In this interview Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy President of the Senate responds to issues arising from the dispute between the presidency and the National Assembly over the Constitution (Alteration) Act vetoed by President Goodluck Jonathan. Senator Ekweremadu asserts that the president signed the bill and the National Assembly has the evidence of his assent.
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
What exactly is the issue with the court case between the National Assembly and the presidency on the Constitution Review?
When they adjourned the case to sometime in June, we looked at the situation and one of our options we had was to override the veto, but we believe that two wrongs do not make a right and we decided to suspend action on it and then return to the courts probably on the belief that the courts did not know that the term of this particular National Assembly was ending. So wenow briefed our lawyer and filed a motion for accelerated hearing to look at the case so that this matter will be determined within the life of this particular National Assembly.
Are you hopeful that the case will be concluded before the end of your tenure?
Most hopeful because it is a straightforward matter. The truth of the matter is that the Attorney General tried to frustrate the National Assembly from dealing with the matter till the end of its tenure and that is why he was applying for adjournments that will make it impossible for us to look at the matter. Unfortunately, he has misled the Supreme Court and he now tried to bring the executive and the legislature into collision. But I believe that with this development that this matter will be straightened.
How do you think the Supreme Court would rule?
The attorney general doesn’t have any case against the National Assembly, so there is no course of action because we have not finished our legislative duty. The matter in the Supreme Court is simply unsustainable. In the first place, his claim is that we didn’t have the required number to alter section 9 of the constitution which requires 4/5th of the National Assembly. But as a lawyer, he knows that he who asserts has to prove but he didn’t provide one single evidence, no affidavit, nothing attached to support what he was saying. As far as we are concerned, we had the number when we passed the alteration of the constitution, we had the requisite number and it is not for us to begin to worry ourselves about that, it is he who asserts that show that we didn’t have the number. Section 58 of the constitution requires us to send bills to the president for assent, it didn’t say that we should bring evidence of the number of parliamentarians that voted or their names or their address. There is no such provision and no parliament anywhere in the world sends a return of the evidence specifying the number of people who were there. It never happened before and it is never going to happen anywhere.
Have you done it before?
Never! We have never done it before. The law does not require us to do so, the constitution does not require us to do so. What the Attorney General wanted to do was to frustrate the Fourth Alteration because he didn’t get what he wanted.
Did he make presentations to you during the course of your public hearing?
They did. During the national public hearing he sent someone to represent him he was represented also in Lagos. he wanted us to separate the office of attorney general from that minister of justice. It is not true that he is against it, his problem is that what we submitted was that the National Judicial Council should recommend to the president somebody to appoint as attorney general because we want to separate the office of attorney general from that of minister of justice to keep the independence of the office and in doing so, we believe that the three arms of government should be involved in the appointment. While the judiciary recommends, the president appoints and the Senate confirms. So that there will be checks and balances. But he wanted a situation where the president appoints somebody. The attorney general is supposed to be an independent person
That is why they vowed that the president will not sign it and when the president signed it somebody from his office mutilated the president’s signature and ended up at Supreme Court so that we wont discuss it.
Are you sure that the president signed?
The president signed it. Yes, we can produce forensic evidence that the president signed it.
The attorney general’s office took it over and caused the president to change his mind and carried out the drama of sending out photocopies. But we requested for the original copies of the bill but we have not received it.
Nigerians are worried over the burden of maintaining the pension of former presiding officers of the National Assembly in the amendment?
It is laughable because the constitution was written by the executive at the time when there was no parliament. They just took care of the executive and the judiciary and nobody made mention of the legislature. A situation where the president and the vice-president, the governors and deputy governors are entitled to pension on leaving office, the CJN, the president of the court of appeal and all the heads of the courts are entitled to pension when they leave office and then for the heads of the legislature, nothing is talked about them.
What is good for the judiciary and the executive should also be good for the legislature. We also want to look at the National Council of States where the former Chief Justice, former heads of state are members, but no mention was made of former presiding officers, so you see the constitution was prepared in a hurry and since there was no parliament in place, there was no person to call attention to these.
It is also alleged that you are trying to shrink the power of the president by removing him from signing future constitution amendments. Why?
We went to court, the matter is still pending at the Supreme Court. We lost at the lower court but we firmly believe that the president has no business signing the constitution because that is the only act that the constitution requires a two-third.
In America, the president doesn’t sign constitution amendments and it is the same
We also said that under section 58 if the president doesn’t sign a bill after 30 days it becomes law. That is the standard practise all over the world. In a situation like Nigeria where you don’t have time limit to sign a bill and most times it will lapse and they will never return the bill to you. To ensure governance, you need to put a limit to it. In America it is ten days, but in our case we just changed it to 30 days. If a president doesn’t know what to do with a bill after 30 days it means he or she shouldn’t be president.