By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
LAGOS—The National Assembly is set to override President Goodluck Jonathan’s veto of the Fourth Constitution Alteration Act earlier passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly.
The move by the National Assembly is despite the Supreme Court ruling last Thursday, asking the Assembly to stay action on the amendments pending further hearing on the suit filed by The Presidency to stop the legislature from further action on the alteration of the constitution.
The move to override the veto commenced, yesterday, with the gazetting of the bill in the House and the Senate, preparatory to a fresh passage by the two chambers.
The bill, Vanguard gathered, was listed as HB/781 in the House and as SB/548 in the Senate. Senate spokesman, Senator Enyinnanya Abaribe had last Sunday faulted the Supreme Court ruling, saying that it was inconceivable that one arm of government would stop the other arm from exercising its constitutional duties.
Anger in the Assembly
The National Assembly members, Vanguard learnt, are furious that the President and his aides kept low while the process of altering the constitution was on without submitting their views on the issue. Many members especially of the PDP, who lost out in the recently concluded elections are also embittered and want to make a last dent on the image of the President by impugning his legislative record through the plan to override his veto.
If the planned override of the bill titled, “A Bill for an Act to further alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other matters,” is successful, it would be the second time that the National Assembly would have successfully overridden a presidential veto.
The first and only time that a veto was overturned in the annals of the Fourth Republic was in 2000 when the Senator Chuba Okadigbo-led Senate and the Ghali Umar Na‘Abba-led House of Representatives overturned President Olusegun Obasanjo’s veto on the bill to establish the Niger Delta Development Commission.
What the constitution says
Section 58 (4) and (5) spelling the procedure for overriding a presidential veto wielded by the President reads thus:
(4) Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within 30 days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.
(5) Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.
President Jonathan had last month written the Senate and the House of Representatives stating his decision not to sign the Fourth Constitution Alteration Act on the claim that the National Assembly over-reached itself by seeking to make the provision of healthcare, education and other social services justiciable.
The President also faulted the splitting of the office of Attorney General of the Federation from the office of the Minister of Justice and alleged that the National Assembly failed to include the votes and proceedings of the chambers to verify that the legislative houses achieved the needed quorum to pass the amendments to the constitution.
The President’s decision received mixed reactions among lawyers but a near-unanimous opposition in the National Assembly which immediately commenced the action to override the veto.
A number of legislators alleged that the President had signed the bill but subsequently changed his mind. In that regard, the Senate passed a resolution demanding that the President returns the bill as passed on to him and especially the “signature page” of the bill.
In response, the President dragged the National Assembly to the Supreme Court, seeking that the legislative body be compelled to stop further action on altering the constitution.
Last Thursday, the apex court in an interlocutory ruling asked the National Assembly to maintain status quo until June 18 when hearing in the suit is to resume. By that time, however, the incumbent President and the life of the present National Assembly would have expired.
The Senate on Sunday rejected the court ruling, saying that the Supreme Court could not under any circumstance prevent it as an independent arm of government from proceeding with its constitutionally assigned duties.
“The Supreme Court is wrong. The law does not allow one arm of the government to stop another arm of government from performing its duties,” Senator Abaribe told newsmen.
“The Supreme Court cannot stop us from legislating and if they say that the Supreme Court is stopping us from making laws, it is misleading and it amounts to misreading the powers of the Supreme Court,” he said.