War over constitution amendment: Senate mobilises against Jonathan

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Mobilisation for the override of President Goodluck Jonathan’s veto of the Fourth Constitution Alteration Act commenced apace in the Senate, yesterday, following the re-enlistment of the bill on the order paper, Vanguard reports.

The bill was listed for first reading on the order paper for yesterday’s session of the Senate presided over by the deputy president of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

If successful, it would be the second time since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999 that the National Assembly has successfully overridden a presidential veto.

The first reading of the bill was, however, not taken and no reason was given. It also could not be confirmed whether it had to do with the absence of the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, who was away at the Council of State meeting in the Presidential Villa.

To override the veto, the Senate and the House of Representatives would be expected to go through the motion of passing the bill all over again, a process that would involve, first, second and a third reading. The third reading, however, has to be endorsed by two-thirds of the Senate.

Mobilisation

In anticipation of a possible expedited passage today, Senator Ekweremadu urged senators to make themselves available today. The session is expected to be preceded by a closed session during which the procedure for the override of the veto would be discussed by the senators.

Charging the senators to be present for today’s session, Ekweremadu had said: “I request all of us to be available tomorrow (today) to discuss the amendments to the constitution and be able to respond appropriately to the development.

“Please let those who are not available know that we will have a close session tomorrow (today) to discuss this item so that we will be able to fashion out the way forward.”

Insinuations that the bill was stood down by the Senate on account of a lack of quorum were dismissed by the Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), who told Vanguard that the bill was stood down to allow the legislature consider two other bills that scaled third reading, yesterday. He affirmed that the Senate would deal with the issue of the Constitution Alteration Bill today.

Senators had faulted the decision of the president to veto the Constitution Alteration Act noting that he and his aides did not take opportunity of the public hearings on the bill to vent opinion on it. They also alleged that even after the bill was endorsed by the required number of state legislatures and passed on to the president for assent, the president signed the bill only to recant on it.

Following his letter last month stating his veto, the Senate had asked the president to return the bill including the signature page to confirm that he never signed the bill.

In response, the president proceeded to the Supreme Court to compel the National Assembly to stop further work on the amendment of the constitution. The apex court in a ruling, last Thursday asked all parties to maintain the status quo on the issue, a ruling that has been rejected by many senators.

Senate spokesman, Senator Enyinnanya Abaribe had last Sunday affirmed that one arm of government cannot stop the other arm from carrying out its constitutional duty.

Determination

Asserting the determination of the Senate to proceed with the override of the veto, Senator Kabiru Marafa from Zamfara State said that the Constitution amendment had passed the stage that nobody or court could stop it.

According to him, the executive cannot stop the legislature from performing its constitutional role and that the judiciary cannot stop the legislature from performing its constitutional role, adding that what the Supreme Court ought to have done was to see the areas that it felt did not follow the stipulated procedures instead of telling the National Assembly to stop the amendment.

Judiciary Vs Legislature

Besides, he said that it was the constitutional function of the legislature to make laws and the judiciary to interpret.

He maintained that already the Constitution amendment bill had been signed by the president, and by the interpretation of some lawyers, the status quo was for the president to produce the original copy of the bill containing the signature page.

Senator Marafa further said that the National Assembly has well informed principal officers and brilliant lawyers that made sure the procedures were followed.

However, Senator Babafemi Ojudu was not forthcoming, saying last night: “I do not know whether the National Assembly can defy the ruling of the Supreme Court. We need to consult constitutional lawyers to explain what should be the true position.”

Senator Magnus Abe, APC, Rivers on his part said that to the best of his knowledge, no judgement has been served to him.

“There are three distinct arms of government and each has its constitutional role. The Supreme Court is doing its work, and the National Assembly is doing its role. The judiciary has the job to interpret laws, and the National Assembly has the responsibility to make laws.

“To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing that will stop the National Assembly from carrying out its functions. There is no ruling served on the National Assembly, I have not been served with any ruling, so nothing will stop me from going ahead to do my job.”

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