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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Jonathan-NASS cold war: President to return 12 bills

• Wants to avert override by National Assembly • House leadership to consider line of action next week

The cold war between the Presidency and the National Assembly over unsigned bills has forced President Goodluck Jonathan back to the drawing board.
 He met with his key strategists at the weekend to review complaints by the Senate and the House of Representatives over   his refusal to sign 14 bills passed by them.
The review session was aimed at averting the resort to override by the legislature.
 Two of the bills may now be signed by the President, it was gathered yesterday in Abuja while the remaining 12 could be returned to the legislators for reconsideration.
A principal officer of the House said the chamber may meet soon on their next line of action on the unsigned bills.
Speaker Aminu Tambuwal of the House of Representatives and Senate  Deputy President  Ike Ekweremadu last week  joined issues with the President on bills awaiting the President’s signature.
These include: Public Procurement Amendment Bill; Legal Aid Council Bill, National Health Bill; the Bill on People with Disability; National Assembly Budget and Research Office Establishment Bill; Tobacco Bill, State of the Nation Address Bill; FCT Area Courts Bill; and National Assembly Service Commission Repeal and Re-enactment Bill.
The rest are: National Bio-Safety Management Bill; River Basin Development Authority Amendment Bill; Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency Bill; FCT Board of Internal Revenue Bill; Harmonized Retirement Age of Tertiary Institutions Workers Bill; and Police Act Amendment Bill.
The President and his strategists are believed to have discussed the constitutional status of each of the bills and resolved to act on some of them with a view to averting a confrontation with the National Assembly. 
The Senate and the House of Representatives, one source said, were spoiling for war with the executive over the unsigned bills.
 Speaker Tambuwal, at a National Symposium on the occasion of Democracy Day in Abuja last Monday accused the Executive arm of shirking its responsibility of assenting to bills passed by the legislature.
This, he said, was not in the best interest of the country and did not augur well for the relationship between the executive and legislative arms.
The  President  acknowledged ‘a major conflict’ between the two sides and explained that this was brought about by the insistence of the legislators to hijack the budget proposals submitted every year for approval.
He said the National Assembly had formed the habit of tearing and distorting such budget proposals.
“We even wanted to go to the court, so that the Supreme Court would tell us if it is the duty of the National Assembly to plan the economy,” he said, adding: “Let them do the budget, hand over to us we will implement, but if it is our duty, then they should listen to us because the executive arm of government has a ministry of planning and finance and works with the Central Bank..”
The Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Albert Tsokwa (PDP, Taraba), said the National Assembly might override the bills in line with Section 58 of the 1999 Constitution.
But it was also discovered at the meeting that some of the bills have been overtaken by events.
A top presidency source said: “Contrary to insinuations, the President had, a few weeks ago, asked the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) and his aides to compile and bring outstanding bills to him.
“But a review of the bills indicated that some of them have been signed into law by the President. These are Harmonized Retirement Age of Tertiary Institutions Workers, the 2012 Appropriation Act and the Transfer of Convicted Prisoners amendment Act.
“The President does not just rush into signing any bill into law; his administration must ensure that a bill will promote development and ensure public peace and safety. It is not as if this administration is out to undermine the National Assembly.
“For instance yesterday (Friday) he met with his team on these outstanding bills and their status.”
Asked what the President would do in view of the position of the National Assembly, the source said: “He (Jonathan) will soon sign one or two of these outstanding bills into law, including the Tobacco Bill.
“The bills passed by the National Assembly so far this year may also be signed into law.
“We have however discovered that most of the bills have passed the statutory 30 days required of the President to sign them into law. Some of them were also passed by the Sixth National Assembly confirming that they have been overtaken by events.
“If you go through the rules of the National Assembly, there is no way the Seventh National Assembly would have inherited the bill liability of its predecessor because of the time factor.
“What the government will do is to resend these bills to the National Assembly for reconsideration. After the reconsideration, the President will now assent to the bills. So, hope is not lost.”
Responding to a question, the source added: “The government will not allow the situation to degenerate to the use of override by the National Assembly. Instead, the government will engage the legislature on the way out.
“I can assure you that we will not allow the use of override, we will rather lobby National Assembly members to appreciate the observations of the government on these bills.”
But a principal officer of the House of Representatives, who spoke in confidence, said: “We are in full support of what Tambuwal said because he tried to protect the integrity of the National Assembly.
“We will however meet on the issue next week to determine our next line of action.”
Section 58(4-5) of the 1999 Constitution reads: “Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within 30 days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.
“Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”
Another presidency source however added that the use of override is cumbersome and drew our correspondent’s attention to Section 59(4) of the Constitution.
The source said: “We won’t allow Executive-Legislature face-off but the truth is that the use of veto is not as easy as some are trying to claim.
“Just read Section 59(4) and you will discover that there must be a joint session of the National Assembly to pass any outstanding bill into law by the lawmakers. We won’t allow that at all.”
The section says: “Where the President, within 30 days after the presentation of the bill to him, fails to signify his assent or where he withholds assent, then the bill shall again be presented to the National Assembly sitting at a joint meeting and if passed by two-thirds majority of members of both Houses at such joint meeting, the bill shall become law and assent to the President shall not be required.”