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Nigeria's Jonathan Signs Constitutional Amendment

Published on Wednesday 12th January 2011 Nigeria's Jonathan Signs Constitutional Amendment

The controversy over the legality of the amendments to the 1999 Constitution was finally rested yesterday as President Goodluck Jonathan signed the first amendment to the constitution. He also assented to two amendments to the Electoral Act.

President Jonathan thereby made history as the first head of state under whose tenure a constitution was democratically amended.

With the assent, the various steps taken by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with respect to the April poll have now been fully covered by the law.

There was initial apprehension as to under which constitution the arrangements for the April poll were being done since the amendments had not become law without the President's assent.

Also, following the president's assent, the time spent in office before would now count as part of the tenure of the governors who win re-run elections.

The governors affected by the latest development are Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Ibrahim Idris (Kogi), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa) and Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta). This also means that Delta State, which last Thursday had a rerun governorship poll would be ready for another one in April.

The National Assembly had amended some sections of the 1999 Constitution and passed them without the president's assent. However, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Olisa Agbakoba had approached a Federal High Court in Lagos to challenge the claim by the federal lawmakers that the president's signature was not necessary before the amended constitution could become law.

The court, in its judgment, said the amendments by the National Assembly would be illegal unless they received the presidential assent.

Jonathan, who signed the two amendments, the first during which some sections of the constitution were amended and the second amendment which fixed elections for April and allowed more time for INEC to update voter register, said history had been made.

Jonathan said the signing should have been like any other duty without speeches but for the fact that it was the first time an amendment to the country's constitution was being made, adding that after inaugurating the next legislature, he would send more Executive Bills on further amendments.

He said the process would continue until the constitution is a true reflection of the will of the people and commended the efforts of the legislature which he said had been working in tandem with the executive to achieve the feat.

The president said he had while in his various positions noticed that there were certain parts of the document that were worrisome and could not be properly implemented, adding that there were still more worrisome sections that needed to be amended.

"Today is a unique day in the history of our country. For the National Assembly to successfully amend the constitution means they have been working in concert with the executive. After the inauguration of the next National Assembly by the grace of God I will be here one of the first executive bills that will go to them from us will be to amend other sections of the constitution. It will be a continuous process until we have a constitution that reflects the thinking and aspirations of all Nigerians," he said.

On the perceived different position between the executive and the legislature, Jonathan said it did not mean that they were at loggerheads and explained, "We had no problem at all. All we tried to do was stick to the laws of the land because what we have done is not only for this generation but for generations to come. We must always correct perceived imperfections in our laws so as to make it a reference point for future generations."

Asked as to how the face-off between the National Assembly and Executive over the president's assent to the amendments was resolved, Senate President David Mark said that like every other controversy, the public never really knows when they are sorted out.

"You don't know when so many things are resolved and this is not an exemption, but we have been discussing and we feel that there is need for us to move democracy forward and entrench it. Every democracy will be based on the culture of the people and we are building it up and I think this is the right step for us to do," he said.

Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Ita Enang, however, said it would be a problem if the president signed the first and second amendments into law as the first amendment had not become operational before the second amendment which he also said had not been forwarded to the state houses of assembly.

Twenty-nine of the 50 clauses of the 1999 constitution proposed for amendment by the National Assembly finally scaled through the hurdle of state houses of assembly to finalise the first amendments.

Chief among these are:

The timeline for the holding of elections which states that elections are to hold not earlier that 150 days and not later than 120 days before the expiration of the tenure of political office holders (This has, however, been re-amended in the second alteration and the timeline brought forward following INEC request for more time).

Section 81 - grants financial autonomy to INEC.

Section 135 (2) stipulates that "in the event of re-run election, the time spent in the office before the date the election was annulled, shall be taken into account" for the president. This same rule applies to all other political offices.

Section 145 which automatically confers on the vice-president the power to act on behalf of the president whenever the latter transmits a written declaration to the Senate president and house speaker that he is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office.

Section 190 also automatically confers the same power on deputy-governor.

The amendment also provides that in case the president or governor is unable to transmit the vacation letter in 21 days, the VP or deputy-governor will be empowered to the acting capacity by a simple majority vote of the Senate and House

Section 137, which disqualifies people indicted by administrative panels from running for political office, was removed.

Section 228 confers the power to make laws for political parties to observe the practice of internal democracy on the National Assembly.

Section 233 empowers the Supreme Court to hear governorship election appeal cases.

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