By Okey Ndiribe, Asst. Political Editor
Former Edo State governor Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Lagos lawyers Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) and Femi Falana, spoke on the on-going Constitution amendment exercise at the National Assembly. Excerpts:
Can you react to the position that has been expressed in some quarters that instead of wasting too much time on the on-going second amendment of the constitution for the purpose of accommodating the request of INEC for extension of time to conduct next year’s poll, the National Assembly should adopt the 1999 Constitution ?
The first amendment that was carried out on the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly has already overtaken the provisions of that constitution. What this means is that it is the amended version of the 1999 Constitution that is operational now.
So, for any new provision to be included, the National Assembly has to go through the process of another amendment as it is currently doing. Since a legal process of amendment has taken place, you cannot breach that process by adopting the 1999 Constitution.
Can you comment on the view that it is better to present the on-going second constitution amendment bill to the President for assent whenever it is ready in order to foreclose the possibility of the court declaring it null and ….
Cuts in: The two bills are the same. If you didn’t present the first amendment to the President for his assent, how can you present the second amendment for the same presidential assent? For you to present the Second Amendment Bill for assent, you have to present the first one.
But the present effort to amend the constitution was prompted by the request of INEC to extend the time-table for the purpose of conducting next year’s general election and it needs to be fast-tracked…..
Cuts in: A constitution amendment process is a constitution amendment process; it does not matter.
Suppose the process is concluded like the first one was done without the president’s assent and the court eventually rules that the president’s assent is required …..
Cuts in: Nothing would happen. The amended constitution would then simply be taken to the President for his assent.
How do you react to the proposal that has been presented to the National Assembly for the amendment of the Electoral Act to indicate that candidates of various parties should be selected by the caucuses, instead of being elected at party primaries?
There is no democratic content in that proposal.
Can you comment on INEC’s complaint that if the constitution amendment exercise is delayed, it could jeopardise the entire electoral time-table?
INEC should concentrate on other areas first. They can deal with the issue of electoral time-table later. There are other preparations that are required for the successful conduct of next year’s elections.
They can focus on voters registration for now. Having a time-table is just one of numerous other processes that should take place for the election to be conducted. That does not mean that the National Assembly should abandon its work on the amendment of the constitution.
Interview with Falana
Can you comment on the view that has been expressed in some quarters that the National Assembly should adopt the 1999 Constitution for the purpose of accommodating INEC’s request of extension of time for the conduct of next year’s general elections?
Right now the National Assembly is about to conclude the proceedings for the second amendment of the 1999 Constitution. So, the demand that the 1999 Constitution should be adopted to conduct the 2011 general election is irrelevant at this stage.
Don’t you think that the suit that was filed by the former President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Mr Olisa Agbakoba on the issue of the legality of presidential assent to the amended Constitution could be a stumbling block to the whole exercise?
No court can ask the National Assembly not to do its work. For now, there is no injunction restraining the National Assembly from amending the Constitution.
But at the last hearing of the case, the Presiding judge ordered that the status-quo should be maintained.
What is your own interpretation of that order?
My interpretation of that order is that none of the parties involved should engage in any illegality; that’s all. You cannot accuse the National Assembly of engaging in illegality if it is performing its statutory duty of making laws for the country.
How do you react to the suggestion to present the second amendment of the constitution to the President for his assent instead of the leadership of the National Assembly maintaining its present stance which could lead to waste of time especially considering the fact that INEC has limited time left for the conduct of next year’s poll?
I hope the President would be well guided on this matter. As far as that section of the constitution is concerned, there is no provision for presidential assent. For instance, why did nobody ask the state governors to sign when the Constitution Amendment Bill passed through the state houses of assembly?
But the argument of other lawyers is that any bill which passes through the National Assembly remains incomplete until it is assented to by the President….
The Amendment of the Constitution Bill is a special extra-ordinary Act of the National Assembly. It does not need the assent of the President; there is no provision for it.
Interview with Odigie-Oyegun
Can you comment on the Senate’s rejection of the president’s bill for the amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act which among other provisions proposed the use of party caucuses instead of primaries for the election of candidates for political parties?
“ It is good that the National Assembly threw out those amendments to the Electoral Act which would have only allowed the party caucuses instead of party congresses from electing candidates to contest for various offices.
We should only have direct or indirect primaries to elect candidates for the various offices across the political parties. All elections should be fixed for the same date and we should extend the time for the election to April so that INEC would have enough time to do a good job.”