From ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Abuja
Senate has expressed shock and surprise at the volte-face of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on National Assembly’s proposal to amend the 1999 Constitution. The Upper legislative chamber told NBA National President, Okey Wali (SAN), that the association could not “disown” the on-going process of amending the Constitution after it had submitted its memorandum to the National Assembly.
However, there seems to be no let-up, in the war words between aides of President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Assembly leadership. Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), said aides of President Jonathan had no understanding of the presidential system, which is all about persuading people and not setting up two arms of government against each other.
Earlier in the week, Wali had criticised the large number of clauses slated for amendment by the federal legislature just as he wondered how taking the exercise to 360 federal constituencies would help the process.
The NBA president also wondered why the National Assembly was in a hurry to amend the Constitution when President Jonathan was yet to forward the Justice Alfa Belgore Report on Constitution Amendment to it for consideration.
The Senate Leader described comments attributed to Wali as a volte-face and an attempt to “approbate and reprobate” at the same time. Ndoma-Egba insisted in an interview with newsmen in Abuja yesterday that the National Assembly was forging ahead with the amendment, regardless of President Jonathan’s delay in transmitting the Belgore report to the legislature for consideration.
His words: “I am a bit surprised because for the current exercise, we have two memoranda from the NBA and the NBA was very active in the exercise of the sixth National Assembly. In fact, if I recall, we had a retreat in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on Constitution amendment and after that, they submitted a memorandum of their views to the National Assembly.
For this exercise that they have reservations about, they have participated actively. The law would say that you are approbating and reprobating at the same time. They have participated actively (in the process).”
“From 1999, the NBA has always responded positively to Constitution amendment by setting up its own committee for Constitution amendment. They have always responded to the process. So, the NBA has responded to the process by submitting memoranda; including this one. So, to now turn around and say the process is rudderless is what I really cannot understand.
We had a public hearing recently in Abuja and we called them to come and present their memoranda, even though they ended up not showing up; but we still have their memorandum, which is an input and a resource material, which we are going to work on. “We have always seen the NBA as a partner in the process of Constitution review and if you recall, in the last public hearing in Abuja, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who also chairs the Senate Constitution Review Committee, had in his remarks, specifically mentioned the NBA as a partner and other civil service organisations.
“No matter how we appear ‘rudderless’ in our current democratic dispensation, the amendment of the Constitution has been successful. Our representation as a parliament, as a National Assembly, is to accept every suggestion, every idea that is brought to the table by every Nigeria, high or low.
“We are not editors to begin to sit down to edit what is in the best interest of Nigerians or what is not in the best interest of Nigerians. Our responsibility is to collate them. Now, the Constitution has prescribed the mechanism for amendment and the mechanism includes the approval of two thirds of the state Houses of Assembly.” On comments attributed to presidential aides, Ndoma-Egba said: “Abusing an arm of government is not a sign of loyalty; it’s a mark of disloyalty because as I said before, the work of a president in a presidential system of government that is designed with conflict in mind is to persuade. Let me say this and I challenge all of us to go and read the presidential system of government anywhere in the world; a presidential system of government is designed for conflict. It is designed with conflict embedded in it.
It is done that way because it is believed that it is the conflict that will guarantee the checks and balances. So, it is totally immaterial that the president is from the same party as members of the National Assembly.”
“In any presidential system of government, conflict is embedded in the constitution because that is the only way you can check one another. The American government recognises this; that the system is designed for conflict. So, the work of the president is just to be persuading people to his point of view and that is how it is,” he said.