The Presidency and the Senate appear set for a showdown over Acting President Yemi Osibanjo’s refusal to assent to four bills passed by the National Assembly.
Prof. Osinbajo fired the first shot on Wednesday when he wrote separate letters to the two chambers of the National Assembly on his resolve to withhold his assent to the bills because of certain discrepancies.
He therefore returned the bills to the National Assembly for the necessary legislative action, but some Senators kicked against the Acting President’s action and threatened to override his decision.
In four separate letters addressed to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Osinbajo explained why he withheld his assent to each of the bills.
He said that certain words and phrases in the draft bills were inconsistent with the Principal Acts.
The bills are: Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill 2016; Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) (Amendment) Bill 2016; Dangerous (Amendment) Bill 2016 and Assent to National Lottery (Amendment) Bill 2016.
On the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill 2016, Osinbajo said that he opted to withhold his assent because of “the concerns surrounding board composition, funding arrangements, limitation of liability of funds and proposals to increase levels of uncollateralised loans from N5,000 to N250,000.”
According to the Acting President, he withheld his assent from the Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) (Amendment) Bill, 2016, due to “the concern regarding modalities for the communication of asset forfeiture orders.”
He further explained that he failed to assent to the Dangerous (Amendment) Bill, 2016, because of “certain words and phrases utilised in the draft bill that may be inconsistent with the Principal Act (for example Section 6 of the bill with Section 21 of the Principal Act) and the spirit behind the proposed amendments.”
Also, Osibanjo said that he did not assent to the National Lottery (Amendment) Bill, 2016, because the “rationale for withholding assent to the bill is the existence of pending legal challenge to the competence of the National Assembly to legislate on the matter.”
The Acting President’s action was greeted by protests from Senators who accused the Presidency of undermining powers of the Legislature. They argued that the Parliament was vested with powers to override Osinbajo’s veto.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Dino Melaye, took exception to Osinbajo’s withholding of his assent to the bill passed by the Senate on lottery.
He said: “I am particularly raising this Point of Order because I am the mover of that bill or the sponsor of that bill.
“Section 413 of the Constitution, the legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in the National Assembly for the federation which shall consist of a Senate and the House of Representatives.
“Second, the National Assembly shall have powers to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the exclusive list set out in Part One of the Second Schedule of the Constitution.
“The explanation for withholding the assent as stipulated in the letter by the Acting President is because there is pending litigation on this matter,” Melaye said.
He noted that democracy is standing on the basic principle of separation of powers and it has divided it into three: “the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. And the powers of the Executive are in Section 4 of the constitution while the powers of the Legislature are contained in Chapter 5. The power to interpret these laws is deposited in Section 6.
“The role of the Executive is to carry out their fundamental objectives by signing anything that has being passed by this house. If withheld, it becomes so dangerous for our democracy and our powers to legislate have been taken away from us as enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution.”
Senator Melaye further argued that the role of the Executive is to assent to any law passed by the House and that anyone who had problem with it can go to court in compliance with the provisions of Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) .
“May it not be a pathway for democracy if we keep quiet and allow the power of the Legislature to be usurped by the non-compliance to the provisions of the constitution,” Melaye warned.
Senator George Sekibo (Rivers East) said that the National Assembly has power to override the veto of the President and opined that such powers be given effect.
He said: “The way the constitution is framed, they have their own roles to play, we have our functions. We check each other. The matter is in the court and based on our rule, we cannot discuss on it.
“If it is just that the President did not give assent, we have to look at the merits of the particular bill. If it meets the standard and if the court matter is not going to impede on what we are going to do, then we can override the veto of the President.”
In his remark, Saraki said that the issues raised by the senators were noted and promised to forward the returned bills to the National Assembly’s Legal Department for proper advice on the bills to enable them know the way forward.