By Emmanuel Aziken, Tordue Salem,Â Shaibu Inalegwu & Luka Binniyat
ABUJAâ€”The House of Representatives, yesterday, threw out a bill to amend Section 144 of the constitution that sought to strip the Executive Council of the Federation, FEC, of power to declare a president fit or otherwise and confer it on the National Assembly just as the Senate deferred till next week a vote on the proposed constitutional change that would compel the President and Governors to handover to their deputies when on vacation.
The Bill which was rejected by the House of Representatives is titled: A Bill for an Act to Alter the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and for Other Matters Connected Thereto, 2010â€
The sponsor of the Bill, Rep. Femi GbajabiamilaÂ (AC/Lagos), while leading debate on the Bill seconded by Rep. Seriake Dickson (PDP/Bayelsa), the Minority Whip of the House, said a clear transfer of powers of FEC to declare a President fit or otherwise, to the â€œfour walls of the National Assemblyâ€, would lay to rest the ambiguity in presidential succession.
Section 144. (1), states thatÂ the President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if –
(a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and
(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
(2) Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.
(3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.
(4) the medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria :-
(a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and
(b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.
(5) In this section, the reference to â€œexecutive council of the Federationâ€ is a reference to the body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct.
Reps seek modifications to bill
Though a majority of the lawmakers who spoke on the Bill suggested some modifications to the amendment sought, instead of an outright rejection of its intendment, the bill was defeated when it was put to a voice vote.
Most members who did not speak on the Bill, constituted the bulk of the opponents of the Bill.
Rep. C.I.D Maduabum (Nnewi/Ekwusigo/Anambra) who supported the Bill, argued that it was dangerous to leave section 144 of the Constitution unattended, because according to him room is left for the Executive Council to connive against an unpopular President.
â€œSection 144 does not provide the basis for which the Executive Council of the Federation or whatever name it may be called for which to declare the President incapacitated, so they can even connive with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate President to declare that the President is incapacitated without a medical reportâ€, he warned.
Rep wants time-frame for FEC
Rep. Emmanuel Jime sought an amendment to the Bill, to stipulate a time frame for the Executive Council to make a declaration on the Presidentâ€™s health.
Rep. Leo Ogor(PDP/Isoko/Delta), on his part, warned that though the amendment was imperative, the principle of Separation of Powers must be respected and upheld in the efforts to amend the section .
In her contribution, Rep. Abike Dabiri (AC/Ikorodu/Lagos), decried the hypocrisy of people serving in Government, recalling how the seriousness of the health of the President was shrouded in secrecy until this time by some Ministers serving in the Presidentâ€™s cabinet.
She therefore sought quick amendments to section 144 and 145 of the Constitution.
Senate seek to strip FEC of power
Though the Senate postponed till next week a vote on the proposed constitutional change, the Senators were yesterday extending their constitutional alteration plans beyond Section 145 that guides the vacation plans of the President.
Senators, who spoke on the first day of the debate on the bill to amend Section 145, were also inclined towards the deletion of Section 144 in a move to strip the Federal Executive Council of its right of kick-starting the constitution of a medical board on the health of the President.
Senators were also demanding constitutional changes that would compel the President to notify the Senate whenever he steps out of the country.
The promised second reading and expected third reading of the constitutional alteration bill did not take place yesterday as many Senators insisted on contributing to the debate during the plenary session that was wholly devoted to the debate on the bill.
Only 19 Senators of the 53 Senators who gave their indication to speak did so yesterday, a development that forced the Senate President to defer debate on the bill to the next legislative day, that is Tuesday.
The President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, who presided at the dayâ€™s session, stopped debate about two hours into the debate to allow Senators go for committee assignments within and outside the National Assembly building.
The Deputy President of the Senate Chief Ike Ekweremadu, who led the debate on the bill, said that the amendment being sought will resolve the flaws, associated with sections 145 and 190 of the constitution.
He said, â€œThe Senate through its resolution of Wednesday, 27 January, 2010 directed the Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution to propose amendments to section 145 and 190 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to resolve the flaws exposed by present circumstances in our country.
InÂ his contribution, Senator Dickson Effiong Bob (PDP, Akwa Ibom North East) who was in total support for amendment of sections 145 and 190, however urged the Senate to completely delete section 144.
He said of Section 144 of the Constitution: â€œThere is no basis for it. The kind of relationship we have between the President and Ministers and between the Governors and the Commissioners is like a master-servant relationship. No minister or commissioner will take a resolution against his boss, so, in my view, I think this section should be completely deleted.â€
Senator Julius Ucha (PDP, Ebonyi West), toeing the same line in his debate, said that there should be a fixed time-frame for the President or the Governor to transmit a letter to the National Assembly.
His words, â€œThere has to be a limitation as to when the President shall transmit a letter to the National Assembly. That will save us from the problems that may come with the President not transmitting a letter. â€œSection 144 is meaningless. It is meant to protect the executive because it is impossible for the Minister or Commissioner to initiate a process that will remove the President or Governor.â€
Relatedly, Senator Bode Olajumoke (PDP, Ondo North) said:
â€œWe should totally expunge section 144 of the Constitution. Originating memo from the FEC by the Minister will be tantamount to working against their boss and I think nobody will want to do that. We are witness to why it has taken FEC so long to raise a memo.â€