*The President must assent, this is the law — Akinjide
*His assent not necessary — Sagay
*Let Supreme Court decide — Oyetibo
By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
When a Federal High Court presided over by Justice Okechukwu Okeke, ruled early in the week that the purported amendment to the 1999 Constitution remains null and void without the assent of the President, the upper legislative arm of the national assembly reacted immediately with a strong statement rejecting the ruling and consequently appealed against the decision of the court.
The presiding judge in his ruling had stated that until the amended constitution is presented to the President for his assent and approval, it is of none effect.
While disagreeing with the judgement, the upper legislative arm acknowledged however that it is within the jurisdiction of the court to reach the decision it did on the matter.
The spokesman of the senate, Mr. Ayogu Eze said in a statement that “as a law-abiding institution and one charged with the function of making laws for the good governance of the country, we shall appeal against the judgment.”
Justice Okeke ‘s judgement was at the instance of a suit filed by the former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN). The suit had challenged the refusal of the National Assembly and the Attorney General of the Federation, Justice Bello Adoke to send the amended Constitution to the President for his assent.
In their reactions to the development, members of the House of Representatives who spoke with Saturday Vanguard posit that the situation could still be salvaged before the elections.
Honourable Dave Salako representing Ikenne/Remo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives on the platform of PDP opines that the constitutional logjam would not affect the 2011 general elections if handled properly.
“ It is believed that every law or act passed by the national assembly needs the assent of Mr. President. But I am not saying that the President must assent the amended constitution for it to become law. I am aware that the national assembly can still do something if for any reason the president doesn’t do that before the elections.
That is where our veto comes to effect because if we veto the amended constitution, it would become effective.”
The three-time member of the House and the Chairman of the House Committee on Communications also appealed to his colleagues in the House to delay the issue of the amendment of the electoral act and focus on the amended constitution.
“ It is of no use for House members to be debating on further amendment of the electoral act because we need to resolve this issue of the amended constitution before we can face the ambiguities in the electoral act.”
Honourable Salako concludes that the issue of whether the President assents the amended constitution or not would not affect the 2011 general elections.
Also reacting to the issue, Honourable Habeeb Fashiro representing Eti- Osa Federal Constituency in Lagos state on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, said the issue would not affect the elections.
“ Nigerians need to do what they have to do. The Independent National Electoral Commission ,INEC, should concentrate on the job at hand. There is no way the argument will hinder the conduct of elections. This is a challenge that we must face and overcoming each challenge takes democracy to the next level .”
However, Professor Itse Sagay disagrees with the ruling of the court. He told Saturday Vanguard,” I disagree with the court ruling. The amended Constitution does not require the President’s assent. The amended constitution can assent itself if it meets the 2/3 requirement of membership of the State Houses of Assembly.
I don’t think the President’s assent is necessary according to Section 9 of the constitution. Since the amendment is a law jointly passed by the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly, the President cannot sign laws made by state Houses of Assembly because it is outside his jurisdiction.
“Any law passed by the two assemblies automatically becomes law. The best thing is for the Senate to ask its lawyer to refer the matter to the Supreme Court. Section 295(2) of the constitution allows counsel or Court of Appeal to refer a matter to the Supreme Court for interpretations and once it pronounces on it, the judgment becomes binding on both parties. It is clearly out of the realm of Mr. President”.
The Second Republic National Secretary of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, Chief Richard Akinjide told Saturday Vanguard in his reaction that the amended constitution requires the assent of the President because that is the law.
“ The National Assembly cannot bypass the President . It is unlawful. If the President does not assent those amendments, they will not be valid.
“What they have done is an amendment to some sections of the constitution. It is not a wholesale review of the entire constitution. The National Assembly described it as an Act. You cannot pass an Act without the assent of the President. That is clear when you look at the interpretation of an Act and the provision of our constitution.”
Also speaking on the issue, Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, told Saturday Vanguard that it is good that the National Assembly has appealed against the judgement of the Federal High Court and also advises that the matter be referred to the Supreme Court because of its presumed consequence on the forthcoming elections.
“ I think the Court of Appeal should refer the matter to the Supreme Court to expediently and judiciously resolve it. Elections are fast approaching and to avoid any problem, we should address this issue with utmost urgency so that it doesn’t affect the conduct of 2011 general elections.”
Oyetibo is of the opinion that the amendment is inconclusive without the signature of the President, as it is with other bills .
“ But to avoid further controversies on the matter, the Appeal Court should forward the case to the Supreme Court for final adjudication so that the matter would be rested”.
The position of the national assembly since the amendment commenced is that the 1999 Constitution does not need any single individual to sign the alteration after the people have spoken through the exercise of their sovereignty.
“We believe we were right in reaching the decision we did. We were also guided by practice and conventions of other older democracies. The USA passed through the same argument after the Congress passed the bill of rights, but the Supreme Court in that country ruled that the assent of the President was not required to alter the constitution,”the senate spokesman Ayogu Eze had said after the court ruling .
While the current controversy rages, politicians of different political leanings have continued to express confidence that the 2011 elections would not be affected by the controversy.
Arigbe Osula, formerly of the House of Representatives opines that nothing would hinder the conduct of the elections.
“ We are aware that each time general elections approach, all kinds of things come up but still the elections hold. We will hold peaceful elections.”
Agbakoba, who had also named the Attorney-General of the Federation as a co-defendant to the suit, had asked the court to hold that in view of the provisions of section 58 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, President’s assent was a prerequisite before the amendments could become law.
He had pursued the argument that unless the assent of the President is overridden in pursuant to section 58 (5) of the Constitution, Jonathan’s assent is sacrosanct before the amendments become law.
He had also argued that section 58 of the 1999 Constitution spells out the mode of passing an Act of the National Assembly, saying that an Act does not become law unless assented to by the President or such assent is overridden.
Justice Okechukwu Okeke had ruled in favour of Agbokaoba and declared the 2010 Constitution Amendment Act null and void without the President’s assent.