The Senate has described the recent Supreme Court order that the status quo should be maintained as a temporal setback to the National Assembly’s quest to amend the 1999 constitution. It vowed that the 8th National Assembly would pursue the amendments till it was realized. The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Mahmud Mohammed, had last Thursday fixed June 18 for further hearing on the case, by which date the tenure of the current assembly would have ended on June 5.
But Enyinnaya Abaribe, chairman, Senate committee on information and public affairs, in an interview with journalists in Abuja, said that the apex court was wrong to stop the lawmakers in the performance of their legislative duties. “The law does not allow one arm of the government to stop another arm of government from performing its duties. The Supreme Court cannot stop us from legislating and if they say that it (Supreme Court) is stopping us from making laws, it is misleading and it amounts to misreading the powers of the Supreme Court.”
Similarly, Leo Ogor, House of Representatives’ deputy majority leader, said that the review of the constitution was not over in spite of the decision of the Supreme Court halting the process. Ogor said in Abuja that the apex court only directed the parties in the matter to “maintain the status quo” and did not imply that the powers of the National Assembly to amend the constitution had been withdrawn. “It is not yet over because the process of seeking interpretation will continue. The National Assembly lawyers will follow it up for the remaining part of the issues involved and we are hopeful that judgment will be delivered in our favour at the end of the day.”
However, Ogor admitted that it was not likely that the matter which he said was “not yet over,” would be disposed of before the expiration of the tenure of the current 7th Assembly on June 5.
He said that the incoming 8th Assembly would carry on the “battle till victory is won.”
The lawmaker explained that the 8th Assembly would no longer have to start the process of amending the constitution afresh if the case was decided in favour of the National Assembly, but would simply re-commit the bill to the Committee of the Whole for passage.
Ogor said: “The 8th Assembly will fall back on our Standing Orders and Rules of Proceedings to continue work on the constitution. The constitution amendment bills, being bills for which the President withheld his assent, will be listed for consideration in the Committee of the Whole without being commenced de-novo. This provision is clearly spelt out in Order XII, Rule 94 of our rules.”
President Goodluck Jonathan had withheld his assent to the 4th Alteration Bill to the 1999 Constitution after it had already been passed by the National Assembly and the 36 state Houses of Assembly. The President cited alleged breaches of Section 9 of the same constitution, arguing mainly that the lawmakers did not meet the mandatory four-fifth majority approval to alter the document.
Jonathan followed up his refusal by dragging the legislature to the apex court in a suit filed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN). Among others, the Federal Government is seeking the nullification of Sections 3, 4, 12, 14, 21, 23, 36, 39, 40, 43 and 44 of the Fourth Alteration Bill, 2015.
By Dike Onwuamaeze