President Goodluck Jonathan Tuesday, returned the ‘State of the Nation Address Bill’ passed by the National Assembly on May 13 and accused the parliament of using threat or coercive language, which he said, contravened the principle of separation of powers.
The president also asked the parliament to incorporate some proposals into the bill if at all it wants his assent on the bill.
However, the Senate Tuesday said it would devote all its plenary sessions next week to deliberate and vote on the recent recommendations of the committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution as the upper chamber resumed legislative activities after two weeks of recess.
President Jonathan, in a letter addressed to the Senate President, Senator David Mark, and read on the floor of the Senate yesterday, described the bill as unnecessary, saying its intention had already been addressed in Section 67 of the 1999 Constitution.
Section 67 of 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that “the president may attend any joint meeting of the National Assembly or any meeting of either house of the National Assembly either to deliver an address on national affairs including fiscal measures or to make such statement on policy of government as he considers to be of national importance.”
According to him, enacting a law on a subject matter that already exists in the constitution amounts to duplication of activities adding that the bill only sought “to circumscribe the president’s discretion regarding whether or not he should attend the joint meeting of the National Assembly or of any meeting of either House of the National Assembly.”
He also said the bill was too prescriptive because it fixed the time of the address, determined the policy of government that was of national importance “in addition to the threat of the use of coercive powers in the event of non-compliance.”
“This in my view is inconsistent with the doctrine of separation of powers and the spirit and letters of the constitution,” he stated.
President Jonathan suggested that if he was expected to assent to the bill, the lawmakers ought to incorporate clauses, which would allow him to present the address within 30 days of the commencement of the legislative year, as against the provision compelling the president to present the address at the beginning of every legislative year in July.
He also asked the parliament to amend Clause 3 of the bill, which empowers the National Assembly to summon the president should he decide not to present the address as at when due and equally rules out the possibility of the president delegating the assignment to any of his subordinates.
Based on this, the president, therefore, proposed a new amendment to the clause that would state that “where for any reason, the president is unable to present an address in accordance with Section 1 of the 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 House of Representatives, the text of the address.”
He also sought amendment to clause 5 of the bill which states that “the National Assembly shall have powers to regulate its procedure as regards the provision of this bill including the procedure for summoning the president to address the state of the nation,” stressing that it should rather read thus: “The National Assembly shall have power to regulate its procedure with respect to the provisions of the Act.”
Meanwhile, Mark, while encouraging his colleagues to brace up for the forthcoming debate, restated that voting on the report would not be done by voice vote but “every man will answer his father’s name.”
The Senate President also listed issues that would top legislative agenda this session to include the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), review of the Electoral Act 2010, consideration and passage of Pension Reforms Act (Amendment) Bill as well as moves to avert flooding during this rainy season.
Mark, who also said the escalating oil theft in the country, which according to him, had had an adverse effect on the economy, stated that the issue would be addressed through the prescribing of capital punishment for anyone found culpable in the act.
He said tackling these issues “calls for renewed devotion, commitment and statesmanship.”
Mark said: “I have no doubt that the seventh Senate will be judged by how well we have tackled the items on the present legislative agenda. If we get it right and I am sure we will, we shall succeed in turning adversity into profound opportunity for our countrymen and women and fundamentally alter our collective destiny. We pledge to stand by the Nigerian people at all times and in all circumstances. This is the least we can and must do.”