Jonathan in dilemma by Yusuf Alli

President-Goodlucj-Ebele-Jonathan-August-2013-BellaNaija

There have been moves to settle the constitution amendment row amicably.

A Presidency team led by the Attorney-General of the Federation Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), and National Assembly leaders yesterday met in Abuja on the stalemated amendments to the 1999 Constitution.

The Assembly has agreed to drop most of the 10 disputed amendments of the 65 passed by the two chambers.

One of the contentious amendments is payment of pensions for life for the President of the Senate, Deputy President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Deputy Speaker as well as principal officers of the legislature at the state level.

The National Assembly may forego the section on pensions because the economy cannot sustain it.

But as the two parties wound up the reconciliatory session, there were fresh hurdles on the new amendments, including how to pass these into law and assented to before May 29 when President Goodluck Jonathan will leave office.

There were two options on the card last night on how to address the challenges.

These are either the President signs the amendments into law after the grey areas have been removed by the National Assembly or the Executive will leave the National Assembly to invoke Section 58(5) of the 1999 Constitution to pass the amendments into law without Jonathan’s assent.

It was however learnt that the President was willing to take credit for passing the amendments into law.

Investigation by our correspondent revealed that the session of the two parties lasted for about two to three hours.

It was gathered that the meeting was “frank and reconciliatory” because the communication gap between the Executive and the Judiciary was bridged.

A source said: “The Federal Government team explained that it never harboured any agenda to frustrate constitution amendments in any manner whatsoever.

“The team said what it expected the National Assembly to do was to look at the observations of the Presidency and effect amendments to allow the President to sign the bill into law.

“The government team said the acceptance of 55 amendments out of 65 showed its  commitment to the alteration of the constitution.

“At the end of the day, the National Assembly team accepted to effect the correction of some errors observed by the Presidency, including the right to free education, primary and maternal care services, which are made free; pensions for principal officers of the National and State Assemblies; allowing the NJC to appoint the Attorney-General of the Federation and a review of the 30 days allowed for assent to any bill by the President.”

A principal officer of the National Assembly said: “The Executive and the National Assembly leaders have had talks on areas of disagreement.

“I may not be able to give you the details because our legal representatives are working out the details of what we agreed upon.

“We hope to present these details to the Supreme Court on Wednesday. At the end, a fine-tuned copy of the Fourth Alteration Act, 2015 will be presented to the President.”

Another source said: “Our expectation is that the President should be able to sign the amendments into law. Alternatively, since the lifespan of the 7th National Assembly ends on June 6, we can still pass the amendments to the incoming President, Muhammadu Buhari, for assent.

“If things work according to plans, the President may assent to the amendments. This is the essence of the reconciliatory session.”

A Senator said: “I don’t see the possibility of the President assenting to the amendments before May 29 because of non-compliance with the threshold specified in Section 9(3) of the 1999 Constitution on amendments.”

The President listed some errors noticeable in the amendments to the Constitution by the Senate and the House of Representatives as follows:

•Non-compliance with the threshold specified in Section 9(3) of the 1999 Constitution on amendments;

•alteration to constitution cannot be valid with mere voice votes unless supported by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority all members of National Assembly and two-thirds of all the 36 State Houses of Assembly;

•right to free basic education and primary and maternal care services imposed on private institutions;

•flagrant violation of the doctrine of separation of powers;

•unjustified whittling down of the Executive powers of the Federation vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution;

•30 days allowed for assent of the President;

•limiting expenditure in default of appropriation from six months to three months;

•creation of the Office of Accountant-General of the Federation, distinct from the Accountant General of the Federal Government;

•empowering National Economic Council to appoint the Accountant-General of the Federation instead of the President;

•allowing NJC to now appoint the Attorney-General of the Federation rather than the President; and

•unwittingly whittling down the discretionary powers of the Attorney-General of the Federation.

NATION