By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- IT was surprising yesterday as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, appeared before a technical committee constituted by the Senate to revive 17 different bills that were refused assents by President Muhammadu Buhari on October 10, 2018.
The appearance of Onnogen before the Senate Committee was apparently the first time, the head of the third arm of government would come before the Senate committee.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN did not only come on his own, but was with a team made up of the Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Ahmed Gambo Saleh, Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) Executive Secretary, Bassey Eleng Bassey, Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Hadizatu Uwani Mustapha and few others.
In his opening remarks, Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human and Legal Matters, Senator David Umaru, APC, Niger East said that President Muhammadu Buhari has said that he declined assent to Constitution (4th Alteration) Act. No.22, which seeks to strengthen the judiciary for speedy dispensation of Justice following the advice he got from the CJN.
Senator Umaru said, “Your Lordship, this committee on behalf of the Senate and by extension, the National Assembly want to hear from you directly on why you advised the President refusing assent to the bill.
“We believe that information made available to us via his letter of refusal of assent on account of advice given by your lordship is also available to you “.
But when it was the turn of the CJN to respond, the Committee chairman ordered journalists, aides and protocol officers to the CJN out of the venue to pave way for closed door session which lasted for about 2 hours.
Attempts made to get clarifications from the CJN by journalists on what transpired at the closed door session was unsuccessful as he refused entreaties to that effect.
Although Senator Umaru said that Buhari directed Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) to interface with the CJN to remedy the defects in the bill to strengthen the judiciary, but neither Malami nor his representative was in the meeting.
Aside the CJN, representatives of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria , Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Services ( FIRS) and Post Master General of the Federation , also had closed door session with the committee on how the rejected Stamp Duties (Amendment) Bill, 2018 can be redrafted and forwarded to the President for assent .
President Buhari had in his letter of refusal of assent to the bill forwarded to both chambers of the National Assembly said the bill’s proposals for the imposition of stamp duties on savings accounts and electronic transactions may impair the implementation of the federal government’s Financial Inclusion Strategy, e-payment programmes and cashless banking policies.
According to the technical committee Chairman, the Committee would meet with heads of other government establishments and the Attorney General of the Federation next week on way out for the remaining 15 bills refused assents by the President.