ABUJA FEBRUARY 23, 2017 – There are indications that an impending face-off looms between The Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday wrote the National Assembly, expressing his decision to withhold assent to four bills passed by the National Assembly.
However, the Senate, not happy with the development, directed its legal department to critically examine the issues raised on each bill, to determine whether or not the Acting President encroached on the constitutional jurisdiction of the parliament.
According to a report by Newtelegraph, The House of Representatives also directed its Committee on Justice to look into the issues raised by the Acting President.
The bills, which Osinbajo decided to withhold assent to are: the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Bill 2016, the National Lottery Amendment Bill 2016, the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme amendment Bill 2016, and the currency conversion and freezing order amendment bill 2016.
On the Dangerous Drugs Bill, the Acting President explained that he withheld assent because there were certain words and phrases utilised in the draft Bill that might be inconsistent with the principal Act.
The letter reads: “Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the constitution, I hereby convey to the Senate my decision to withhold assent to the dangerous drugs amendment 2016, recently passed by the National Assembly.
“The rationale for withholding assent to the bill are the concerns regarding 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.”
On the National Lottery Bill, Osinbajo pointed out that there was the existence of a pending legal challenge to the competence of the National Assembly to legislate on the subject matter.
He said: “Pursuant to section 58(4) of the constitution, I hereby convey to the Senate my decision to withhold assent to the National Lottery Amendment Bill 2016, recently passed by the National Assembly.
“The rationale for withholding assent to the Bill is the existence of a pending legal challenge to the competence of the National Assembly to legislate on the subject matter”.
On the Agricultural Credit Bill, the Acting President wrote: “Pursuant to session 58(4) of the constitution, I hereby convey to the Senate my decision to withhold assent to the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund Amendment Bill 2016, recently passed by the National Assembly.
“The reasons for withholding assent to the Bill are the concerns surrounding board composition, funding arrangements, limitation of liability of funds and proposals to increase level of uncollaterized loans from N5,000 to N250, 000.
On the fourth bill, Osinbajo said, “Pursuant of section 58(4) of the constitution, I hereby convey to the Senate my decision to withhold assent the Currency Conversion Freezing Order Amendment Bill 2016, recently passed by the National Assembly.
“The rationale for withholding assent to the Bill is the concern regarding modality for the communication of asset for forfeiture orders”. But the Senate did not take kindly to the action of the Acting President. It directed its legal department to look into the matter and advise the chamber accordingly.
Senator Dino Melaye, who sponsored the bill on national lottery, had raised a constitutional point of order, drawing the attention of the Senate that it was the constitutional mandate of the Parliament to make laws while the Executive has the duty to implement the laws made by the legislators. Melaye, who was embittered by the action of Osinbajo, claimed that the Acting President had no constitutional power to withhold assent to anything passed by the National Assembly.
He said: “I am particularly raising this because I am the sponsor of that bill. If I have the permission of Mr. President, before I elucidate, I want to bring some relevant sections of the constitution. “Section 4 (1) reads: ‘The Legislative Powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in the National Assembly for the Federation which shall consist of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“The National Assembly shall make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the exclusive list set out in part one of the second schedule of this constitution.
However, Senator Geroge Sekibo, on a point of information, reminded the Senate that there was no cause for alarm because it could also override 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 own roles to play, and we have our own role to play.
We check each others and I know that the matter is in court and based on our rules, we cannot discuss on it. “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 comment, the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said that the matter would be referred to the legal department for consideration and then properly advice and guide the chamber on the next line of action to take.
He said: “I think the procedure is that 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”. In the House,the committee is to study the concerns raised by the acting president, evaluate them and make appropriate recommendations for further legislative actions.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara gave the directive after leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila had pleaded with his colleagues not to use their veto power on the bills. Gbajabiamila, had while reacting to the withholding of assent to the bills as contained in the acting president’s letters which were read by Speak er Dogara pleaded that though the constitution provides that the House could override the president’s assent after 30 days, the lawmakers should first of all consider the reasons adduced by Osinbajo.
In his response, Dogara referred the letters to the committee of justice, Hon. Razaq Atunwa saying “I think the constitution is clear on the issue of withholding of assent. But the committee on justice will now scrutinize the reasons given by the acting president.
“Where the reasons are found to be true, we will look at the areas of concern, but if not, we will bring it back to plenary and two-third majority can override it”, he stated.