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Constitution Amendment Suit: Fears unfounded; no, they’re real

By Dayo Benson, Assistant Editor, Special Politics
WITH two law suits pending before Courts of Appeal, Lagos and Abuja, concerns are being raised in some quarters over threats that the cases constitute to much vaunted 2011 general elections.

Those who have expressed worries believe the suits may well constitute obstacles to the poll.  One is that of former president of the Nigeria Bar Association Mr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN which challenged the validity of National Assembly amendment of 1999 Constitution without the President’s assent.

Relying on S.58 of the Constitution, Federal High Court Lagos Division had ruled in favour of Agbakoba. However, National Assembly had filed notice of appeal, insisting that its action has constitutional backing in S.9.

A similar suit is that of Lagos lawyer Mr. Bamidele Aturu which is also before Court of Appeal Abuja. Guided by the decision of a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction in Lagos and in other to avert constitutional crisis, Aturu had simply asked the court to refer the matter to the appellate court.

In the case with Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/DZC/10 Aturu had claimed that the National Assembly violated some sections of the 1999 constitution in its recent amendment process.

For now, nothing is certain until Supreme Court makes a definite pronouncement on the case whenever it comes before it. Perhaps, due to the exigencies of the moment, especially with the fast approaching 2011 poll, the two Courts of Appeal may refer the case to the Supreme Court for interpretation in accordance with S.295 (2) of the constitution.

The alternative is for the Attorney General of the Federation to directly approach the apex court. It is this seeming uncertainty that has given rise to the concern being expressed.

However, reacting to fears being raised, Mr. Aturu said they are unfounded. According to him “the fears are unfounded and not helpful because to begin with, I told the court not to give judgment so as not to have conflicting judgment like what we had in 1993 presidential election.

I simply asked the court to refer the matter to the Court of Appeal. When I get to the Court of Appeal, I will tell them to refer it to Supreme Court. What the outcome of the case will be is not my business. Afterall, after the amendment, the National Assembly said those who are not satisfied with the law can go to court. So, we have gone to court to challenge the law.

I must tell you, I feel scandalised by such fears that the cases can scuttle democracy. National Assembly members are the ones trying to scuttle democracy by passing such law. I fought for this democracy and I was detained in Kirikiri.

They didn’t go to jail, so they are the ones that should be accused of trying to scuttle the democracy.” Former president of Nigeria Bar Association, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, sees it differently. He is actually worried. His words: “I must confess I’m getting worried.

If one as a lawyer rationalises the cases rationally, the more you look, the less cogent reasons you find for the cases. The case decided by Federal High Court Lagos Division, to me, is a matter that shouldn’t have gone to court. The suit should have been initiated by the Attorney General of the Federation, not by an individual.

The National Assembly to me is wrong. If you ask me the position of the law, I don’t know. I don’t know what constitution we are using.

The National Assembly should not have contested the judgment. What are they appealing against. What is going on is not clear to me. What is the value of PDP in government with this kind of thing going on. No value, no advantage.

I’m not blaming the person who initiated the suit. It is a matter that shouldn’t have degenerated to the present level.  If the court says the President should sign, you then take it to him and avoid this controversy. I’m not comfortable with what is going on. I have my anxieties and it is something that should give the nation goose pimples.”

Also speaking on the issue, constitutional lawyer Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) said there is no apprehension over the cases. According to him, “I don’think there is any apprehension over the cases in court because Supreme Court will decide. Everybody is anxious that there is no constitutional crisis.

Aturu told me that when he gets to Court of Appeal he will refer the matter to Supreme Court. Anybody that raises any issue after Supreme Court pronounces on it will be accused of abusing the court process and the Supreme Court will give the person a tongue-lash..”

Lagos lawyer, Mr.  Femi Falana, blamed the National Assembly for not listening to good piece of advice.

“If National Assembly had listened to wise counsel, there would not have been any crisis. They should have referred the amendment to the president or the AGF approaches the Supreme Court but is still under obligation to do so.”


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