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Senators/Reps face-off claims first victims

By Jide Ajani & Emmanuel Aziken

THE proposed constitution amendment and electoral reforms are the immediate victims of the current face-off between the Senate and the House of Representatives over supremacy.

A joint session of the two chambers is required in resolving issues on the two subjects, but flowing from reactions on the matters, it is unlikely that they will see eye to eye until the expiration of Senators / Reps’ term in 2011.

Why amendment of 1999 Constitution is stalled
Sunday Vanguard gathered that the move to stall the amendment of the 1999 Constitution has its roots in the pursuit of a perpetual state of discord between the two chambers of the national assembly.

Senreps

This seed of discord was first planted when the leadership of the House of Representatives insisted on an equality of status with the Chairman of the National Assembly Joint Committee for the amendment of the constitution which, naturally, is the Deputy Senate President.

For two weeks the leadership of each arm of the national assembly bickered on the propriety or otherwise of the equality status. The matter has never really been resolved.

The second point of discord was the alleged instigation of the leadership of the House of Representatives to dump an agreement reached between it and the leadership of the Senate to speedily pass the 2009 Appropriation Bill with minimal amendments.

Consigning itself to the agreement, the Senate speedily passed the bill and returned it to the President. It was after the Senate had forwarded the bill to the President that the leadership of the House reneged and went ahead to begin a full legislative examination of the 2009 Appropriation Act.This, it is believed, was to infuriate the leadership of the Senate. It did as the leadership of the senate, felt bruised.

Senate President David Mark, saw in the action of the House an attempt to embarrass the senate. Sunday Vanguard was reliably informed that the House had attempted to carry out a pay parity between it and the senate and actually went ahead to insert same in the 2008 Appropriation Act.

Senate President Mark kicked against it. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua went ahead to reject the action, insisting that there was no basis for members of the House of Representatives to earn the same pay as their
counterparts in the Senate.

The House was said not to have taken this lightly and it went ahead to push for equality of status during the commencement of the attempt to amend the Constitution. Drawing from examples in the United Kingdom and Canada, David Mark is insisting that he, as chairman of the national assembly reserves the right to determine where the joint session would hold.

Why Senators / Reps are feuding Mark

The Senate President said the House of Representatives has a history of disrespect for the Senate.  He expressed dismay at the negligence of the leadership of the PDP in calling the PDP leadership to order in the face of alleged infractions. Senator Mark particularly cited the failure of the PDP to call the House of Representatives to order when the House walked out of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitution Review (JCCR) on the insistence that they (House members) would be co-chairmen with Senators in the committees.Besides, he cited what he described as betrayal by the House leadership of an agreement reached last year that both chambers would pass the 2009 budget before last December. Senator Mark’s letter dated November 20, 2009 was in response to Chief Anenih’s letter of appeal to Mark and Speaker Bankole calling on both presiding officers to reach a truce for the good of the country.Mark in his letter found common ground with Anenih in faulting the leadership of
the PDP for allowing the matter to deteriorate.

Affirming that he had no particular selfish interest in prolonging the
matter, Senator Mark in the letter said:“I feel the that matter should not be reduced to or simplified as a dispute between Senate and the House of Representatives on the venue of a joint sitting of the National Assembly.

For the avoidance of doubt, what is at stake is Section 53(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which states inter alia:At any joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives:(a) The President of the Senate shall preside and in his absence the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall preside;(b) In the absence of the persons mentioned in paragraph (a) of the subsection, the Deputy President of the Senate shall preside and in his absence the Deputy Speaker shall preside.

I am disturbed by the silence of the party ‘elders’ when members of the House of Representatives openly flouted Section 53(2) of the Constitution which we have all sworn to uphold.

Your Excellency may recall that members of the House of Representatives openly flouted Section 53(2) at the Joint Constitution Review Committee session held in Minna when they walked out on the Deputy Senate President. One would have expected the intervention of Party elders in order to put a stop to the flagrant disregard and abuse of the supremacy of the Constitution.Let me state emphatically that I have no “peculiar
interest” in the matter but feel strongly that a stand has to be taken to protect the institution of the Legislature for posterity.

The interest of the Legislature is an integral part of the national interest. I am however sympathetic to the patriotic fervor that has compelled you to write to me and I thank you for your concern.It is my wish and that of the
Senate that this budget presentation was done yesterday (November 19). I would like to take the time to remind Your Excellency that last year, the Senate promised to pass the budget before the December recess and we
honored that pledge.

Despite this patriotic commitment Party ‘elders’ failed to commend the Senate for abiding by its pledge.However, I acknowledge and appreciate that the time you have taken to express your views to me but I reiterate that for us to make meaningful progress as a nation, and establish a firm foundation for our democracy, we must uphold every letter of the Constitution. This is even more imperative since the current administration is predicated on the “rule of law” and guided by the sanctity of the Constitution.

May I once again re-affirm my faith, loyalty and commitment to our great party and to also thank you immensely for your concern.”

Yar’Adua may not address joint NASS session
It was gathered yesterday that President Yar’Adua might not formally address a joint session of the National Assembly on the budget proposals for 2010 afterall. Sources said he might send the proposals separately to both chambers through his special adviser on the National Assembly, Alhaji Abba Aji.


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