National Assembly tests might against presidency

On the Dangerous Drugs Bill, Osinbajo had maintained that certain words and phrases utilised in the draft bill may be inconsistent with the Principal Act.Findings at the NASS, however, indicated that the Senate might be the first to take a shot at the rare legislative procedure before the House of Representatives follow suit.

• Moves To Override Osinbajo’s Veto On Bills
• South West APC Senators Face Delicate Loyalty Challenge
• Legal Luminaries Want Presidency To Seek Judicial Interpretation

The worsening face-off between the executive and the National Assembly (NASS) is generating symptoms of intense hostility, as the NASS leadership, The Guardian understands, has perfected plan to override the veto of acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on some bills, which the lawmakers consider strategic to economic revival efforts of the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
It was also reliably gathered that lawmakers of the South West extraction in the All Progressives Congress (APC), are beginning to face a very delicate loyalty test regarding whom to support, between the NASS and the acting president.

Up till last week, leading and influential lawmakers were at work trying to persuade others to support the move to override Osinbajo’s veto, which he communicated to the two chambers in February, in respect of four bills passed.Key proponents of the action, which cuts across both chambers were said to have advised that the time was ripe for the NASS to demonstrate that it could muster the required number, and speak with one voice against attempts to whittle down its powers.

The bills vetoed by the acting president are the National Lottery (Amendment), Bill 2016; the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill 2016; the Currency Conversion (freezing orders) Amendment Bill, 2016; and the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill, 2016.Osinbajo had in separate letters to the Senate and House of Representatives, explained that he withheld assent to the National Lottery Amendment Bill because of a pending legal challenge to the competence of the National Assembly to legislate on the subject matter.

He also stated that he withheld assent to the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) because of what he called “concerns surrounding the board’s composition, funding arrangements, limitation of liability of funds, and proposals to increase levels of uncollateralised loans, from N5, 000 to N250, 000.”The acting president also said in the letter that he rejected the Currency Conversion Bill in view of concerns regarding the modalities for the communication of asset forfeiture orders.

On the Dangerous Drugs Bill, Osinbajo had maintained that certain words and phrases utilised in the draft bill may be inconsistent with the Principal Act.Findings at the NASS, however, indicated that the Senate might be the first to take a shot at the rare legislative procedure before the House of Representatives follow suit.

Although no specific date has been fixed for the event in either chamber, many legislators are of the opinion that the veto override should happen before the National Assembly proceeds on its end of session recess by the end of this month.

Since 1999, the National Assembly has overturned the President’s veto only once. And that was in the 2000, when the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act was passed.It was further learnt that the National Lottery Commission Amendment Bill has been selected as one in which Osinbajo’s veto may be overturned.The amendment made by the lawmakers on the Lottery Act was to ensure that the Federal Government gets more revenue from lottery businesses.

Senator Dino Maleye, who sponsored the bill had informed the Senate that investors generate as much as N50 billion from lottery in the country, while they remit only five per cent to government coffers.He said due to the massive corruption in the lottery sector, the Federal Government was not generating enough revenue from there.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, had also observed that the potential of the lottery sector was being underestimated.“This is one of our major contributions to enhance the revenue base in this era of revenue crunch,” Ekweremadu said.

To successfully override the president’s veto on any Bill, the 1999 Constitution dictates that the Senate and the House of Representatives would separately pass a resolution supported by two-third majority.

When Osinbajo rejected the bills, the Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, advised protesting lawmakers to keep calm until the advice of the Legal Department of the National Assembly was sought on the next line of action.

He said: “I think the procedure is that we would refer this to our legal department to give us advice/interpret 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.”

As the row rages, some South West APC lawmakers have made their positions known, even though some of them are still in difficulty on how to explain to their constituents that they were not in any personal war against the acting president, who is now officially the highest political office holder from the South West.

The rejection of another nominee, Lanre Gbajabiamilla, for the position of Director General of the National Lottery Commission by the Senate, last Tuesday, has put some APC South West lawmakers in greater difficulty, it was further learnt.

The rising sentiment in the constituents of the affected lawmakers, it was learnt, is not helping matters either. At the same time, the lawmakers cannot afford to be seen sabotaging the efforts of other members of the National Assembly, in their bid to assert the independence of the legislature. A Senator from one of the neighbouring states to Lagos was said to have rushed to a particular South West leader to convince him about his stand in the matter, and that he was never against Osinbajo.

