Tuesday, June 25, 2013

State of the Nigerian Nation Address Unconstitutional, Says President Jonathan

State of the nation address unconstitutional, says Jonathan

TUESDAY, 25 JUNE 2013 00:00
Nigerian Guardian

Reps resume, Speaker decries autocracy

PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan has refused to assent to the State of the Nation Address Bill passed recently by the Senate and transmitted to him.

In a letter to Senate President David Mark, the President described the bill as unconstitutional, insisting that until certain sections of the bill were altered, he might not assent to it.

Besides, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, has expressed concern over what he considers as subtle autocracy in the polity.

Noting that the constitution has made ample provision for the State of the Nation Address, Jonathan said the new bill would amount to a duplication of legislation.

According to him, his assenting to the bill would be subject to the incorporation of some fundamental amendments that would bring it in conformity with the dictates of the Constitution, especially the discretion conferred on the president by Section 67 of the Constitution.

He, therefore, proposed a redrafting of Clause 1 (2) to make it more flexible by substituting it to read: “The State of the Nation Address shall be delivered to a joint sitting of the National Assembly within 30 days of the commencement of the legislative year.”

For Clause 3, which purports to empower the National Assembly to summon the president when he decides not to make the address, the President said it should be substituted with a clause that conforms to the language of the Constitution.

According to him, it should rather read: “Where for any reason the president is unable to present an address in accordance with Section 1 of this Act, the President shall in writing inform the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and either designate the Vice President to present the address on his behalf or transmit to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives the text of the address.”

To ensure symmetry with the proposed clauses as well as give effect to their general intention, Jonathan urged the Senate to amend Clause 5 to read: “The National Assembly shall have power to regulate its procedure with respect to the provisions of this Act.”

At the same time, he called for total elimination of Clause 6 of the bill as it would no longer be consistent with the proposed amendment to Clause 3 above.

The Senate had in May passed the State of the Nation Bill into law. The law sought to mandate the president to address a joint sitting of the National Assembly on the general state of the nation once in a year.

Apparently referring to the buildup to the 2015 elections, Tambuwal who gave his assessment of the political developments in the country in a veiled speech he delivered yesterday at the resumed sitting of the parliament after a two-week recess, specifically flayed the emergence of a new group he said was “championing the obnoxious cause of the deepening of internal party autocracy and demagoguery.”

“The proponents of this shameful doctrine not only offend our sensibilities, they constitute an affront to the whole essence of democracy and civilised co-existence and must be halted before they do incalculable damage to our polity,” he said.

The Speaker said: “Preparatory to 2015, many have started introducing political doctrines that are alien to democracy and destructive to peaceful social co-existence in a civilised society, they are busy fanning the embers of partisan hate and strife. According to this new doctrine, it is a political offence for a member of one political party to exchange greetings with someone in another political party, it is indeed a heinous crime for one to visit, attend the burial, birthday, coronation, wedding or any such ceremony of someone in an opposing political party. My dear colleagues, we refuse to be students of this school of thought.

“I am strongly persuaded to state once again that from the little that we know, there is dichotomy between politics and governance. Thus there is a difference between a candidate in electoral contest on the platform of a political party and an elected official who has assumed a non-partisan responsibility and taken oath to protect and preserve the constitution, to serve the people and the nation. While the former is not merely at liberty but under a duty to be partisan, the latter must conduct himself in a manner worthy of the call to non-partisanship in governance.

“Needless to say that generally, whenever partisan interests conflict with national interest, it is partisan interests that must be sacrificed in the preservation of the national interest. The oath we take is that of constitutionalism and national service and not of suffocating partisanship.”

According to the Speaker, dissent is a healthy element in any democratic setting, pointing out that those who equate loyalty to sycophantic followership not only miss the point but put democracy at risk.

Tambuwal also used the occasion to stress the need for his colleagues and other politicians to refrain from political campaigns and await the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) approval, even as the 2015 elections gather momentum.

His words: “It is also appropriate to remind ourselves that beyond the challenges routine to our functions as legislators, an even bigger challenge is fast approaching. I am referring to 2015 and the gathering clouds of politicking: first, we must resist the temptation to beat the gun, we have an electoral umpire whose gun sound we must await; secondly, we must resist being distracted from the execution of our mandate which is only half done and finally but perhaps more importantly, we must make a difference by rising against every attempt to cause disaffection among Nigerians.”

Tambuwal also promised that the parliament would attend to a number of critical legislations he said were “awaiting passage such as the Constitutional Amendment Bill, the Petroleum Industry Bill, Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, and step up activity in order to ensure improved budget performance, probity and good governance generally. Accordingly, in a matter of days, the House will suspend plenary and embark on oversight of the 2013 budget implementation.”

“I need not remind us of the need to hold tenaciously the representation duty of promoting and protecting the interest of our constituents and the Nigerian people at large. We must respond promptly to their concerns and plight and at all times insist on accountability, probity and good governance”, he added.

He also assured that as the chamber commenced the second half of its tenure, “we must sustain our focus on the ultimate objective of dealing decisively with unemployment, poverty and insecurity. As I observed recently, we must not allow insecurity to overwhelm us in our drive towards economic prosperity. The legislative agenda we fashioned for ourselves has guided us thus far and we hope to stick to it subject to whatever modification we might effect in view of the mid-term review and inputs received from members of the public.”

Tambuwal also recalled how the House resisted efforts to have a vice grip on the lower chamber and went ahead to choose their leaders.

“We can all recall with some level of appreciation that when we started out this journey on June 6, 2011, the situation looked terribly daunting and unassailable given the myriad of challenges that stared us in the face: we instantaneously found ourselves at the crossroads of decision between law and whims of individuals and cartels, on a critical but all important issue as to who determines for us as an institution who our leaders should be. In togetherness as democrats, we opted to choose our own leaders and God blessed our decision that we were right in our togetherness,” he said.

According to Tambuwal, “it was a decision about institutional self-identity not of selfish individual aggrandisement.”

The Speaker, however, recalled that he inherited a House that suffered public apathy and disdain, before a collective effort of members of the chamber redeemed it.

“Again, we were in the quagmire of a highly depleted and fast dwindling public image, confidence and goodwill, the process of redemption called for unmitigated self-sacrifice and absolute commitment to the pursuit of the public good. In togetherness, we willingly chose modesty and self-discipline as a deliberate operating strategy.

God, who deciphers the inner conviction of man, prospered our cause and thus, while we may not yet have attained the object of total image redemption, in togetherness we are told we have, at least, arrested the drift.

“These experiences have shown that there is power in togetherness, that there is accomplishment in togetherness and above all, that there is victory in togetherness. Surely, the challenges ahead are more formidable than those gone by but I am confident that together we can achieve and deliver on our mandate.”

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