By Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuapkorie, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—ACTING President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday, wrote the Senate and House of Representatives, withholding assent to four bills already passed by both chambers of the National Assembly.
In the letter to Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, and read, yesterday, at plenary, Osinbajo said he was withholding assent to Dangerous Drug Amendment Bill 2016; National Lottery Bill; Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment Bill 2016) and the Currency Conversion (Freezing Order) (Amendment)Bill, 2016.
The four letters to Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, by Osinbajo were dated February 17, 2017 and his refusal were pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.
Why Osinbajo withholds assent
In one of the letters, Osinbajo said he refused to assent to the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2016, because of “the concerns surrounding board composition, funding arrangements, limitation of liability of funds and proposals to increase levels of uncollateralised loans from N5,000 to N250,000.”
Osinbajo also said he withheld his assent on Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) (Amendment) Bill 2016 because of “the concern regarding modalities for the communication of asset forfeiture orders.”
The Acting President in the other letter, explained that he failed to assent to Dangerous (Amendment) Bill 2016 because of “certain words and phrases utilised in the draft bill that may be inconsistent with the Principal Act (for example Section 6 of the Bill with Section 21 of the Principal Act) and the spirit behind the proposed amendments.”
In the same vein, he said he withheld his assent to National Lottery (Amendment) Bill 2016 because the “rationale for withholding assent to the bill is the existence of pending legal challenge to the competence of the National Assembly to legislate on the matter.”
Senators kick, vow to override President’s veto
Meanwhile, the action of the Acting President did not go down well with some of the senators, who protested against it, vowing to override him at the end of the day.
The senators accused the Presidency of undermining their legislative powers by failing to assent to bills they passed.
Addressing journalists after plenary, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, said senators were of the opinion that they could not be stopped from exercising their powers in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Earlier in his remarks, Senator George Sekibo, PDP, Rivers East, reminded his colleagues of Senate’s power to override the President’s veto.
He said: “The National Assembly has power to override the veto of the President. The way the constitution is framed, they have their roles to play, we have our own role to play. We check each other.
“We have to look at the merit of the particular bill if it meets the standard and if the court matter is not going to impede on what we are going to do, then we can override the veto of the President.”
In his remarks, Senator Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West, who also kicked against the rejection, especially with regard to his bill on National Lottery, said: “I am particularly raising this because I am the mover or sponsor of that bill.
“Mr President, the explanation for withholding the assent as stipulated in the letter by the Acting President is because there is a pending litigation on this matter. Mr President, democracy is standing on the basic Principles of Separation of Powers and it has divided this into three: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
“The powers of the executive are in section 4 of the constitution, while the powers of the executive to implement these laws are vested in the executive in chapter 5. The powers to interpret these laws are deposited in section 6 of the constitution.
“Mr President, the role of the executive is to carry out their fundamental objective by signing anything that has been passed by this House. It will become so dangerous for democracy and our powers to legislate must have been taken away from us as enshrined in section 4 of the constitution.”
Saraki to forward returned bills to NASS legal dept
However, in his response, Saraki noted that issues raised by the senators were noted and promised to forward the returned bills to the National Assembly’s legal department for proper legal advice on the bills to enable them know the way forward.
He said: “I think the procedure is we would refer this to our legal department to give us advice on interpretation on some of the things that you have said for us to be properly guided. But I agree with you that it is a matter that we must take seriously because it goes down to the issue of separation of powers. We would get the opinion of the legal department.”
Meanwhile, the chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, PDP, Imo East, complained bitterly that after his committee submitted its reports on several issues, no action had so far been taken on them.
According to him, if serious action is not taken on the work done so far by the committee, it will affect the morale of members carrying out the assignments.
The Senate president, however, promised to look into the complaints, adding that a day would be set aside to clear backlog of submitted reports.