Last Tuesday, the highest principal officer in the Senate from the South West, who is also the upper chamber’s Chief Whip, Sola Adeyeye, reviewed the position of the acting president, who has insisted on retaining the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, and declared that such a position was not only bizarre, but one that threatens the foundation and existence of democracy.

He insisted that the executive must obey the provisions of the constitution, and expressed his disappointment with Osinbajo’s failure to stand firm for rule of law.“Every public servant is bound to obey every law of the Republic. Nobody, not even the president, vice or the President of the Senate, has the right to disobey our laws. Whoever has problems with our laws should go to court and declare them null and void. Until that is done, every law of the land must be respected.

“I voted yes for Magu. But the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria voted no. I stand with the Nigerian Senate. I choose a strong institution. We should not allow our institutions to be weakened,” he stated.According to Adeyeye, if there is any law passed by the National Assembly, signed by the President and gazetted, no one has the permission to dance around that law, adding, “Whoever has a problem with any law should go to court, until a court declares it null and void it remains the law of the land. Anyone who does not respect it is breaking the law of the land.

“Would American legal luminaries have gone to press decrying the American Senate for paying attention to an FBI report on a nominee requiring confirmation? Would an American president dare resubmit such a name to senate without first resolving the damning indictment of his nominee by the FBI? Nigeria does not have a monarchy; we have a presidential democracy. Alas, tension is a constitutive element of a virile democracy,” Adeyeye added.“I am a strong (perhaps fanatical) supporter of Buhari-Osinbajo. But they are human; they have not handled some things right. Pundits bellowing as if the ongoing saga is purely a legal matter are wrong! Even if they are right, legal matters are not finalised by the opinions of the loudest lawyers; they are concluded by the ruling of a court of competent jurisdiction. Celebrated lawyers do not constitute a court. In any case, the issues at stake are as much matters of politics as they are of law. The earlier the frontline dramatis personae grasp and internalise this, the better,” he submitted.

Ferdinand Orbih, a SAN describes the ongoing face-off between both chambers as “an ill-wind, which portends grave danger for our democracy and the masses. In every military engagement there is collateral damage. This battle between the executive and the legislature, is what the late Fela Anikulakpo kuti would call ‘roforofo fight.’
The masses and our democracy will suffer collateral damage. It will slow down the machinery of governance. The Senate may want to withhold approval of appointments where it is institutionally incumbent on it to give such. Bills initiated by the executive may be relegated to the cooler. The executive may decide to retaliate by sending its attack dogs such as the EFCC and the ICPC after principal officers of the NASS and some other vocal members and the result of all these may be catastrophic for the polity.”

But Paul Chibuike Ananaba, another silk is of the view that “we have a constitution that can resolve the issue. The matter should be subjected to judicial interpretation. Section 6 of the constitution gives the Judiciary powers to deal with such issues.”

So, “There is no need for the executive and the legislature to dissipate energy and enter into superiority contest. We have more pressing and serious issues of national importance. Nigerians are going through much difficulties, and are not amused by these developments. Moreover, our president is sick and we need to unite, not only in prayers, but also in supporting the acting president to effectively hold forth.”

For Dr. Abiodun Layonu, SAN: “I think it’s better for the National Assembly to approach the court for interpretation. If the National Assembly does tit for tat, it is the nation that’ll suffer. Former General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mazi Afam Osigwe, weighing in on the controversial Magu’s confirmation said the much-cited Section 171 of the constitution, does not extend to the EFCC since it is not a ministerial agency.

According to him, the fact the executive, which is making the argument over the issue has continued to forward nominations to the Senate, shows that the Senate is actually empowered to screen and confirm the nomination of EFCC boss. He added that if section 171 provides that the executive should not forward names to the Senate for confirmation, then it has no has no reason to continue to send nominees to the Senate.

On his part, former Attorney General of Delta State, Charles Ajuwa (SAN), said rather than allow the power of the Senate to confirm executive nominations to overheat the polity, the Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice can take the matter to court for proper interpretation. He also expressed worries that if the parties involved try to undermine the constitution over personal interests, the position adopted by the executive may set a negative precedence “and such is not good for the country.

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