Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Festus Keyamo has applauded President Goodluck Jonathan’s refusal to pass the constitution amendment bill.
The bill was presented to President Jonathan by the National Assembly (NASS) on the grounds that it did not meet the necessary requirements by the 1999 Constitution.
Keyamo who spoke on Thursday said, Jonathan’s refusal to assent to the bill and his taking the matter before the Supreme Court is in order especially since he (as the final signatory) was having misgivings about whether the basic constitutional procedures were followed.
“The law allows you in many cases to go to court to stop a clear and present danger to anything. Yes, absolutely (the Federal Government is trying to prevent the national assembly from breaking the law).
“The president did not really say I am vetoing the bill, he is only saying you passed the bill to me without taking all the necessary precautions.
“They want to change the provisions by which the constitution can be altered and that of course requires a four-fifth majority of the National Assembly and the president is saying in passing over this document to me, I need to see evidence that you have complied with the basic requirements of the constitution. The president is saying I have no evidence that you reached the number allowed to pass this bill to me.
“The law does not disallow the back-and-forth exchanges (between the executive and the legislature), it just did not anticipate it. But it anticipates that before you pass the bill to the president, you should have complied with all the provisions. In most cases, the law does not anticipate everything and I daresay that this case was not anticipated by the constitution because the president being the final signatory to the document was not put there for fun.
“And being the final signatory to this document, he should ask questions. Supposing for example, it’s only a majority of members sitting and voting that passed that bill whereas the law states that it is absolute majority of members of the whole house, and the president signs it, what happens is that we would be operating an illegal constitution.
The erudite lawyer said the Supreme Court was not bound by any law to deliver its ruling within 30 days, neither is the National Assembly in a position to debate on the issue anymore.
“The president has said I want to see your votes and proceedings, you (the assembly) are not sending it to him and you want to quickly pass it. Government is a continuous process. Let us not go along with the impression that it is only this National Assembly that must finish the process of changing the constitution, it is a continuum. The next assembly and president coming in can continue looking at it too. There is no point in pressuring everyone into one position at this time.
“The Supreme Court is not under any pressure to decide. There is no law that says the Supreme Court must decide under the 30 days prescribed. What it needs to do is to determine whether there have been infractions in passing that document to the president for final assent.
“One of the standing orders of the National Assembly is that when a matter is in court, they are barred from debating it. As it is now, the Assembly is totally barred from debating the matter. By their own standing order, they cannot look at the document again.”