an unjustified whittling down of the executive powers of the federation vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution,” he said.
According to Jonathan, a provision stipulating guaranteed rights to free basic education to all Nigerian children, saying the plan should have been restricted to only government schools, stating further that proposal for free medical services, stated in proposed Section 45b, should specify that private health facilities are not covered.
Chairman, Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said that his members would hold a two-day retreat from Wednesday to Thursday to review the development.
The Senate President said there was the need for them debate until they have a copy of the letter each before they would be able to make meaningful contribution.
But Senator Sadiq Yar’Adua (Katsina Central) raised a point of order and insisted that the issue be discussed because of the serious fundamental issues raised by Jonathan, which affected the integrity of the National Assembly.
“I think it is important for us to discuss that letter and see whether there is need for us to consider the letter or not.
“I think the President has raised very serious fundamental issues, especially in terms of our conscience as lawmakers and his own position as the chief executive officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That is why I am raising this point or order,” Yar’Adua said.
Although Mark agreed with Yar’Adua that the letter should be extensively discussed, he maintained that the debate could only be meaningful after members would have studied the letter at home.
“Obviously, this letter is not like any other normal letter. We can’t discuss the letter unless you have a copy of it. So, the first reaction is for me to make copies available to everybody and you go and study it.
“If you notice that there is an announcement also by the Constitution Review Committee that they(members) are going to meet. So, that will straight away go to them. I agree with you that weighty issues have been raised. It’s a peculiar case; so everybody will be involved,” Mark said.
The Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 constitution agreed it will hold a two-day retreat to deliberate on the president’s concerns.
The National Assembly passed the Constitutional Amendments and sent them to President Jonathan in December 2014, for assent.