Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
To ascertain if bill was signed before presidential veto
The face-off between President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Assembly over the president’s decision to veto the recent amendments to the 1999 Constitution assumed a new twist yesterday, when the Senate asked the president to return the original copy of the amendment bill.
The president had in a letter dated April 13, addressed to Senate President David Mark and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, announced his decision to reject the Constitution (Alteration) Bill 2015 because of perceived deliberate attempts by federal lawmakers to whittle down presidential powers.
After reading the letter on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, Mark also announced the plan of the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution led by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, to hold a two-day retreat on the matter.
However, at yesterday’s plenary, the Senate adopted a motion by Ekweremadu, mandating the Senate President to write a letter to the president, demanding the return of the original copy of the bill containing the amendments sent to him by the National Assembly.
A senator, who spoke with THISDAY in confidence after the plenary, said the Senate’s decision to demand the original copy of the bill was spurred by the information at its disposal that the president had earlier signed the bill before he was prevailed upon to withdraw his assent.
The senator’s disclosure confirmed THISDAY’s story yesterday that the president had reportedly signed the amendment bill before the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), prevailed on him to withdraw his assent.
The senator said the demand by the Senate for the letter was a move meant to ascertain the authenticity or otherwise of the information that the president had earlier signed the bill before changing his mind.
The senator also said his colleagues were convinced that the president opted to veto the bill as a vendetta, following the perception that some members of the National Assembly failed to support his re-election bid.
But while moving the motion yesterday, Ekweremadu said the review committee had resolved to make the demand because the president had said in his letter that he was returning the bill because of his observations on it, but failed to return the bill along with the letter.
Ekweremadu added that the non-availability of the bill had stalled progress in its two-day retreat, while placing emphasis on the desire of the committee to see the signature page.
“The president raised a number of objections with respect to the fourth alteration of our constitution. That letter was appropriately referred to the Senate Committee on Constitutional Review.
“We had slated to have a two-day retreat to consider the letter and advise the Senate appropriately. In the course of our sitting yesterday, we noticed that in the second to the last paragraph of that letter, the president said he was returning the bill with the letter.
“Unfortunately, the bill was not returned with the letter and we could not proceed because we would like to see the returned bill.
“The committee has asked me to raise this point, to request the President of the Senate, to ask the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to send back the original copy of the bill as sent to him, especially the signature page, to enable us proceed with our work especially since he had indicated in his own letter that the letter was accompanied by the bill.
“So, we would like to have the bill in its original form especially the signature page,” Ekweremadu said.
In his response, Mark promised to accede to the mandate of the Senate by promptly sending the letter to the president, bearing in mind the urgency involved.
“It is a personal explanation. So there will be no need to put it to debate. I think the important thing is that if the floor accepts that I send that letter, then I will write a letter to Mr. President to return the original copy of the bill to us.
“This was referred to your committee. So if that is the decision of the committee, then we have little or no option on the floor here.
“There is a bit of urgency on this. So, in writing the letter, we should have it at the earliest possible time. We cannot put a timeframe like within two days or three days. That would not be correct. The motion, as it is, is a correct motion without the timeframe,” Mark said.
Members of the House of Representatives, however, passed Jonathan’s letter to the Ad Hoc Committee on Review of the Constitution for further legislative action.
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