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Jonathan Withholds Assent To Constitutional Amendments
President Goodluck Jonathan has withheld assent to the amendments to the 1999 Constitution sent to him months ago for presidential approval by the National Assembly.
Jonathan in separate letters to the Senate and House of Representatives read on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday said he would not give his approval because the provisions in the amendments did not meet the requirements of Section 9(3) of the 1999 Constitution.
The president in his letter noted that he was particularly bothered by some aspects of the amendment which sought to reduce some of the executive powers exercised by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The President itemized 12 key areas of concern in the proposed amendments which the executive was not comfortable with.
They include the non-compliance with the threshold specified in Section 9 (3) of the 1999 Constitution on amendments; the clause that alteration to constitution cannot be valid with mere voice votes unless supported by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority all members of National Assembly and two-thirds of all the 36 State Houses of Assembly, the right to free basic education and primary and maternal care services imposed on private institutions; and flagrant violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.
Others identified by the executive were the whittling down of the executive powers vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution and the 30 days allowed for presidential assent to bills.
In October 2014, the House of Representatives voted to effect 71 amendments to several sections of the 1999 Constitution. This was regarded as the single largest number of amendments to any Nigerian Constitution in history. The Senate followed suit.
Among the many alterations made to the Constitution are the granting of autonomy to local governments by the provision of separate their funding, tenure, elections and clearly delineating their powers and responsibilities.
Independent candidacy in elections was approved as well as the retention of the immunity clause for governors. Sections 134 and 179 extend the time for conducting presidential or governorship re-run elections to 21 days instead of the initial 7 days stipulated.
The legislators also allowed the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to deregister political parties for non- fulfilment of some conditions such as breach of registration requirements and failure to win either a presidential, governorship, local government chairmanship or a seat in the national or state Assembly.
It also made it compulsory for the President to attend a joint meeting of the National Assembly once a year.
It approved the establishment of the office of the attorney-general of the federation and attorney-general of a state as distinct from minister and commissioner for justice.
It gave powers to the Senate to convene a joint meeting of the National Assembly to reconsider a money bill where the President withholds his assent within 30days.
The lawmakers equally included the adoption of referendum for state creation.
The amendment however rejected the alteration to Section 9 which would have allowed for a referendum in determining the fate of the recommendations of the national conference
But the process was not without its fair share of controversies. While then National Assembly was engaged in its own constitutional amendment process, President Goodluck Jonathan on March 17, 2014 set up the Constitutional Conference.
In March, this year, the President had appealed to the National Assembly to hasten its review process so as to ensure legal backing for subjecting the outcome of the National Conference to a referendum.
The National Assembly, it is believed widely, was never in support of the National Confab which many Nigerians had viewed as a waste public funds.
Furthermore, some of the confab recommendations differed with some of the constitutional amendments contained in the conference report of the Constitution Review Committee adopted by both chambers.
For instance while the 2014 confab report recommended the scrapping of the local government system as a third tier of government, the National Assembly strengthened it by granting it financial and administrative autonomy.
The Senate had meanwhile set aside Wednesday and Thursday to carry out a close door session whereby the president’s response could be reviewed by the Senators.