Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has withheld assent to four bills passed by the National Assembly last year. The four proposed laws are National Lottery Amendment Bill; Dangerous Drug Amendment Bill; Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund; and Currency Conversion Bill. And to quell the growing agitations by senators who expressed readiness to override the president’s veto on the bills, the Senate President Bukola Saraki quickly declared that the upper chamber would seek legal advice before taking further step on the matter.
While the action of the acting president signals a rising assertion of his authority, it is also an early indication of potential frosty relations between him and the National Assembly. Thus, unless the two arms of government can mutually resolve the matter, it will adversely affect governance. The nation’s constitution has sufficient provisions to take care of what should happen when the president withholds his assent to any bill. Section 58 of the constitution reads: “Where a bill is presented to the president for assent, he shall within thirty days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent. Where the president withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the president shall not be required.”
Osinbajo explained that “The rationale for withholding assent to the Lottery Amendment Bill is the existence of pending legal challenge to the competence of the National Assembly to legislate on the subject matter.” The National Assembly had, in amending the Lottery Act, transferred the power to grant licences to lottery operators from states to the Federal Government for the purpose of boosting federal revenue.
On the Currency Conversion Bill, Osinbajo said: “The rationale for withholding assent to the bill is the concern regarding the modalities for the communication of asset forfeiture orders.” The National Assembly’s motive for amending the Currency Conversion Act (Freezing Orders) was to transfer the power of the President and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor on asset forfeiture to the law courts. The amendment sought to whittle down the powers of the president to order the forfeiture of assets and transfer such powers to the court.
On the Dangerous Drug Amendment Bill, the acting president said he withheld his assent as a result of certain words and phrases that might be inconsistent with the spirit behind the amendment. Osinbajo also said he rejected the bill on Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund because of funding concerns and composition of the board. “The reason for withholding assent to the bill are the concerns surrounding board composition, funding arrangements, limitation of liability of funds and proposal to increase levels of uncollateralised loans from N5,000 to N250,000.”
After the letters had been read in the Senate by Saraki, a point of order was raised by Dino Melaye who quoted extensively from the 1999 Constitution and claimed that the action of the acting president and the executive branch of government had injured the principle of separation of powers. “The role of the executive is to carry out their traditional role by signing any bill passed by the National Assembly,” Melaye claimed, insisting that the action of the acting president, if allowed to stand, would constitute a grave danger to democracy in the country and undermine the powers of the parliament.
According to Melaye, Section 4 (1) of the constitution reads: “The Legislative Powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in the National Assembly for the federation which shall consist of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“The National Assembly shall 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 this constitution.
“The role of the executive is to carry out their fundamental objective by signing anything that has been passed by this House and anyone who has a problem with it can go to court in compliance with the provisions of section 6 of the constitution. May it not be a bad day for democracy if we keep quite and allow the powers of the legislature to be usurped by the non-compliance with the provisions of the constitution.”
George Sekibo, in his own reaction, reminded the lawmakers that they have the power to override the acting president if they are not satisfied with his decision. Saraki said the decision of Osinbajo would be examined by the legal team of the Senate after which appropriate steps would be taken on the issue.
“I think the procedure is that we would refer this to our legal department to give us advice or interpretation on some of the things that you have raised for us to be properly guided. But I agree with you that it is a matter that we must take seriously because it goes down to the issue of separation of powers. We would get the opinion of the legal department,” he said.
Also yesterday, the House of Representatives hinted that it may override Osinbajo. The Speaker, Yakubu Dogara who informed his colleagues of the refusal by the acting president to assent to the bills mandated the House Committee on Justice to scrutinise the basis for his decision.
The House leader, Femi Gbajabiamila who spoke in the same vein enjoined the House to read through Osinbajo’s observation before taking a final stand on the bills. Dogara said the House would be left with no option than muster the required support to override the acting president if the need arises.
Source: The Guardian